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With WebRTC we can browse together!

Chris KoehnckeChris Koehncke

I had previously written about the dynamic duo of Sophia Westwood and Brie Bunge, two Stanford students who magically created an on-the-fly server within your browser using the WebRTC data channel. Seems they had a few spare hours, 18 to be exact, and at a recent hackathon created another WebRTC application. This one has some real star power.

Like all great ideas, this WebRTC application was borne out of a problem that needed solving. While web browsing, you might find it helpful to discuss the content with others. For example, Stanford’s online course scheduling system is notoriously confusing. Wouldn’t it be awesome if you could chat with someone else to get clarity on how to use it – right now? Or, imagine that you are watching a video on Khan Academy, and would like to discuss the material with other learners who are also viewing that video. Broader, imagine that you are on NY Times website and want to talk with others who have shared interests

Sophia/Brie hit upon the idea of how to improve the  experience using WebRTC’s voice & video capabilities. 18 hours late, Chatternets was built. Chatternets automatically connects you with a real time voice/video connection with anyone who is looking at the same exact web page you are. It works on any website and indeed, I’m granting you full permission to try this yourself.

Collaborative browsing with WebRTC

First, you need to visit the Chatternets website and follow the instructions to bookmark the page (hint: you need to ‘drag’ the box “Join Chatternets” to your bookmarks bar, not simply bookmark the page) . Chatternets is a bookmarklet that fires off a bit of JavaScript when executed. Now go to any website and open the Chatternets bookmark. What happens next is magic (I’m from North Carolina where running water is also magic). Chatternets opens up a section on the right hand site of your web window and if anyone is also on this page and has executed the Chatternets bookmark, you’ll be dropped into a voice/video chat with them.

You immediately tried this didn’t you?

The headline reads, “collaborative browsing” and you can clearly imagine a totally changed and immersive experience with respect to how you and I interact with the web. Web properties are always looking to hold visitors longer and keep them engaged and here’s an immediate solution. But Chatternets works across any web property, so you might imagine Chatternets might be applicable to someone who wants to keep you close in their midst while you’re out romping around on the Internet.

My mind raced (ok more like waddled but fast for me) as to the various applications that could be further borne from this initial hack. The three of us engaged in a voice/video discussion on the NY Times website and I quickly forgot all about the technology as our interview continued.

What’s unique (and exciting here) is that WebRTC enables all of this to work without a lot of heavy lifting. In fact, Chatternets main function is to track which page user are on and join them together via WebRTC which handles the voice/video. Indeed that is exactly what Google anticipated.