WebRTC Enables UX Fragmentation on a Global Scale

March 10, 2014

The main thing we got out of WebRTC? Spur of design creativity in user experience.


You do know what a call is don’t you?

It is something you do with a phone. You dial a number. There’s a dial tone while you wait. There’s a way to mute or hold. Transfer. Switch between calls. Join a conference. A few other features to it. that’s how it is supposed to be. It is also the only way there is – ask anyone in love in signaling, and these will be his reasons to go use SIP – just because it has this modality built in, and it is obvious that if you start something new that you will be needing it in the future.

You do know what a video conference looks like. Right?

There’s this screen. On the left of it, you see a big area of video. For two people, you see the person you speak with, and in a smaller box you’ll see yourself. For a group, they will all be in boxes in different layouts. On the right-hand side (or the left?) there’s a list of participants, a box with chat messages to the group, ordered in the time of their sending.

And it is the only way there is to make video calls. Obviously.

Or is it?

Have we captured the only way in which people do voice or video calls?

What I like best with the vendors playing with WebRTC, is that they *sometimes* actually try to be bold and change how calls are made.

My best example? Definitely OpenVRI (there’s an interview with Nicholas here). My first call on that service was with Nicholas. The weird thing there was the text chat – each one of us had a text box below his video, and whatever got clicked occupied that text box immediately. No waiting for a full sentence., and no way to synchronize the text of both sides.

I asked him why that is, and he simply stated that for the hard of hearing, that’s the best approach – not waiting for the person to click the text because the text being entered IS the actual content instead of side context only.

Last month, I had briefings with 3 different WebRTC vendors in a single day, all doing video calling. They came from 3 different continents and provided a different user experience.

Different people have different needs.

I’d even say that different situations call for different types of interaction.

This is what I see with developers who start playing with WebRTC – they each take their own route – reinventing what voice or video interaction really is. There are 2 reasons why this is happening now and with WebRTC:

  1. The developers have changed. We are no longer talking about VoIP developers, but rather web developers. They were never indoctrinated the way we VoIP guys were, so they are not bound by our weird notions
  2. The barriers of entry to these types of applications have been drastically lowered. This enables use cases that had no positive ROI to become viable, now that we can fit a more flexible business model to it

How this will unfold moving forward is a wild guess at best. I’d say we are headed towards a future where communication isn’t bound by a “phone call” or a “video conference” and their dictionary definitions. We are going to see a lot more types of user experiences, with a lot more fragmentation.

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  1. Tsahi,

    You are absolutely right about the changes that are taking place in communications. However, the biggest change is because of multimodal mobile devices, allowing people to initiate and and receive contacts in a variety of ways, anytime, anywhere. All forms of messaging are becoming more practical than just synchronous connections, especially when the option to “click-to-connect” contextually is available through WebRTC.

    The bottom line is that contacts won’t be starting with ether a voice or video call attempt, but with some form of messaging (e.g., email, IM, SMS, etc.), that can then be immediately escalated to a voice or video call, if desired by both parties. This will slowly kill old telephone answering by voice mail.

    1. Art, I think UX fragmentation isn’t about multimodal mobile devices but rather because of business process enabled communications, where you stitch the call into other interactions (not messaging, but rather business and contextual ones) AND because it is just so darn easy to get it up and running today with WebRTC.

      Beginning calls through messaging has been with us for several years now, and there are two models there that rule: the address book of the mobile phone and the buddy list of the OTT. These didn’t really change the UI and UX a lot.

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