Forget Whatsapp – Facebook Messages goes WebRTC – Big Time

13/04/2015

Silly me put my fortune on Whatsapp going WebRTC, but Facebook decided its Messenger should be getting it.

Just last week I’ve written my impressions on Whatsapp getting voice, and Facebook unbundled its Messenger from Facebook. In the web browser.

Just head to messenger.com to get an experience similar to Whatsapp’s web app. The main difference is that login is done through Facebook and not a QR code linked to your smartphone.

So I tried it out. And yes. It uses WebRTC. Natively. Right in my Chrome page:

Messenger WebRTC video call

WebRTC purists rejoice!

Whatsapp may or may not be WebRTC. It might be using PJSIP. It might have Opus or some other codec. It might be using WebRTC components in its code. But Messenger is the real deal. And both come from this small company called Facebook.

The use of WebRTC there is straight forward – when you select a friend, on the top right corner of the window, a phone and camera icon appear. If they are enabled (probably based on the current devices your friend is reachable at), you will be able to call him using WebRTC.

The flow of the whole thing is slightly off – while you are asked to allow access to your camera and microphone, the service calls your friend. So if you end up canceling this, or simply delay in your decision, there’s some inconsistency in how people expect such a call to occur. Other than that?

The service worked great. No more and no less well than most other WebRTC services out there.

I am not going to use it for my own calls. My social life revolves around Whatsapp. My business one around Google’s assets. And my WebRTC calls? My preference is still Talky.io (their new beta version).

Why I find this move VERY interesting

  • Facebook had an agreement with Microsoft/Skype for voice and video calling
  • That agreement is long gone. I’ve been an early advocate of Facebook going it alone with WebRTC and ditching Skype
  • Facebook could have gone with some other OTT player, but it has decided to take things into their own hands. Communications for them is a feature and not a service – as it should be
  • Internet Explorer and Safari haven’t confused Facebook. They didn’t wait for Microsoft’s implementation. Messenger works on these browsers, but just won’t show the WebRTC calling options
  • The same (or almost the same) is available from within the main Facebook site for some time now. It is still there – WebRTC video calling included. Unbundling messenger from Facebook in the web app is an interesting move. Not sure why they did that

Why is this important?

The largest social network just put its endorsement into WebRTC.

After one of the largest telecom vendors did (AT&T).

And the largest UC players (Microsoft & Cisco).

Care to explain to me why WebRTC is not ready yet?

 

Responses

Philipp Hancke says:
April 13, 2015

Well, the web part has been around for a while, since mid-january at least. It was quite similar to apprtc terms of architecture.

And the messenger.com app third party license notice shows both libjingle and webrtc.

Reply
    Tsahi Levent-Levi says:
    April 13, 2015

    Fippo, thanks.

    I noticed that Facebook had it for awhile. The fact that they made it an integral part of their standalone webapp is the interesting part here – they definitely see value in it.

    Reply
      Philipp Hancke says:
      April 13, 2015

      heh yeah. I was hoping for this to interoperate actually. Just found my notes… do they still run their TURN server on the odd port 50021?

      Reply
        Gustavo Garcia says:
        April 13, 2015

        { servers: [stun:stun.fbsbx.com:3478, turn:173.252.79.85:50023?transport=udp, turn:173.252.79.85:3478?transport=tcp, turn:173.252.79.85:443?transport=tcp], iceTransportType: all }

        Reply
Varun Singh says:
April 13, 2015

If I understood correctly, their desire to build almost from the ground up is more to do with their ambition to measure and quantify everything.

Reply
    Tsahi Levent-Levi says:
    April 13, 2015

    Maybe Varun. I guess that developing on their own was made possible (and relatively cheap) by WebRTC that it made partnering and diluting their brand name not worth it.

    Reply
Brian Gonsalves says:
April 14, 2015

Are you saving the Business tab on the messenger page for another blog post? That’s the biggest story there!

Reply
RealTimeWeekly | RealTimeWeekly #76 says:
April 20, 2015

[…] Forget Whatsapp – Facebook Messages goes WebRTC – Big Time […]

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Facebook Messenger likes WebRTC - webrtcHacks says:
May 17, 2015

[…] as a standalone website with support for voice and video between browsers. As Tsahi Levent-Levi pointed out already, it is using […]

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