WebRTC has many moving parts in it.
When WebRTC works it seems like magic. You point your browser to a URL. Get someone else to point his browser to a URL – and – you now see each other.
How cool can that be?
If you look below the hood, there’s a lot going on in there.
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I’ll try to give the explanation of how WebRTC works in a few different angles here. Together, they should create a pretty good picture of what’s going on.WebRTC Basic Concept
Here’s the first thing I usually say about WebRTC:
WebRTC is the means to drive real time communications (voice, video and arbitrary data) directly inside a web browser. No need for any plugin or download to do that.
Somehow, that’s not saying much.
So let’s start with what makes WebRTC truly unique from a browser perspective.
If up until now, when you thought of a web application you were thinking client and server –
You have the browser as a client. It connects to the server to ask for stuff. Lets call these things requests. And the server obliged by sending responses. We’ve grown beyond that using WebSockets, but it still is rather the same. If I want to send a message to a friend who is looking at his own browser just now, the message needs to go to the server and from there to my friend. Much like the post office works.
WebRTC is where browsers and HTML diverges from this paradigm:
While we still need to somehow signal from one browser to the other so we will be able to locate each other, once that signaling is over, we can send them messages directly between the two browsers – without the web server ever touching the messages. Magic.
This is why many refer to WebRTC as a peer-to-peer technology. Or P2P in short. Because browsers can communicate directly.Separation of Signaling and Media
When loading web pages, we are now used to the fact that the browser goes fetching a 100 different resources just to render a web page. These resources can come from various different servers – the host of the page, a CDN holding static files and a few third party sites. That said, this will mostly boil down to three types of files:
It ends up being a mixture of static stuff and a bit of code to hold it all together.
WebRTC is… different.
It requires two types of interactions that go over the network. Signaling and media.
Signaling takes place over an HTTPS connection or a websocket. It is implemented via JS code. What you do in signaling is decide how the users are going to find each other and start a conversation.
One important thing about signaling – it isn’t part of WebRTC itself. The developer is left to decide how to pass the information needed to create a WebRTC session. WebRTC will generate the bits of information it needs to send and process such bits of information that gets received but it won’t really do anything over the network about them. These bits of information are packed into SDP messages by WebRTC today.
Media takes a different route than signaling over the network and behaves very differently. This is true for the browser, the network AND the servers you need to make it work.Audio and Video
Audio and video is the main thing you’ll notice with WebRTC. It is also what gets showcased in almost all demos and examples of WebRTC.
The reason for that is simple – video is VERY visual and interactive.
Audio and video in WebRTC works by using codecs. These are known algorithms that are used to compress and decompress audio and video data. There are different codecs you can use in WebRTC and I won’t get into it now.
Audio and video also gets interesting because it is sent with low latency in mind. If packets get lost along the way due to network issues – it might not be worth retransmitting them (another first in the HTML).
WebRTC uses known VoIP techniques to get media processed and sent through the network, and this is all done over SRTP – the secure and encrypted version of RTP. WebRTC did make some minor changes by using specific mechanisms in SRTP that were not in wide use before, making it a bit harder to interoperate with if you have a VoIP service deployed already.Data too
You can also send arbitrary data with WebRTC. This is done over what’s called the data channel in WebRTC.
The data channel can be used when what you want to do is send direct messages between browsers without going through any server (you may still need to relay it through a TURN server though).NAT Traversal
Being able to communicate directly across browsers is great, but it doesn’t always work.
The internet was built on the client-server paradigm some 30-40 years ago. Since then it has changed somewhat. Today, most users access the internet from behind a firewall or a NAT. These devices usually change the IP address of the user’s device and mask it from the open web. This masking can be just that, or it can also offer some measure of “protection” where unsolicited traffic is not allowed towards the user’s device. The problem with this approach, is that WebRTC uses different mediums for signaling and media so understanding what’s solicited and what’s unsolicited traffic isn’t easy.
Furthermore, there are enterprises who make it a point not to let any type of traffic into (or out of) their network without vetting it.
Which brings us to these types of scenarios:
The guy there on the left? He now might actually know the public IP address of the guy on the right due to that STUN request that was made. But the public IP address might only be opened to the STUN server and having anyone else try to connect through that “pinhole” that was created may still fail.
In order to overcome these issues, a user’s device will not be able to directly communicate with another device located inside some other private network. And the workaround for that is to relay that blocked media through a public server. This is the whole purpose of TURN servers:
You can expect anywhere between 5-20% of your sessions to require the use of TURN servers.
Due to this complication, a WebRTC session takes the following steps:
Oftentimes, developers won’t develop directly against the WebRTC APIs and will use third party frameworks and modules to do that for them – open source or commercial.Quick Recap
WebRTC has 3 main API groups:
getUserMedia is in charge of giving the user access to the camera, microphone and screen. It alone gives value for those who need to do things locally, without implementing real time conversations.
Here are a few uses of standalone-getUserMedia:
I am sure you can come up with more uses to it.PeerConnection
PeerConnection is at the heart of WebRTC and the most complex to implement and to understand. In a way, it does EVERYTHING.
Much of what goes on inside peer connection that affects the resulting media quality is based on heuristics. A specific set of arbitrary rules. Different implementations may have different behaviors and different media quality due to this.DataChannel
I’ve discussed the data channel somewhat earlier.
The only thing to add here is that:
You can find a few ideas of what people are doing with data channels here. There are more ways you can make use of it.The WebRTC Implementer’s Viewpoint
If what you’re looking for is to implement an application that makes use of WebRTC, then here are some activities you’ll need to deal with:
Before you continue, you may want to check out this article about programming languages in WebRTC.Client Side
The client side can be a browser, mobile application, PC application or an embedded device.
For mobile applications, this is mostly about finding an SDK you’re comfortable with. There are again a few available on github, along with the official ones coming from Google for iOS and Android. There are also some commercial mobile SDK out there that are pretty good.
You can go for a PC application. Most do it by using Electron. And there’s also the embedded approach, which means either taking the official Google WebRTC codebase and porting it to whatever device you have or developing something on your own – I’ve seen both approaches work.Signaling
You will need a signaling server. The first thing a WebRTC client will do is call the mothership. That is used to coordinate whatever session you have in mind for it.
The signaling server isn’t in the scope of the WebRTC specification so it is up to you to figure out what to use here. Most of the code you’ll find in the github for the browser client is actually going to be an implementation of a signaling server.
Remember that the signaling server can be separate from your web server or they can reside within the same process – up to you. And in any case, the first thing to do is to check if there’s already some kind of a signaling mechanism that you have in place for your application for things that aren’t WebRTC. You might be able to piggyback your SDP messages and other WebRTC related signaling over that mechanism (I know that’s what I’d try to do first).NAT Traversal
For NAT traversal you will need to deploy STUN/TURN servers.
We’ll first start with what NOT to do:
Now what you should do:
if you are planning on group voice and video sessions, connectivity to PSTN or other networks, recording or other fancy features, then media servers are in your immediate future.
Look for something that fits well with your use case.
I’d even say start here before picking anything else in your technology stack.
There are a few open source and commercial alternatives out there. They are different from one another in many ways.Looking for a WebRTC Training?
The purpose of this article is to get you the most basic understanding of WebRTC if you’re a newb. I didn’t want to take the approach of building a “hello world” application – you can find many of these on the internet already. What I wanted to do instead is go somewhat higher and take a look at the bigger picture – you’ll be needing it soon enough.
In many cases, people start with a “hello world” implementation of WebRTC and try to fit it to their own scenario. I find that it is the wrong way in many cases, as it all depends on what it is you are trying to build – it will dictate the starting point you’ll need to make in your journey.
Spend the time to read this article, and then go read a “hello world” manual or two for WebRTC. It will make it a lot more effective if you do.
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An interview with Jeff Lawson, Co-founder and CEO of Twilio.
After going to Twilio Signal event in London in September, I was asked by Twilio’s analyst relations about the event. I shared my thoughts in a lengthy article already, so it was easy to send out a link.
I did one more thing.
I decided to ask her if I can interview Jeff Lawson in person the next time I’ll be in San Francisco (which happened to be the following month during Kranky Geek). My expectation was to be ignored, or to just be declined.
But when she came back with an approval… I was clueless as to how to proceed.
We ended up deciding together on a recorded video interview.I was given free reign as to what questions to ask, with the request to share them if possible before the interview. No restrictions were placed. I reached out to a few friends asking for their thoughts of good questions, added a few of mine and prepared for the interview.
Jeff gave me his full attention for the better part of an hour. I ended up using everything we recorded – not removing any of the answers.
The result? A longish interview of around 37 minutes. I’ve added the transcript below the interview as well, if you’re more of a textual person.
I’d like to thank Jeff and the team at Twilio that made this one happen.Transcript
Tsahi Levent-Levi: Good morning, Jeff.
Jeff Lawson: Good morning.
Tsahi: Okay. I’d like to start with something, a question that I was very interested in. You have two kids, right?
Tsahi: Are they young?
Tsahi: How do you explain to them what you do every day?
Jeff: That’s a great question. It’s hard to explain to a young kid what Twilio is, but here’s what I’ve found is they use their phones … They don’t use their phones. They steal our phones, but the only thing we really let them do is communicate. If you think about it, that’s the very first thing that a kid wants to do. Call Grandma, and I’ll FaceTime Grandma from the phone. I explain that Twilio … Twilio is a technology. We let everybody who wants to be able to build things that communicate, we let them do that.
Tsahi: Okay. So that’s CPaaS in a way, right?
Jeff: CPaaS. Yeah. In an essence, we let companies call Grandma.
Tsahi: Yes. Okay. Letting companies call Grandma. I’ll tell that to my daughter.
Jeff: If Grandma is your customer and you need to engage with her.
Tsahi: Yes. When you started Twilio, like nine or 10 years ago, what was the original vision behind it? I guess it was slightly different than what it is today.
Jeff: It’s actually pretty similar to what it is today, I have to say. We started Twilio because I’m a software developer. I’ve been a developer for 20 years, and I also started multiple companies prior to Twilio. At each company, a common thread arose. At every single one of those companies, first of all, we were using the power of software to build a customer experience that was better than anything in the industry that had come before us.
I had started a variety of companies. An academic content company for college students online, StubHub, the online ticket exchange for secondhand tickets, and a brick and mortar retailer, of all things. The common thread among all of these was we were using software to build a great customer experience. We were using software to build amazing web applications, to represent the business, to enable us to touch customers. StubHub is the whole ability just to be able to connect folks together to buy and sell tickets. Software was key to that, and the key of software is agility. The ability to constantly iterate, constantly listen to your customers, put something out there in the world that you think solves a problem for them, get feedback and iterate. Sprint over sprint, every couple of weeks, you’re putting out something better, learning from your customers. That’s the super power of software. In every one of those companies, I had another problem. At some point or another, I had always needed to reach out and communicate with my customers. Just makes sense. Every time it happened, I said, “Well, that’s neat, but I’m a software developer. What do I know about making the phone ring?” That’s like magic. I have no idea how that works.
So I’d go to the industry, and I’d say, “How are we supposed to build this idea that we have?” We want to integrate with these systems. I have this idea for how I want to touch our customers, and the industry would say, “Oh, okay. Yeah, yeah. We think we can help you with that. First thing, let’s pull a bunch of copper wires from the carrier to your data center. Then we’re going to rack up a bunch of carrier gear in your data center, and then, let’s see. None of this was designed to do this idea you have, so we’re going to bring in this professional services army. They need to come integrate it, and they’re going to beat up all that equipment and get it to work and do exactly what you want. That will take about two million bucks, and it will take a couple of years to build. Sign here.”
Every time, I remember thinking, “Huh. First of all, millions of dollars for this one part of my customer experience? That’s a lot of money. I don’t think I have that, but if it’s not for the money, though, what’s much more important? The time.” Think about it. Two years before I get version one in front of my customers, before I get that prototype in front of my customers? Get any feedback whatsoever? That’s insane. To software people, to spend two years before you get anything in front of a customer? That’s crazy.
After having that experience at three companies in a row over the course of 10 years, I realized, “Huh. The ethos of communications is diametrically opposed to the ethos of software.” It kind of makes sense. If I was shooting satellites into the air and laying down millions of miles of wire everywhere, I would operate slowly and methodically, and that’s what I would do. That’s what the industry of communications industry has done for 100 years. The thing is, how you and I, how individuals, how companies, get value out of these networks has shifted. It’s no longer about the physical networks. It’s about the software that’s running that defines how we get value out of that network, what we can do, what’s possible. That’s all about software.
So we started Twilio in 2008 to solve the problem of bringing communications out of its legacy in hardware and physical networks and into its future, which is software. Now, we do that with a powerful set of APIs that run in the cloud that let any software developer be able to start building that future.
Tsahi: I’d say you succeeded in that.
Jeff: Oh, well, thank you. We feel like we’ve just started.
Tsahi: Okay. In all of these years, what would be one of the most surprising use cases that you can say that you’ve seen or come in front was like, “Whoa. That’s cool. That’s neat”?
Jeff: There’s so many. We build the platform. We never know what people are going to build. In fact, one of the little Easter eggs in Twilio’s history is that in every press release when we launch a new product, my quote ends with the words, “We can’t wait to see what you build.” Every press release, year after year after year, that was always the line. Nobody ever caught on.
There’s so many use cases. There’s the obvious ones. The whole on demand economy. Things like Uber and Lyft and Airbnb, where Twilio is not only notifying you that your car is arriving, but also connecting drivers and riders together. That whole idea that I would use the internet and my phone to get a stranger to pull a car up and get in the car, I was always told to not get in stranger’s cars. But now, that’s what we do every day, and use cases around how communications, and Twilio has made that safe, made that convenient, made that easy. I never would have thought of those the day we launched Twilio, because really, mobile phones, their current incarnation, smart phones, were just getting started, and that whole idea of it; the applications of it were still completely unknown.
But then there’s the crazy use cases that I still can’t imagine. One of my favorite crazy use cases is there’s some researchers in the United States who study the migratory habits of bears.
Jeff: Right? It turns out that if you study the migratory habits of bears, you spend your days in a helicopter flying around looking for bears with binoculars. When you see a bear, you land your helicopter. You shoot the bear with a tranquilizer, then you climb up on the bear. You hope it’s tranquilized, and you put a collar on its neck that’s going to track its location. Then you run away very quickly, hopefully before the bear wakes up. Then a year later, you’re circling in your helicopter. You spot the bear again. You land. You shoot it with a tranquilizer again. You climb up on the bear again, hoping it’s actually tranquilized. You pull the data card out of the collar. You put a new one in, and you run away before the bear wakes up.
They’re like, “There’s got to be a better way. We would love to stop shooting bears with tranquilizers.” So they built a collar that had a 2G radio in it that collects all the data. When the bear wanders into an area with some cell service … They don’t exactly walk around in shopping malls. When it wanders in, it picks up coverage, and it texts all that data off the collar to a receptor they built on Twilio. That was, I thought, such a cool use case, because they’re using this technology, 2G radios. They’re low power. They’ve got maximum range, and it is texting the data off to build an app. You’re like, “Who would have thought of this?” We call this the internet of bears. I’m like, this is a use case I never would have imagined that there were people whose days were spent doing this. They found a use case for Twilio to solve this problem.
Here’s another crazy use case I love. There’s a researcher in the UK who built an app that allows you to call a phone number, and based on taking a recording of your voice, can detect with a very high degree of accuracy whether you’re likely to be predisposed to Parkinson’s disease.
Tsahi: I should use that one.
Jeff: You’ve done it?
Tsahi: No, but do you have the number?
Jeff: It’s a medical trial. They ran this trial. They found it to be an incredibly accurate way of assessing whether or not you are likely to develop Parkinson’s just by calling a phone number on Twilio and recording your voice for about 30 seconds. What’s amazing, as a researcher, he said trials like this would have usually cost millions of dollars to set up and run, because you would have needed all this sort of expertise and specialization. The doctor and his staff built it in a couple of weeks using Twilio for less than $1,000. They ran the whole trial, so it’s amazing.
Tsahi: Yes it is. I want to talk to you a little bit about the market itself and the different players in that market. The main ones that you would have thought that you would have lead or be part of that are the actual Telcos, the carriers, the ones that offer the phone service to the consumers. When you look at what they are doing in CPaaS and in APIs, they have services, but none of them are quite as successful as the other vendors out there. Why do you think that is?
Jeff: Well, I love the carriers. They have a very valuable product in that they are building out all the infrastructure that we all use every day to communicate in every way we can. I would say, though, that the carriers are not well situated to solve these software problems. Historically, carriers have not been software organizations. They’ve been very effective at ground operations, at getting infrastructure out in the field, repairing it, installing it. They’re very good at sales and marketing and servicing customers, but they historically have not been great software organizations, and that’s why I think a new type of company has been needed to come and solve this problem. A company that is a software company.
Twilio, half of our company is our software R&D group. That’s a different ethos. Building a world class software engineering organization, one that can ship and be agile and build resiliency with agility, which is what we call that process of having a high velocity of innovation but also achieving five nines of availability and things like that. That is a hard software problem, and so it takes a different kind of company to solve that.
Tsahi: Okay. What about all of the IaaS vendors? AWS, Google Cloud Platform, Microsoft Azure? They offer infrastructure. They give you compute and storage and databases today, and it’s like shouldn’t they also do communications? It’s the next step. Why do you think that they aren’t there yet or aren’t there today?
Jeff: I think two things. First is, these companies have been primarily focused in the communications for online consumers. A lot of them have a consumer play, whether it’s Microsoft with Skype or Google with Hangouts and things like that. Then on the infrastructure side, I think they’ve gone to the things that they do particularly well on the infrastructure to build, which is to say it’s compute and storage, the most common areas of software computation, which has been a huge meaty market to go after, which has meant that communications hasn’t been the focus of theirs.
I think companies like Twilio, we focus on communications all day every day. That’s what we wake up to do, and so I think we’re uniquely situated to be able to build out great services that target exactly the use cases of communications while the other platforms have been really focused more on compute and storage and the key areas of general purpose computation.
Tsahi: Okay. Another trend that I’ve seen in the last year or so is around UCaaS, Unified Communication as a Service. These companies that offer you desk phones, the video conferencing systems, the things that you need in order to run and operate your enterprise internally. Communication between people inside the enterprise. It seems that all or most of these vendors today start offering APIs. They bundle APIs on top of their service. When you go and talk to them, they usually say, “We’ve got APIs just like Twilio. When you use us, you don’t need to pay for blah, blah, blah, whatever.” It’s like they compare themselves and position themselves as direct competitors to Twilio. Where do you see these two markets going? UCaaS and CPaaS. Where do they meet?
Jeff: Yeah. It’s a very different thing. If you think about Unified Communications as a Service, you’ve got an application. When you build an application, you make all sorts of assumptions about how the world works. You have a domain. You’ve got models. You’ve got all the core components of unified communications. Then when you add APIs to it, which by the way, it makes a ton of sense. Every SaaS product has APIs. In fact, UCaaS has been a little late to that game, I actually believe. Most SaaS companies have had APIs for 10 years. But when you add APIs to a software application, those APIs bring with it all the assumptions that you made about that application. That’s both good for some things … If you want to extend the application in a certain way and you want APIs to do it, that’s what those kinds of APIs are good for.
Twilio is designed from the ground up to be a set of APIs, to be ultimate flexibility. To not make all those assumptions about the one application that the end user is going to use it for, but rather to say these APIs are designed like building blocks to be put together in any way you see fit. That’s why we can address a wide variety of use cases, whether it’s two-factor authentication, identity verification, call centers, anonymous communications, notifications, alerts, anything you can imagine, you can build with Twilio. That’s because we were created from the ground up for this recombination of these building blocks as opposed to taking something that’s already built and fixed in place and then saying, “We’re going to add APIs to it.” It’s just a different way of approaching the API problem. Both of them have merits, but I like our approach, because it gives us the ultimate flexibility to really enter any of these use cases in a really wide breadth of things.
Tsahi: Do you see a unified communication platform as a service; A vendor that does such a service deciding not to build the whole communication infrastructure on its own, but instead using someone like Twilio, a communication platform as a service, to build on top what it is that he is doing?
Jeff: Yeah. I believe that companies whose primary business is communications can and definitely should and would get competitive advantage by using a platform like Twilio to build upon. The reason why is this. It used to be when those UC companies started, their core competency was making the phone ring. Then they’d add some software functionality on top of it, sure, but the vast majority of what they worried about was how do I make the phone ring? The problem is Twilio has democratized that ability.
Every developer … Every mobile developer, every web developer … now has the ability to make the phone ring in 100 countries around the world where we have phone numbers and touch every phone on the planet … Mobile, landline, et cetera … with an API that is reliable, that is scalable, that is global. Now, you’ve got developers out there who get to focus solely on customer experience, features, integration, UX, mobile. Build the things customers really care about and bring this core competency of focusing on user experience that software developers do so well. A one or two developer team can actually create a customer experience that is better than some large company that is focused purely on Unified Communications as a Service.
The existing UCaaS vendors, they would be wise to build on top of the same platform that any developer in the world can come and start to compete with them on. If they don’t, those independent software developers, they can actually start and build companies that are really compelling competitors, because they don’t have to focus on the low level bits. They’re focused on the things customers really care about, which is features, functionality, and the user experience that matters.
We have seen this play out, for example, in the call center market. We’ve seen … At our first conference back in 2011, Tiago was the founder of the company TalkDesk. One developer. Do you know Tiago?
Jeff: Back in 2011, Tiago was the founder of TalkDesk. Single developer. He was a web developer. He knew web development really well and focused on building a product that he thought would be really compelling. Because of Twilio, he didn’t have to worry about any of the underlying infrastructure. Now, TalkDesk is hundreds of employees, has raised a lot of venture capital, has Fortune 1000 companies running call centers on them all because he was able to focus on the things customers really care about, is the features and functionality of the application. He did not have to worry about making the phone ring. That’s a really powerful competitive dynamic, as new players come in fundamentally uplevelled, because they’re building on platforms.
Tsahi: When I look at the feature set that you have at Twilio, the different types of functions that you offer, at the end of the day, that is something that is always commented when people talk about Twilio and they’re trying to attack Twilio as a company. They say, “All of the money comes at the end of the day from SMS and voice. That’s what they do, and at the end of the day, that’s too competitive as a market today.” If you actually look and search all of the CPaaS vendors, all of the direct competitors that you have, almost all of them have the same type of characteristics. They make most of their revenue today from SMS and voice and a lot less from the IP based services that they have, from the new things that come out. How do you as the leader in the CPaaS space deal with that and meet that challenge?
Jeff: I think there’s two things. First of all, most mature products for any company are generally going to be the largest contributors of revenue. Especially with developer products. We have a very long commitment to developers, and that takes a little longer than other products to adopt, because you launch a product, then developers have to see that product, understand it, and build their product, and then bring their product to market. You’ve got a little bit of an extra delay as a developer-focused company before products become commercially viable.
That is a long commitment, and that, quite frankly, is why a lot of companies don’t have the stomach to serve developers, because it’s a long commitment to developers to get those products to grow and be large. But we have that commitment. The way we look at developer products is that they have a slower start but then a fantastic ramp up capability. So I wouldn’t worry about the short term. We’re planning for the long term. In the long term, it is blatantly obvious that the software APIs and software communications are going to win. We’re there with all the products that developers need to build it. We see developers building amazing things using our software products, our video SDKs, Twilio Clients for Voice Over IP, the rest of our software products.
The other thing I’ll point out is that our software products often drive usage and adoption of our voice and SMS products as well. They don’t exist in a vacuum. When a customer builds a call center using Twilio’s TaskRouter product, which is a globally scalable cloud-based ACD … When you use TaskRouter to build a call center, guess what? It drives more voice revenue. When you use Twilio Client as the basis of your call center, it drives more PSTN revenue, generally, as well, because you’ve got an inbound phone number.
It’s interesting is that these new technologies, software-based communications, are actual drivers of competitive advantage for our customers who adopt them, whereas if you think about the customers of ours who’ve adopted Twilio Client to allow any computer with a web browser to be able to now become a call center by just plugging in a headset and using our Twilio Client product that’s powered by WebRTC, that has leveled the playing field because you no longer have to manufacture or sell hardware phones or PBXs in a closet. These new software technologies have been huge drivers of a new set of players to arise in this industry who previously wouldn’t have been able to do it. That’s creating a new market dynamic here of new players entering the field and new products entering the field that wouldn’t have existed 10 years ago.
That’s really exciting, and it’s creating a huge market shift, but it also draws more usage of the PSTN right along with it. The same thing you can say for our Twilio Chat product. The same thing you can say for a number of our products, Twilio Studio. So all of these products together, you usually don’t use them in a vacuum. You use them together with other products. That’s part of the nature of APIs. But having them all together and being able to plug them in together to do these interesting things is fundamentally changing the landscape of the companies and the products that are out there that are really pushing the ball forward on communications.
Tsahi: I think I saw the first thing that you said when I worked at RADVISION years ago, but in the opposite sense. At RADVISION, you had two business units. One of them was a technology business unit. We sold SDKs to others to build their own products. The second business unit dealt with selling videoconferencing equipment. Whenever there was a downturn in the company because of the market, the CEO came out and said, “We have this business unit that sells videoconferencing. It’s now slow because of the market. Then the TBU, the technology business unit, we’re still going strong because we see that this will go upstream three years from now when developers actually launch it.”
There, the business model was flipped. We usually licensed the software in advance so developers had to invest when they started, and not when they saw the revenue. What you are saying is that today, in order to be in the developer space, you don’t make the money up front from developers that build stuff in the future. You wait and you grow with them. That waiting for that growth is what makes a company big at the end, is being patient.
Jeff: Exactly right. It’s the combination of our usage-based revenue model that tightly aligns us with our customer’s success. This is key. When we think about what is the driver of innovation, what makes developers be successful in building their next idea, it is experimentation. Experimentation is the prerequisite to innovation. Everything that we do is about lowering the barriers to a developer getting started and running as many experiments as they can for an idea that they want to try out. That’s why we have such a low upfront. You get started … Every developer who has used Twilio started by spending their first penny to make that first phone call, send that first text message, fire up that first video session.
You never know which one of these ideas that developers are building is going to be the next great big idea. Our job is to make it so developers can try as many of these ideas and run as many experiments as they can until they find product market fit with the thing that they’re building. That’s why it’s a long commitment to developers, because you need to give them the runway. You need to have that patience, but you also need to have that attitude that it’s not about, “Hey, a developer came to our door. I’m here to get all the money from you today.” You’re like, “No. We’ll do well if you do well. I’m just here to make sure you do well. I’m here to do everything I can to make you successful in building your ideas.” Ultimately, that’s how I’m going to be successful, but it’s a long commitment.
We like to say, though, it is a compounding interest business, essentially. You invest in developers, and they build. With the usage-based model, as they grow, as they’re successful, that, then, turns into our success. For us, that means customer success is the very first thing. It’s the prerequisite to our own success. Everyone at Twilio is always focused on customer success first.
Tsahi: I’ve been to two Twilio SIGNAL events, both very interesting events. I really loved them. What I noticed that you know exactly what the product does. When there is a product launch, you play with it. You do it on stage. You use it. You’re a developer yourself. How can you do that and still be a CEO of more than 900 employees?
Jeff: I think as an API developer-first company, I have to do that. That’s how I can make sure that we’re building the right things, and that’s how I can make sure I’m close to our customers and I’m close to our products. I love playing around with the new Twilio products. I am the first person they give access to when we build stuff, or at least, I hope I am, because that’s how I love playing around. I just dive in there. I read the docs. I started building stuff. That’s really exciting.
Recently, I was building something for Halloween with my kids with some Arduinos. I love building internal things at Twilio. A few years ago, I built our goal-setting software that we were using at the time. I just dove in. They don’t let me touch production code anymore, which is probably a good thing, but I just love being a developer. Even though I’m a CEO, I love continuing to invest in that part of my life. Obviously, I don’t get to do it as much as I used to, but it would make me very sad if I had to stop. I’ve just arranged my schedule and arranged my life so that I always make sure I’ve got some time to stay current on new stuff, both inside Twilio and outside Twilio and build. I’ve always thought that just building, just having a project idea in mind and committing yourself to building it and picking even some new technologies you’ve never used before, that’s a great way to keep learning and keep building and keeping your skills up.
Tsahi: I can easily relate to that. Talking about products and what is it you do, the last year it seems that you have somewhat shifted. If up until now, you could have said that when Twilio launches a new product or introduces a new product, that would be yet another building block that you can use to do some kind of communication. A new communication service that you couldn’t build before. It seems that you’ve started moving upstream. There is the Engagement Cloud with Notify and Authy. Then there is even Twilio Studio that goes for me even one level above that. Why did you make that move? Why the shift?
Jeff: Well, we don’t see it as a shift, because to us, it’s always about having the right API for a developer to get the job done. As a platform, you start off with a set of building blocks that provide maximum flexibility, because you don’t necessarily know what developers are going to want to build. As you learn from developers what are the most common things that they want to get done, but also what was really hard? What did they think would be easy to build and it turned out was very hard?
We view our job as making our customers successful. When we see the things that we can do to make their lives easier, help them get the job done faster or not have to reinvent the wheel because they’re trying to figure out, “Hey, how do I figure out how to distribute calls?” and I see every other customer trying to figure that out, too, as they’re building a call center, it becomes obvious. You say, “Wow. My job is to make my customer’s life easier and make them more successful. Why don’t I build a product that does that thing?” So you end up with Twilio TaskRouter, for example.
In the case of Studio, we view it as making the developer’s job even easier and allowing more people to participate in the development and the maintenance of these applications they’re building. Why? Because we saw developers build an application, and certain parts of it are really exciting, like how do I figure out the exact experience I want? How do I integrate all this stuff? Then parts of it are really boring and become a tax to the developer and to the whole organization, such as when folks are saying, “Hey.” Product manager says, “Hey, can we update the text? We’re going to run an A/B test. Can you try 50% on this and 50% on that? Can you change the SMS text? Can you change how the call center greets the people coming in?”
The developers don’t see that as exciting. They see that as, “Oh, it’s continual maintenance. It keeps pulling story points off of me every week, because I’ve got to keep maintaining the thing.” We said, “Isn’t there a way that we can allow the developer to do the really important parts, the parts that are about integrating systems and things like that, and then take the other parts that are a little more standard and make it so not only the developer doesn’t have to write it … They can just drag and drop and build it easily … but they can also hand some of that off to other people in the organization.” Maybe the marketing people have ideas about how they want the content to work. Maybe the ops people want to change how the IVR call flow works. There’s all sorts of different people who are invested in these communications applications, because customer engagement touches so many parts of the company.
If we can offload a bunch of that work from the developer, that ultimately will accelerate our customer’s roadmap and make them more successful. Again, you go back. That’s our goal. By the way, when we make our customer successful, that makes us successful, so we’re all aligned in this. Studio is a great way to do that. So we keep listening to customers, hearing the things that they love about the API approach, the flexibility it gives them, the fact that they can now build things that they were never able to do in the past because pre-built software applications weren’t flexible enough. But then we say, “Great. How do I make it so that you can get that flexibility faster and easier than ever before?” You do that by listening to your customers and solving the most common pain points.
Tsahi: I really love Studio. I’ve played with it. It’s a great tool. Really.
Tsahi: How do you make the definition of it? Going … Building a UI tool, an IDE that can mix and match stuff and do this logic is never easy. I’ve used tools before that are similar. Some of them are good. Most of them not the good. How did you nail that experience in a way that, at least for me, was just point on?
Jeff: I think there have been fits and starts in the history of computation around visual designing of programming. Sometimes they work. Sometimes they don’t. To us, there were two things that were involved in that. Number one is working with a lot of customers and a lot of users. We actually started with paper and sticky notes and starting to design with them how they would want to design something like an IVR or an SMS bot or a chat bot, things like that. We actually did it with sticky notes before we wrote a single line of code. To us, that was the equivalent of for APIs, it’s writing the API docs first, putting them in front of a user and saying, “Hey, is this the API you would want?” We do that before we build the product. We did the same. We applied the same logic to building a user interface for drag and drop development.
Then the second thing was I think we constrained it down a bit to say, “This isn’t about general purpose computation,” because you get in all sorts of hairy things. We’re focused on the customer engagement. If we scope it down and we say, “We want to make the very best visual designer for Twilio for customer engagement. What are the things it should encompass?” I think that the key of building both power and simplicity is really understanding your domain that your customers are operating in and then designing the perfect thing for that domain.
I think that obviously, we’re just at the very beginning. We launched it just over a month ago, and so we’re continuing to learn from customers and get that feedback, but that’s our approach that I think has helped us to build something that customers find both powerful but also easy to adopt and easy to use. That comes from the same approach we’ve used to design APIs that I think customers would articulate in the same way. They’re powerful and easy to use.
Tsahi: What’s the feedback that you get about the engagement cloud? It’s out there for what, half a year now?
Jeff: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Look, when we talk to customers and we take a step back and we say, “What is Twilio all about? Why is Twilio important to you, ING Bank? Why is Twilio important to you, Morgan Stanley bank?” Some of these very large organizations, so obviously have a lot of options and a lot of legacy systems they could have kept using. The answer we get is, first of all, flexibility. With Twilio, we get this unprecedented flexibility.
When you think about the importance of customer engagement to a company, almost nothing is more important. When I talk to a CEO of a bank, and you ask them, “What’s important?” they are so concerned about, “How can I maintain my relationship with my customer?” That’s the biggest fear that C-level executives have. That is done with customer engagement. How do you keep up? If you think about the problem space here, it’s insane.
As consumers, the technology that we use has advanced incredibly rapidly in the last five to 10 years. We’ve got a wide variety of new applications that we use. We use video. I use video almost daily. I would have thought that was crazy 10 years ago. I would have thought that was stupid, and now here we are. We use video on a daily basis. We’ve got great chat applications. We’ve got apps in our chat and chat in our apps. It’s amazing. Yet, for companies to communicate to their customers, it is incredibly broken. Why? Because companies can’t keep up with the pace at which our expectations are changing for how communications is going to work and how great of an experience it’s going to be.
We’re still stuck in the days where you essentially call an IVR of a company and they don’t know who you are. You enter your 40-digit account number and then you talk to an agent. They’re still asking your name five times. You’re like, if I had that experience with a friend, if I called my friend and they asked me my name five times during the call, I would think there was something medically wrong with them. Yet when you call a company, that’s the experience you expect. Nothing is more broken about communications than how companies talk to their customers. We want to fix that.
When you talk to executives at companies and you say, “What keeps you up at night?” It’s, “Yeah. I’m worried about losing my connection to my customer. Being disintermediated by all these other technologies that are coming out. I need to keep the connection in order to stay top of mind and stay relevant to my customer.” When I think about how that works, it’s like, “Well, you’ve got rapidly proliferating ways in which you need to reach your customer.”
10, 15 years ago, talking to your customer generally meant you had a phone number and customers could call it. Now, you’ve got not just phone calls. You’ve got text messaging, you’ve got chat, you’ve got mobile apps with push notifications. You’ve got WeChat, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger. You’ve got so many different … Now Alexa, Google Home, personal assistants. You have so many ways and very finite development resources to keep up with this changing world. By the way, it’s not just the ways in which you need to communicate that is proliferating. Think about all the departments in a company that need to actually keep up. You’ve got sales, marketing, customer support, onboarding, product teams. Every part of the company is trying to keep up with every part of this changing technology landscape. It is an unsolvable problem for most companies.
That’s what the engagement cloud is here to sell. We want to provide one system that allows companies to keep building, keep iterating, but to reduce the barriers, reduce the time to do that and give one tool to all these different teams who need to touch customers, to be able to keep up with this rapidly changing landscape and constantly iterating on those customer experiences with easy to use tools and infrastructure that they don’t have to worry about scaling. They don’t have to worry about reliability. They don’t have to worry about onboarding new platforms. We’re going to do that for them as the world is changing. They get all that stuff from us, and so they focus on, “Okay, what’s my special sauce? What’s the thing that makes my brand and my company engaging to my customer?” I’m going to focus on that last bit, and we’re going to iterate on that constantly, and I’m going to empower all these different teams inside the company to be able to have that at their fingertips. That’s what the engagement cloud vision is all about.
Tsahi: Thank you for your time, Jeff.
Jeff: Thank you, Tsahi.
Tsahi: I thoroughly enjoyed it.
The post Jeff Lawson on the Past, Present and Future of Programmable Communications appeared first on BlogGeek.me.
Vidyo has made several announcements in the past couple of weeks. Time to see why the time is right for RTC across markets.
It has been a busy month for Vidyo. It has made two interesting announcements:
Vidyo has been known for their video routing technologies for many years. Well before WebRTC came into the ring. It is great to see how they have come in merging the two, along with how they are trying to fit their business model to the realities of WebRTC.Vidyo, WebRTC, VP9 and SVC
How do you compete in a world where WebRTC is becoming the dominant media engine? Especially when the baseline implementation is dictated by what you get by default in the browser?
Vidyo has always had its own proprietary codec implementations. Ones that are optimized for SVC – Scalable Video Coding. Alex Eleftheriadis guest posted here last year with an explanation of SVC. To simplify, SVC gives two big advantages:
In many cases, you can get these things done without SVC and the end result would be good enough. But there are times when this extra kick to quality and optimization of how the network gets used makes all the difference.
When it comes to current browser implementations of WebRTC, the only video codec that has any kind of SVC support is VP9 and that takes place in Chrome. To take advantage of SVC, there are only two routes a company can take:
Option (1) is great, but it assumes that:
Reality is that on Chrome, the VP9 implementation in WebRTC supports SVC on the decoder side, but it doesn’t yet supports WebRTC in the encoder side.
Vidyo took the middle ground here, trying to enjoy both worlds: It always had its own SVC implementation in H.264 but allowed using WebRTC. Now, with its VP9/SVC implementation, it gets the freedom to improve video quality of its sessions in ways that others can’t.
If you use Vidyo.io today (and its other products in the near future), then Vidyo will try and prioritize the use of VP9 over other video codecs. And if some of the users in the session are making use of Vidyo’s SDKs instead of the native browser WebRTC implementation (i.e – joining from mobile or a desktop app), they will encode VP9 with SVC capabilities, and Chrome will be able to decode the bitsream – though the browser’s own encoded bitstream won’t be using SVC (at least not for now).
This places Vidyo ahead of the pack in SVC support that plays well with WebRTC.Vidyo’s Product Line
Here’s the gist of the new product live view from Vidyo:
Vidyo has taken the approach of offering a single technical infrastructure to host and run all of its products. This is the right move forward and an embrace of the cloud. In a way, Vidyo is continuing its shift from on premise deployments towards a Vidyo hosted and managed cloud platform.
Vidyo.io can be defined as CPaaS, a Communication Platform as a Service; while its VidyoCloud can be defined as UCaaS, a Unified Communication Platform as a Service.
Vidyo started life in the UC business, moving to the cloud and then adding an API platform. In many other cases, UC / UCaaS vendors take the approach of adding an API on top of their UCaaS product and then just calling it CPaaS. Vidyo decided on “separating” the two which feels to me as the better approach. It casts a wider net over the potential target market and the types of use cases that Vidyo can now cater for.
To this product line, Vidyo has added earlier this year VidyoEngage, its answer to video based contact centers.
The end result? Vidyo can now be used in the 3 biggest domains for visual communications:
You can use Vidyo.io to build a UC or a CC application if that’s your need, or you can just pick up VidyoCloud or VidyoEngage to get there.What’s Next?
The challenge for Vidyo will be in competing in 3 different fronts at the same time, and the threat of losing focus. I am guessing this is one of the reasons for this streamlining – it is meant to simplify its internal infrastructure that is used in these 3 products on the technical level.
Managing these separate businesses and keeping abreast in all 3 markets will be hard, but Vidyo is off to a good start here.
When it comes to Vidyo.io, the addition of VP9/SVC support positions Vidyo as the technology leader in its space with the ability to offer the best media quality. Its competitors will require
Jitsi is getting a boost in its development.
When a developers focused company gets acquired it is time to start worrying.
Was the acquisition due to the technology, the customers or the business model?
Will the product continue to grow and flourish in the new regime?
Are the current signed agreements going to be renewed?
For open source, there are even more questions.
How will the community that was created around the open source project be treated?
Will existing business models around support, customization and dual licensing be maintained or will they be killed?
Two and a half years ago or so we had 3 popular open source media servers for WebRTC: Janus, Jitsi and Kurento.
The progress made around Kurento since its acquisition was minimal at best. My guess is that Twilio is just too busy in getting its own multiparty video ready for GA to focus on the Kurento open source project itself. It also haven’t quite acquired everything that is Kurento – parts of it were left for the community and the original parent company Naevatec. The time passed is making a lot of the Kurento adopters frustrated and in search of different alternatives.Best time to join my WebRTC Course? Today. Office hours are starting next week, and there’s a great bonus ebook of how meet.jit.si built its scalable infrastructure.
So time to ask –
How did Jitsi fair since its acquisition?
And it seems to be getting a lot more interesting lately.
In the past 4 months, I’ve been adding almost on a weekly basis a post about Jitsi into the WebRTC Weekly. The team there has been continuously churning out new features into the project.
Here’s what was announced on the Jitsi blog since June when it comes to new features:
There’s a mix of announcements here. They range from addition of UX feature to some deep optimizations of the media server itself. And part of it is due to GSoC, Google Summer of Code, a project started by Google some years ago where university students can join open source projects as interns. Jitsi has been part of this project for some time now.UX Improvements
In a way, these are the least interesting features when it comes to a media server, but the ones that makes it easier to use.
What Jitsi did in this round was tweak the UI to be a bit more modern and easier to use. For video layouts, there was a decision to better cater for 1:1 scenarios and to move video thumbnails from the bottom of the page to the right side of the page. This is also what Google decided to do once they shifted away from Hangouts to Meet. This makes for a more modern approach that sits well with the wider displays we have in recent years.
An audio only button was added to the UI. I am assuming it is just a shortcut to muting incoming and outgoing video. Having this UI element there makes it easier for users to operate (and easier for adopters of the Jitsi Videobridge to customize).
The interesting addition to me is the speaker times one.
I am intrigued in this case to know how easy would it be for an application to get that information from the Jitsi Videobridge – is this supported via the signaling offered by Jitsi towards the web client or is it also available as a backend-to-backend REST API? I can see this being used later in various ways, assuming the API is detailed enough and easy to use.Integrations
A WebRTC media server is but a part of what you need to run a full application. While central and important, there are other aspects to it. In recent months, Jitsi have added a few additional integrations, making it easier to use and connect to.
Three such integration points were announced:1. Mobile SDK
Jitsi had mobile applications for quite some time. While nice, it is different than having a mobile SDK.
Something I’ve been telling media server vendors for a few years now, is that they should offer a mobile SDK as part of their media server. In WebRTC, it is an important part of their offering and one that is hard to ignore.
In the case of Jitsi, users had to use the mobile application as a reference and modify it to their heart’s content. The problem with this approach starts when you need to maintain the codebase in the long run. When a new version of the mobile app comes out – how do you know which parts are critical to upgrade (=without them the app will break with the new Jitsi Videoserver) and which ones are just UI fixes that you can ignore or just pass since you’ve created your own UI experience already?
This is exactly why an SDK is such an important aspect of the solution:
With a mobile SDK, application developers can now just use the Jitsi Meet mobile application as a reference or even write something from scratch on top of the mobile SDK itself. Each is independently updated and maintained, making it easier to upgrade to newer releases.2. Speech to text
Translation and NLP seems all the rage these days.
The way you get these things connected to WebRTC varies, but follows a similar approach for media servers:
You somehow collect the audio streams on the media server, mix and process them to the format supported by a 3rd party speech-to-text engine (Google Cloud speech-to-text seems quite popular these days), and once you get the resulting text, you do something with it.
In the case of Jitsi, this was a GSoC project. Information about its current status can be found on the developer’s website – Nik Vaessen.
This probably requires some more improvements and polish, but offers a good starting point for developers.
I’d wager that in GSoC 2018, the Jitsi team is planning on adding translation and text-to-speech to it.3. Telephony
Telephony was already available in Jitsi before. It is implemented via a Jigasi server (JItsi GAteway to SIP). Now Atlassian is eating its own dogfood and not only with its internal HipChat service but in its free meet.jit.si showcase service.
In the case of meet.jit.si, the length of calls was limited to 2 minutes, enabling hunting down meeting participants who haven’t joined the session.
This serves two purposes:
At the heart of Jitsi is the media server itself. This is what developers aim for to begin with and the additions there are quite interesting.
The first one is that Jitsi now supports peer to peer media traversal for 1:1 sessions – in effect – no media server. The reasoning being that many of the calls end up being 1:1 and it is far easier and cost effective to share media directly between the participants.
In the past, supporting such a thing with Jitsi required running a separate signaling mechanism for 1:1 sessions and then once the need arise to grow, shift and renegotiate everything in front of Jitsi. It was tedious at best.
The other work effort is way more interesting.
Bandwidth estimation is nasty. Network conditions are varying and dynamic. You can start a session with 2Mbps and have it considerably drop throughout the session, coming back up again and changing characteristics.
To get that right, WebRTC (and any other VoIP alternative) needs to use bandwidth estimation. This is a process where the device tries to understand how much bandwidth is available to him at any given point in time. The algorithm can be naive, smart, complex, whatever. And a lot of the perceived quality of a call would rely on the quality of the algorithm used for bandwidth estimation.
WebRTC has its own built in bandwidth estimation mechanism. It works. But you need your own algorithm in a media server. Jitsi has its algorithm, and it is work in progress.
The Jitsi team are now taking it to the next level, trying to not only understand availability of bandwidth but also what the best course of action should be – it is trying to discern if it is better to reduce bitrate or add forward error correction instead.
It also does that with the coolest set of tech tools available to us today – Tensor Flow and Machine Learning.
Here’s what Emil Ivov shared during our Kranky Geek event last month:Where to Next?
Looking for an open source alternative for your media server?
The most popular approaches out there for you are Janus and Jitsi.
Which one to pick out of the two seems to be based on personal taste more than anything else.Best time to join my WebRTC Course? Today. Office hours are starting next week, and there’s a great bonus ebook of how meet.jit.si built its scalable infrastructure.
Kranky Geek 2017 has been a roller coaster event for me. Time to discuss what I learned about the WebRTC last week.
Yap. We had a full room.
Well… More like 2 full rooms.
When talking to Lawrence some time in the afternoon, he joked with me, saying that apparently we have a problem – the overflow room is overflowing.
The best problem an event organizer could ever ask for.
If you are looking for the event videos, then they are already on YouTube.
I want to share some of my thoughts prior to the event and during to the event. And if possible, try and shed some light on where we’re headed from here.Want to keep abreast of the WebRTC ecosystem? Join the WebRTC Weekly Challenges Abound
Putting up an event is a stressful undertaking. There are a lot of aspects that needs to be covered with this constant worry that you’ll end up forgetting something or that something will screw you over. Both are guaranteed to happen no matter how much planning and effort you put into it.
This time, our challenges started early on. It was somewhat harder than usual to decide how to price the event to make it worthwhile doing. Kranky Geek events are expensive to run. From the beginning, we’ve aimed for events that are free to attend (I consider a $10 admission fee that gets donated as a free to attend event). This left us with covering our expenses and making some revenue out of it something that relies on sponsors.
Kranky Geek is all about quality content. High quality content. Top notch. The best you can find.
Which means that we select the topics we want. We then hunt for the speakers that fit into that. And we work with our speakers to make them shine.
This process doesn’t always work with sponsors… it is sometimes hard to explain how we operate and why. And at times, sponsors can focus on hard selling their warez, which doesn’t fit into the Kranky Geek spirit (and definitely not to our audience).
This time, it took us slightly longer than usual to get the sponsors onboard and to be certain that we can pull off the event.
We don’t always agree, but somehow we fit well together, each one covering the other one’s shortcomings. We make a good team for getting these events done. I hope
Why am I sharing all this?
To set the stage to what comes next for Kranky Geek, but also to explain the amount of work, effort,time, stress, pain and love that has been put into the Kranky Geek events in general and to this one in particular.
It hasn’t been all happy, but I am proud of the result and happy that we did this.We Had a Fire Drill!
During the day, we’ve had our share of technical challenges.
The projectors in the main room didn’t work at the beginning (that was before we started the day), and then a few other issues cropped up on us.
Doing this event in Google’s San Francisco office meant we had the best A/V team in the world on site to help us. The crew Google is working with there is top notch. The best I worked with. They made the problems seem easy to solve.
We had this to deal with…
— Lawrence Byrd (@LawrenceByrd) October 27, 2017
A week before the event we were told we will have a fire drill in the building on the day of the event. The time kept moving around, settling at 2pm. We’ve scheduled our breaks and sessions around it, with a huge worry of having people leave once the fire drill started.
(that’s Kranky going down the staircase during the drill)
We decided to embrace the fire drill and tried to celebrate it with our audience, and I hope we succeeded. Back from the fire drill, we had almost everyone back.
We should probably make fire drills an integral part of Kranky Geek events.
Time to stop rambling.The Event Recordings
The recordings are available online.
You can find them here.
We’ve had to reorder the sessions from our original agenda due to constraints we had with some of our speakers – late arrivals and early exits.
So I’ve reordered the sessions here. Following this, are the 13 sessions we had, in the original order we wanted (not that it really mattered).
I added some of my commentary on what I liked and learned in each of the sessions.Kranky Geek Team
Nothing to say here really, besides the fact that I envy Chad’s ability to create slides and present them.Facebook
This is the first time we had Facebook join us and share a story at Kranky Geek. We had the pleasure to have Li-Tal Mashiach an Engineering Manager at Facebook do the talk.
The numbers there are impressive as hell. 400 million monthly active users doing voice and video calls on Facebook Messenger using WebRTC. 400 million.
The next one who asks me if WebRTC is being adopted – I’ll just say 400 million. And then he’ll complain that this isn’t an enterprise application…
Anyways, what I found really interesting is how Facebook is dealing with optimization. The effort placed in the decision making process around video codecs, bitrates, etc.
WebRTC comes in a neat open source package that anyone can use. But it needs a lot more love and care when it comes to making it work at scale – just like any other technology.TokBox
Badri Rajasekar, CTO of TokBox, shared an experiment that TokBox has been running recently. It was about using head tracking technology to improve video quality.
The idea behind it is that you can scale up a region of interest in an image sacrificing other regions, which ends up putting more pixels encoded for these regions.
The great thing here, that you do it without touching the encoder or the decoder. Why do we want that? Because the more generic you can make an encoder, the easier it is to implement it in hardware.VoiceBase
Walter Bachtiger, Co-founder and CEO of VoiceBase talked about NLP (Natural Language Processing), and how great insights can be derived out of voice.
It was a bit of creepy, understanding how accurate machine learning can be at scale in a contact center.
The part I liked best in this one was how a contact center can decide within 30 seconds how likely you are to buy – if only the people who call me would have used it… it would have saved me a lot of time as a customer.Atlassian
Emil Ivov, Chief Video Architect at Atlassian, and a serial speaker at Kranky Geek gave a very interesting talk about machine learning and bandwidth estimation.
The team at Jitsi now use Tensor Flow to sift through metadata they have of calls to try and understand how the network behaves and what strategy would work best in improving network quality.
It seems like reducing bitrate doesn’t always have the necessary effect on things, and FEC might end up working better.Vidyo
Roi Sasson, CTO of Vidyo, talked about scale.
This wasn’t about how to scale a service, but rather how to scale a single call. Want 10 people on a call? You may not need to worry, but if you go to a 100 or a 1,000 – you need to think differently about it.
Which is where taking SFUs and cascading them, both within a single data center and geographically, starts making a lot of sense.WebKit
For the first time, we had a representative from Safari. We got to hear what Apple’s default browser does with WebRTC and how from Youenn Fablet, a contributor to WebKit.
It was great to have WebKit join us at Kranky Geek, and to hear their fresh thinking about privacy in WebRTC and how they’ve taken care of that in Safari.Peer5
Hadar Weiss, Co-founder and CEO of Peer5 talked about P2P CDN and using the WebRTC data channel.
We never did have a focused talk at the data channel in Kranky Geek, so this was a first.
I found really interesting how Peer5 does things differently than the rest of the WebRTC community. Mostly because they care less about call setup times and TURN connectivity and a lot more about throughput.
Hadar showed a few techniques I really liked, like the simple compression of SDP messages (which starts to make sense when you process and send millions of these a day).Slack
From Slack we had Lynsey Haynes and Andrew MacDonald.
Two things interesting about this session:
During the Q&A (which didn’t make it to the recording), Slack were asked about their support of Firefox. Andrew answered that support for Firefox is unlikely to come due to the shift of Slack towards focusing on less browsers and on their Electron-based desktop application. I see this thought process taking place elsewhere as well – it doesn’t bode well to the future of browsers.Twilio
Rob Brazier from Twilio showed an AR (Augmented Reality) use case.
I’ve never been a fan of these acronyms such as IOT, AR, VR. Marrying them with WebRTC always seemed to me somewhat forced.
That said, Rob did a great job in making a case for AR in communication interactions. I am sure more exist.Frozen Mountain
Anton Venema, CTO of Frozen Mountain was there to give an interesting demo.
He cobbled up text to speech, translation and speech to text to their media server platform, doing a demo of live language translation taking place in a WebRTC session.Google
Niklas Blum, Huib Kleinhout and Justin Uberti from Google shared the progress made in WebRTC towards WebRTC 1.0.
This one had a lot of details for developers about things they need to know with the latest versions of Chrome and what to prepare for moving forward.Appear.in
This year’s closing session was given by Philipp Hancke of appear.in. He’s a repeat speaker at Kranky Geek.
Philipp delved into NSFW (Not Safe For Work) related technologies, experimenting with recognizing such content and deciding what to do with it.
It was an interesting mix of technologies, human behavior and compromises.Our Event Sponsors
Did I already say that Kranky Geek relies of its sponsors?
This year we had 6 of them:
I’d like to again thank our sponsors.Diversity and Kranky Geek
For the first time, we had female speakers. Great female speakers.
I want more of this.
If you are a woman, or know of a woman. One that has technical WebRTC chops. And a desire to share your experiences. Contact me…What’s Next for Kranky Geek?
We weren’t sure if we will have another Krank Geek event. But due to the success of the one we just had, there’s high probability that we will do another one next year.
Get ready for Kranky Geek 2018.
With more great content, and maybe – a fire drill.
And while at it, if you increase your visibility in the market, know that sponsoring a Kranky Geek is a great way to go about it. So put some budget aside for it. Q3/Q4 2018 is where it will take place.Want to keep abreast of the WebRTC ecosystem? Join the WebRTC Weekly
The post Kranky Geek 2017: What Does the Pulse of WebRTC Tells Us? appeared first on BlogGeek.me.
How can you make a living from WebRTC? You offer WebRTC developer tools.
One of the interesting questions is around monetizing WebRTC. The truth is, it is hard to monetize a concept, or a piece of technology. Kranky said it well over 3 years ago – WebRTC Market Size (is 0).
What does this mean? That you can either make money by selling tools to developers who need WebRTC. Or you make money by offering a service that makes use of WebRTC, but we can now debate if that’s WebRTC or not.
Anything that isn’t WebRTC developer tools talls into other market niches – healthcare, education, gaming, … all these compete and create business far from the WebRTC core itself.Want to learn who’s offering WebRTC Developer Tools? Check out my WebRTC Developer Tools Landscape infographic.
WebRTC developer tools though – that’s where a small WebRTC market niche exist. And there are several ways to make money in this market. Here are 6 different types of services you can offer to sell WebRTC to developers – some will offer multiple services.#1 – Sell a Managed Service (SaaS)
You can sell a managed service.
Find something that developers need.
Create a service that offers that solution.
Sell it in XaaS model.
This market is rather challenging, as the name of the game is scale, and getting there is hard. For some reason, this is also where most customers end up penny pinchin.#2 – License Software
You can develop a product that others need and offer it under a commercial license.
There are those who want or need to run their own service, not relying on managed services. And at times, they are happy to pay for a commercial license that comes with an SLA and someone you can shout at and threaten.
The best thing about most commercially licensed software is that the people behind it work on that software. And once they have paying customers, they are bound by contracts to support and maintain it, usually for long periods of time.
Open Source doesn’t mean free.
People need to be able to make money out of their work – even if they are idealists who are just contributing to the community as a whole.
The way to go about doing that is by writing software that then gets distributed freely under an open source license. This allows anyone to take that software, use it, modify it and even try and contribute back to it and improve upon it.
For popular open source projects, this creates a nice feedback loop that everyone enjoys. For the most obscure projects, it remains the work of a single maintainer.
So how can someone make a living out of open source? By offering one of three different alternatives (usually a mix of them):
Jitsi, for example, was distributed under an LGPL license. This allowed the team behind it to make a living through all 3 approaches: support contracts, customization work and offering commercial licenses. After its acquisition by Atlassian, it switched from LGPL to a more lenient APL license. The main reason? Atlassian had other objectives for Jitsi and they weren’t about deriving direct monetary value from it. The Jitsi team no longer offers paid support or customization – it doesn’t mean they don’t support the code base, it just means that you can’t pay them for priority support.
Kurento got acquired by Twilio. Naevatec, the company behind Kurento made most of its direct revenue from Kurento by offering support and customization work. After the acquisition, Naevatec was left without its engineers that were experienced with Kurento and has since been struggling to maintain the Kurento codebase.
Janus is still an open source project. The company behind it offers support and customization work if someone needs it.
To be able to make a living out of an open source project, it needs to be one that is mission critical to the companies who use it, and it needs to be popular enough. If you plan on taking that route, remember that maintaining such a project can make you proud at the number of companies that end up adopting it, but may well frustrate you if you look at how many of these companies won’t be willing to pay for it at all.#4 – Conduct Analysis
This is something I wasn’t aware of up until several months ago.
There’s this interesting market niche in WebRTC, and I am not sure how prevalent it is with other technologies.
It is of companies and enterpreneurs who set out building a product with not enough knowledge and experience in WebRTC. They try to learn as they go along, floundering while at it. Many reasons why this happens:
When this happens, companies start looking for alternatives. And there really are only 4 things to do here:
Salvage is somewhat different from fixing, as it focuses on analyzing the whole architecture along with the implementation instead of just diving right in and continuing with the same approach that brought you to where you are in the first place.
You’re good with coding and know WebRTC?
Outsource it to others.
Many of the people who contact me are after developers with WebRTC experience. Some of them want to have these developers work as freelancers. Others want to outsource to a company. Others still are looking to recruit skilled workers, but understand they may end up outsourcing anyway.
There are quite a few companies and individuals who offer their outsourcing services around WebRTC.
The known freelancers who do WebRTC work are usually fully booked. It is hard to get their attention and time for new projects, but it is worth a try.
The outsourcing companies come in different shapes and sizes. Many don’t have the relevant skillset. Some will place inexperienced developers on your project. Some will do the best work for you.
Quality here varies greatly, so you should take the time to pick the right outsourcing vendor to work with.
In many cases, my role in such projects is to assist in deciding on the exact requirements, selecting the outsourcing vendor and “translating” the requirements between the company and the outsourcing vendor.#6 – Consult
There are those who simply offer consulting (I do that by the way).
Their role is to assist in the thought processes – be it the initial phases of helping in fleshing out the product’s roadmap and differentiation, assisting in the competitive analysis, in writing down the RFPs (or the response to an RFP), selecting vendors, suggesting architecture, etc.
Many of the experienced outsourcing vendors will usually add a consulting component into their service, and their customers will usually benefit from that consulting.What’s Next?
Looking to start a WebRTC project? Trying to understand how to get that done? Know that the market is dynamic and always changes.
Which is why I am in the process of updating two resources on my site:
Yes. We do need WebRTC events. Which is why you should join us at Kranky Geek next week.
I’ve been asked a few times in the past several months by people about events to go to.
Should I go to that event? Will it help me with my current WebRTC project?
What event should I go to, considering I am in need of WebRTC technology?
Where can I travel to learn about WebRTC? Is there a specific event?
Which event will guide me towards what I need with WebRTC? Have me understand the market dynamics? Be a place to mingle with the industry?Register for a Kranky Geek AMA webinar – a week ahead of our event, Chad Hart will be joining me to discuss WebRTC statistics and what to expect from this year’s Kranky Geek event
If you’re in telecom, then this is how you see WebRTC:
For telecom, WebRTC is just a piece of telecom. An evolution of it. Some way of getting the telecom and VoIP infrastructure into a web browser.
If you’re in web development, then this is how you see WebRTC:
For web developers, WebRTC seems just like another piece of the HTML5 technology stack. You learn a few JS APIs. Maybe some nifty CSS and a few HTML5 tags and you’re done.
And this is how I see WebRTC:
Now, most WebRTC related events so far have been initiated by people in the telecom industry. The end result is usually a very narrow prism of what WebRTC is what it is capable of achieving. And the side tracks done in the web related events? Most of them end up explaining what WebRTC is, not going nearly deep enough.
The end result has been unsatisfying. At least for me.
4 years into it, the question starts to crop up – do we still need WebRTC events?Why do we still need WebRTC events?
Is there still room with a WebRTC centric theme to it?
Shouldn’t WebRTC just be wrapped into all the telecom, communications and web events out there and be done with it?
I mean, we’ve got enough meetup groups around the world for this technology, but who wants to attend a longer event on WebRTC?
I think it boils down to that illustration up there – the one where WebRTC is smack in the middle of VoIP (telecom) and the web (internet). In a way, we’re still figuring out what that means exactly. How does the infrastructure of such a thing needs to be designed; how do you scale it; what kind of monitoring mechanisms do you need to have in place; what’s the team sizes, resources and time needed to get something from a proof of concept to production.
WebRTC might not be new, but the fact that it relies on a mix of technologies and disciplines make for a rather complex and interesting ecosystem.Join us at Kranky Geek SF 2017
Our next Kranky Geek event takes place on October 27 in San Francisco.
Kranky Geek is about WebRTC developers. Our role is to educate and share the experience coming from developers to developers.
The theme we’ve selected this time is twofold: implementation and beyond RTC.
We reached out to Youenn Fablet, who works on the WebKit WebRTC implementation. He will be speaking about iOS and Safari support of WebRTC.
Google will talk about their progress and roadmap of WebRTC.
Talking about Implementations, we will have Atlassian, Facebook, Peer5, Slack and Vidyo- each talking about different aspects of implementations and scaling.
Affectiva, TokBox, Twilio and VoiceBase will cover issues beyond RTC.
For our end-of-day session, we will have a repeat speaker at Kranky Geek – Philipp Hancke from appear.in – working his way around NSFW. Knowing Philipp (and seeing his draft slides), you definitely want to stick around for this one.Register for a Kranky Geek AMA webinar – a week ahead of our event, Chad Hart will be joining me to discuss WebRTC statistics and what to expect from this year’s Kranky Geek event
There’s a token admission fee in place, to control headcount and showups (free events tend to be under-attended, and we’re shifting away from that). The way this event ends up being funded is by our sponsors, who make this thing happen at all. They are part of our speakers and play an important role in the event itself.
See you at Kranky Geek.
How does Twilio Studio fit into Twilio’s Ask Your Developer campaign?
Last month I participated in Twilio’s Signal event that took place in London. I was invited to speak there on test automation in WebRTC. You can watch my video session on YouTube. That isn’t the point of this article though.
Signal is where Twilio announces most of its major new releases. Last time, earlier this year, it was all about the engagement cloud – a restructuring of how Twilio explains its services – and a migration from a single channel world into an omnichannel one. I’ve written at length about it in Is Twilio Redefining CPaaS (hint: it is). I wrote there:
Twilio has introduced a new paradigm for the way it is layering its product offerings.
In the process, it repositioned all of its higher level APIs as the Engagement Cloud. It stitched these APIs to use its lower Programmable Communications APIs, adding business logic and best practices. And it is now looking into machine learning as well.
It is a powerful package with nothing comparable on the market.
Twilio are the best of suite approach of CPaaS – offering the largest breadth of support across this space. And it is making sure to offer powerful building blocks to make developers think twice before going for an alternative.
I think that at Signal London 2017, they outdid that with the introduction of Twilio Studio.
Trying to figure out the best approach for developing your application? Check out this free WebRTC Development Paths Matrix to understand your alternatives
Get your WebRTC Development Paths MatrixBefore We Begin
You might want to take the time to watch Signal London 2017 keynote by Jeff Lawson.
A large part of the London keynote was a rehash of what was said in San Francisco earlier this year. It was about the shift towards omnichannel and the engagement cloud. The words that struck to to me when explaining the engagement cloud were BEST PRACTICES, BUSINESS PROCESSES, REINVENT THE WHEEL (=what not to do).
I’d like to touch in this articles a few main themes and approaches that Twilio is taking, which are shaping its vision and execution at the moment.“Ask Your Developer” is The Wrong Approach
I’ll start with where I think Twilio is missing the mark.
Ask Your Developer took center stage. Jeff Lawson wanted companies and the business people inside it to go ask their developers what they can do. How they can improve the business.
It gives us developers a great feeling of being in control. Of being valued. But for the most part, and for most developers, this is probably the wrong approach.
Most developers would be happy to work by spec.
The few that aren’t will be promoted quite fast to system architects, managerial roles in development or god forbid to product managers. Why? Because they can see the big picture.
They are the people that get asked. Or the people that answer without asking.
We should be asking our developers, but it should not be our strategy.
Which is where the miss came.
Twilio announced later on in the keynote Twilio Studio. A tool that takes some of that control from developers, putting it at the hands of decision makers.
You no longer have to ask your developer. You can work with him. Together.
More about this later.The Code that Counts
Some 20 minutes into the keynote, Jeff Lawson invited Patrick Malatack. He started with this:
It was core to how Twilio approaches its customers. Patrick explained that this is the most important code – it is the code that counts.
The idea being that your life as a developer should be made easy, so Twilio is adding not only APIs that serve the functions you need, but also a runtime behind it to facilitate rapid development and deployment – from helper libraries, to logging and debugging facilities, the new Twilio Functions, etc.
I think the code that counts here is developers focusing on their specific business problem – abstracting everything else.
It ended up being a concept of what Twilio Runtime is:
The yellow parts in that screenshot above are the newest announcements. The rest were there earlier. Twilio isn’t only adding more features to its platform – it is beefing up its runtime, making it another competitive advantage in front of many others where it comes to pure SMS and voice capabilities.
The message here is an interesting one, but it wasn’t polished enough. I think this is where we will see more in future Signal events from Twilio.Twilio Studio
It starts by explaining that building is fun but maintaining isn’t (he is correct).
The goal, based on Jeff Lawson, is to massively accelerate roadmaps of Twilio’s customers.
I think it is a lot more than that.
Because this is so new and fresh, still in developer preview (and something I’ve started playing with a bit), it is hard to write this in an ordered fashion. Which means I’ll be going for a bulleted list instead
This tool can do to contact centers what marketing automation is doing to email newsletters. If I were a contact center vendor… I’d consider Twilio Studio my biggest threat moving forward.Pricing
There were 3 price points for Studio:
Then there’s the question of what an Engagement is exactly. Is it a flow of a single event in a Flow? Is it a widget being accessed inside a Flow? In a 2-way bot conversation, each message exchange is probably an exchange I am assuming – the more talkative your app – the more Engagements it will eat up.
Not sure if I am missing a tier between PLUS and ENTERPRISE here. There seems to be too big of a gap in there.Positioning
One last thing – Twilio Studio has been positioned by Jeff Lawson inside the Engagement Cloud, below all of its current logical components:
I’d place it as a vertical bar next to the whole Twilio stack. Probably adding Functions write next to it:
My guess? Product management had a lot of internal discussions on this one, trying to decide where to place Studio – inside the engagement cloud, above it, right next to it. They ended up picking inside it.A Word About GDPR
GDPR stands for General Data Protection Regulation. It is a piece of legislation that will become effective May 2018, in less than a year. A period of two years of grace has been given to reach that date.
It deals with the protection and processing of private information of citizens of the EU, which practically covers any global player out there, and even many who aren’t.
In a nutshell, it is a headache. Especially if you’re making use of analytics, personalization, automation, chat bots, AI or any other big data related technology. It is also relevant if you just hold an SQL database of your customers.
If you were working in a specific regulated vertical, such as healthcare or finance, then you might be used to such things. If you’re not, then you should start paying attention. Especially with the communication part of whatever it is that you do – this is where personal information gets passed along with the metadata that needs to be handled with care.
Twilio pushing GDPR this early on means two things to me:
It also means that communication – telecom or IP based – is becoming slightly harder to handle. Something that works well for a vendor like Twilio whose purpose in life is simplifying complexity (=the more complexity the more value derived by Twilio).Where do we go from here?
Twilio was and still is the undisputed CPaaS king. They are bigger than anyone else by a large margin and they are working hard on maintaining a technology edge on everyone else.
The two main announcements here were Studio and GDPR. Studio brings Twilio to a larger audience and increases their vendor lock-in, whereby reducing the effectiveness of their competition. GDPR is put in place as another headache Twilio solves for its customers – the more regulatory and bureaucracy like GDPR the better for a company like Twilio – it reduces the competition from in-house developers – which is doubly important now.
These two announcements are there to deal with its perceived vulnerability. They make developing using Twilio easier than ever – almost risk-free. And it makes it harder for competition to succeed in future land grabs trying to go after Twilio’s bigger accounts.
It will be interesting to see how competitors would react to this in the long run, and even more interesting to see what will Twilio Studio grow into.
Trying to figure out the best approach for developing your application? Check out this free WebRTC Development Paths Matrix to understand your alternatives
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No simple answer.
Apple recently announced that Safari will be supporting WebRTC. That support isn’t there yet to the point where it is stable enough, but we already know one thing:
Safari supports only the H.264 video codec.
Codec wars are over? 2 MTI (mandatory to implement) codecs in the form of VP8 and H.264?
Reality is that Apple decided at this stage not to support VP8 – and it hasn’t said anything about plans to support or not support VP8 in the future. That said, all signals indicate that support for VP8 in Safari is unlikely to happen.
This brings us to a simple yet challenging question:
When writing a WebRTC application. Should you make use of VP8 or H.264?
The answer isn’t a simple one. Choosing VP8 will leave you without Safari. Choosing H.264 will leave you without other important features and capabilities, as well as create a potential legal headache.
This is why I decided to create a new free video mini course – to guide you through the process and help you make the best decision here.
This video course, Picking a WebRTC Video Codec, is free and includes 4 lessons and a cheat sheet.
Find out which codec to use: VP8 or H.264