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May 29, 2014

Communicating Online, In Context

When the World Wide Web Consortium came up with the concept of WebRTC, you could hear a collective “Yes!” from the online community. It offers users the ability to communicate peer-to-peer, and therefore browser-to-browser, without the use of plugins.

A plugin is simply an application connected to another application, in this case a browser, that can often be a resource hog and unstable to use. Anyone who has had to endure the spinning circle on their screen because of a clunky plugin taking its sweet time to load appreciates the benefits WebRTC brings—and this is when the plugin doesn’t crash.

With WebRTC, communication will be made through a combination of standard markup code and JavaScript. This same concept is being used in HTML5 where video and other media are becoming part of the language. WebRTC also facilitates communication between disparate browsers. One person could use Chrome and the other Firefox and still be able to interact through WebRTC.

But the benefits of WebRTC go beyond a more improved browsing experience. It provides the base for in-context communications, which in turn has the potential to revolutionize how we communicate with each other.

Communication between humans has always been hobbled by some limiting factor like location or contact information. You either had to be in person to receive the communication or had to have contact information like a street address, phone number, user ID or email address to communicate with someone else.

As its name suggests, context is the key factor in in-context communication. All that is needed for two or more people to communicate in this environment is for them to be in the same context.

Users taking an online class can be in the context of a student attending a lecture. Minerva University, a 100 percent online school, takes advantage of this technology to create a richer education process. Not only is the instructor lecturing, but graphics, data and polls display on-screen at the same time.

WebRTC is being used by HackerRank to interview candidates online for technical jobs. The technology can also be used in a number of different areas like customer support, online dating, forums, gaming and entertainment.

Only time will tell if WebRTC lives up to its hype, but signs point to a high probability of success. Many people are already taking online courses and working from home offices; WebRTC makes this much easier and reliable. Its reduction on environmental impact and travel costs are too compelling for it to be dismissed out of hand. 

Edited by Rachel Ramsey
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