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WebRTC is not a feature

Chris KoehnckeChris Koehncke

aolimagesI will be at the WebRTC World event this week. Despite Atlanta not being the center of technology, the organizers are expecting nearly 600 attendees, double that of the first San Francisco event in November 2012. The energy is growing. I’m focusing on the individual guy there in the back of the room with no business card who is quietly taking notes, this is where innovation exists.

As WebRTC continues to gain momentum, there is a mad rush to issue hastily written press releases about equally hastily crafted product ideas (mostly developed using PowerPoint compiler 2.0). For many companies, it’s about figuring how how to bolt WebRTC on to their existing product. WebRTC is a “feature” to be added to their existing products.

For those in that camp, they may well have missed the entire point of WebRTC. History is not kind to those that forget.

In 1995, America Online (AOL) introduced the AOL Browser to it’s service. It was a bolt-on to the very popular service. Those old enough well remember the floppy AOL start-up disks that seemed to be everywhere you went. The browser was pokey but AOL was content that the Internet was just another feature they needed to offer while focusing their main effort on maintaining their well manicured garden.

Three years later, in 1998, AOL realized that this Internet thing was perhaps a bit more than a phase and spent $4.2 billion for the acquisition of Netscape, then the leading browser technology.  Rather than realize the dramatic shift to their businesses, AOL (whose start-up disks had made the transition to CD’s) simply embedded Netscape as an enabler of their service and merrily went on their way.

The rest, as people would say, is history. But alas, the good times were over for AOL. They not only had missed the boat but failed entirely to realize there was no boat and instead it was a space ship.

WebRTC is about a complete fundamental change to how we look at communications, how we collaborate, share and inform one another. It’s a fundamental shift from a client/server model that we’ve all embraced to a client/client model, one that will have you twisting your head as you try and understand the paradigm that is upon us.

The communication tools I have today are archaic for what I think needs to happen to increase worker productivity. I can’t manage 2,000 messages in my general inbox, I don’t want to download another helper app and I don’t want to go to another server to find a file. I can’t continue like this.

Each person will look at WebRTC from their current vantage point. The VoIP guys are all clucking away about the impact of WebRTC to SIP. Any web collab company must be scared to their toes about embedded screen sharing rendering their billion dollar service business to a paragraph on some Wiki page. Video guys who’ve spent years explaining how difficult it is to get video conferencing “just right”  must be frightened at the simplicity of (and I won’t talk too much about with 10 more lines of Javascript and 10x the capability).

Even the newly minted Dropbox, now nearly ubiquitous to all of us, must have some concerns about the relative simplicity of and the near term effects on their business.

So no, WebRTC isn’t a feature and start by not having your press release refer to it that way.