WebRTC Expert Feature

April 28, 2015

Facebook Changes the WebRTC Game

This week Facebook announced the long expected video extensions to the Facebook Messenger, using WebRTC. The release of video calling in Facebook can be seen as both a simple change to the existing Skype integration and as the first real salvo in creating the next generation communications system. The big news is that 600 million Facebook users will instantly get real-time video, with a simple click, added to the app they use daily. WebRTC will never be the same.

The core technical differences between the new WebRTC messenger video and Skype are simple, no downloads, no Internet Explorer support and, most importantly, direct integration into the Facebook mobile apps. Facebook has increasingly focused on the mobile side of the user experience, as Facebook is essentially used in real time to update and interact with your social network. It is very logical that this will primarily happen on mobile devices.  Following the trend of mobile first WebRTC that is happening throughout the industry, the integration of WebRTC directly into the Facebook mobile apps makes it a game changer versus Skype. Users will now see video as a direct part of Facebook, not an extension.

Clearly, Facebook was willing to give up Internet Explorer support for this, as well as the enabling of Facebook video on Chromebooks, which will not support Skype. Chromebooks are very popular with the .edu crowd, a core demographic that Facebook wants to retain. While many see Chromebooks as really cheap tablets, for students they represent a low cost way to have a large device for typing and documents and they are not tied to the PC apps of the past. As Facebook has become everyone’s (think mothers) social network, the potential of losing the 15-25 year old demographic is a serious concern. The fact that Skype will not work on Chromebooks eliminates Facebook as their real-time communications enabler if Facebook is tied to Skype. By moving to WebRTC, Facebook immediately enables all of the Chromebook users to use them for Facebook video, assuring that the Chromebook crowd, a major Facebook demographic, stays in Facebook.

Facebook is also revealing the biggest issue for Skype growth: Skype is primarily used as a meeting service, not a representation environment. Representation is a capability users grant to certain systems to represent them on the network and allow others to contact them without prior arrangements. Phone numbers and email accounts are good examples of representation systems, but social networks like Facebook and LinkedIn are also examples. While Skype can be used as a representation system, it appears that the majority of users use it as a meeting service rather than waiting/residing on Skype for people to contact them. The reason for this is simple, unless you have a dial in capability on Skype (that costs real money), only registered Skype members can reach you (and potentially Lync/Skype for Business users also). Because it is limited, many if not the majority of Skype use is “scheduled” elsewhere. I send an email to Juan in Spain saying “let’s talk and use Skype”. I then run Skype for the meeting, but when it is over I leave Skype. Essentially the lack of an open URL based interface that anyone can use to communicate with me on Skype limits its effectiveness as my primary communications platform.

The need for open Web access into Skype was detailed in this post, an open letter to Microsoft from over a year ago that predicted what is happening now. The key difference is that many if not most Facebook users are enabling representation and have virtually continual interaction with the application, primarily on their mobile devices. By adding simple click video to that, my expectation is that Facebook video use will explode.

Based on this, I have a few predictions:

  • By the end of 2016, Facebook video will have the largest volume on the planet of video minutes. It will eclipse Skype as casual video becomes common.
  • Facebook will expose more people to WebRTC (without their knowing it) by the end of 2015 than have used it to date.
  • Microsoft will add open Web representation into Skype in 2015 enabling users to publish a Skype URL and anyone with a WebRTC enabled browser will be able to go there and have a one click video call with that user on Skype (except potentially Chrome unless it supports H.264).
  • The WebRTC doors are wide open. With Facebook leading the way, EVERY application that has a value proposition for real-time enablement within the app will either get going or lose in the market. Consumers will EXPECT real-time as they will become very comfortable using it in Facebook.

If you are an app developer, an application operator, an enterprise or anyone in technology, now is the time to understand the wave that is coming.  See you in Miami in two weeks at WebRTC World Conference and Expo.

Edited by Dominick Sorrentino
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