Would you use WebRTC to Chat With Mom?

February 5, 2014

It may be a little too early to embrace WebRTC for a consumer-oriented service.

Art Matsak

[I like to think that the guest posts I bring here have different opinions than my own. This time, I must say that they definitely do. Art Matsak (@artmatsak), founder of Gruveo, a web based video calling service, decided to use Flash (for now). Here is why]

Ever since we launched Gruveo, our free P2P video calling service, we were getting strange looks from the fellow developer community for going with Flash. A service that relies on Flash? In 2013? You must be kidding.

The truth is, Flash has historically been strong in media delivery, and it’s still very much relied upon (just ask YouTube). A related area that’s still to get a production-ready alternative to Flash is realtime video conferencing. Yes, WebRTC, I’m looking at you.

WebRTC mothers

Don’t get me wrong – WebRTC is the future of in-browser communications. The mere fact that it’s an open draft is a huge advantage over Flash where you sometimes just have to bite the bullet and do things the way a single company decided for you. (Not to mention the annoying limitations you sometimes have to face.)

The problem with WebRTC is that it’s just not there yet. It still has to become a standard (as does HTML5) and it’s currently not supported in IE or Safari. The existing implementations are oftentimes buggy, although getting better with every release. And while there’s light in the end tunnel with Cisco announcing open-sourcing their implementation of H.264, the WebRTC Working Group still has to decide on the mandatory video codec.

Our big promise at Gruveo is that you should be able to have an instant video call with anyone, without asking them to install a particular program or adding them to your “contacts”. You just say, “Gruveo me right now on 1631”, and there you are, talking. Your chances of establishing a connection with just about anyone are very high because Flash is installed on something like 98% of all desktops.

Now, imagine Gruveo was WebRTC-based and you were trying to call your mom, who uses Safari on a Mac. At what point would you give up trying to explain her that she needs to install another browser (“What’s a browser, honey?”) to talk to you?

Here’s the point: For an end-user service like ours, where simplicity and ease of use are key selling points, switching to WebRTC is still a year or two down the road. Do we have a WebRTC version of Gruveo in development? You bet. But we’re not switching over before the browser adoption catches up.

Because your mom wouldn’t appreciate it.

Are you jumping in and going WebRTC right now? Or are you waiting on the sidelines waiting for the browser penetration to reach Flash-like levels? Share your thoughts in the comments with us.

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  1. I’m really glad my mother doesn’t read this blog. My mother uses Chrome and Firefox on Windows and Android. She wouldn’t ask me what a browser was, she knows perfectly well. Her own mother, in turn, used punch cards on tabulators, and graduated to CP/M by her sixties.

    Yeah. My mother would *not* appreciate this blog post.

    1. Likewise.

      My mother doesn’t use IE either. The reason though is me. Moms without techie kids might not be that progressive.

      I was really happy with this specific contribution because the opinion here is so much different than my own that I just had to have it here.

      1. I think you just failed to see Dave’s point.
        You’re saying that adult women can’t be technical, they need their male offspring to help them. It’s the same old “men are technical, women aren’t” bullshit that keeps mindsets from evolving and women out of the tech world.
        It normative.

        Dave was saying his mother was technical. And his grandmother before her.
        In all likelihood, he’s saying *he* is technical because of his mother, not the other way round.

        In any case, an entire interview on Would Your Mum Use This? is tired and backwards. Would your Dad use it? Would your annoying 12 year-old nephew who knows nothing about the Internet use it?
        In essence, would people less technically versed use it?

        Bearing children or not is irrelevant to the matter.

        1. Right, kind of.

          My mother wouldn’t consider herself technical, but actually has the only computing qualifications in the family. Her mother in turn predated computing qualifications, and wouldn’t have ever described herself as technical. But used CP/M for *preference*, which is frankly scary.

          But no, I’m not technical because of my mother – she just picked it up when the rest of us did.

          Which is one of the many reasons why the notion that is you’ve had a child or two, your IQ drops to the extent that you don’t know what a browser is just annoys me.

          1. Dave and no, let’s not confuse correlation and causation here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Correlation_does_not_imply_causation

            Of course bearing children is irrelevant to being technical. However, it’s pretty much safe to assume that your mother is 20+ years older than you are, and does it really need a proof that as a whole, the older generation is generally less technically versatile?

            I’m sorry if the choice of the example offended you, but let’s not allow dubious political correctness confuse the real point.

          2. You need to be very careful with that sort of assumption. A 45yr old friend of mine was being pitched by some 20somethings. Their claim was that ‘only the young get the internet’. He finally got fed up and left saying ‘Listen sonny, who the F**k do you think built the thing?’.
            Technology is like sex, people tend to assume that older folks don’t know about it 🙂

          3. I’m not saying or implying anything close to that Tim. All I’m saying is that older people are statistically less likely to use the Internet, and consequently are less likely to know what a browser is. That’s perfectly fine and doesn’t imply anything about their brain, IQ or whatever.

  2. Safari was a poor choice of example. Flash isn’t installed by default on Macs these days.
    OSX tends to disable when given the chance. (and it is never available on mobile safari).

    Everything you say is true (at the moment) for IE on windows desk/lap top.
    However, with webRTC support in Chrome for Android, we are starting to see a (large) batch of users who can use webRTC on their mobile devices, but can’t and won’t ever be able to use flash on them.

    1. Thanks Tim. Good point about Safari; however, Flash is still just two clicks away in it.

      Can’t agree with you more regarding mobile. I’d say that tapping mobile is our primary motivation for looking into WebRTC over here.

  3. Some time ago i was speaking with the team behind Big Blue Button, an online learning tool that is very evolved and presently built on top of flash. They were of a similar mind. Flash works today, but it has known costs and limitations. WebRTC is coming, but they have a product that’s in-use today. They are watching WebRTC evolve and will move in that direction when the time is right…but not today.

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