Are you doing your WebRTC pricing per minute? per gigabyte? per device?
You’re a developer. You decide it is time to build an application. But you don’t really want to do everything from scratch. Hell – you don’t even want to maintain and update all of that media backend – what do you really know about video? So you go look for someone to do it for you, finding a nice set of vendors offering WebRTC PaaS services. You can easily plug into their SDK and in no time have your service do group calling.
You probably won’t be conquering the world as the next Whatsapp with such an approach, but getting that healthcare service up and running an education application or a visual contact center is now within easy reach.
And you won’t be alone in this either. About a third of the dataset of vendors using WebRTC that I am tracking is using third parties. Most of them use managed services.
But here comes the question. Do you know how much you’re going to pay for that WebRTC PaaS service?
I get requests to assist in vendor selection on a weekly basis. This has been going for a few years now. This year, one of the main focus areas in this process has been pricing. Or more accurately, understanding the pricing schemes or the different vendors, and comparing the costs of these vendors.
There’s no easy way to get that done…
Let’s review the 3 leading pricing parameters are going to dictate your costs:Minutes
This one may seem easy.
You are going to pay for the number of minutes you use in a service.
It should be easy to calculate. Easy to understand the value (the more you use the more you pay).
But somehow, people translate minutes to the “old” days of telecom, where you paid top dollars to make phone calls. By the minute of course.
The devil is in the details here.
Here are few differences you’ll see between vendors.
The great thing about minutes? They are easy to comprehend and count.
If you have 10 people in a call for 10 minutes – that’s 100 minutes (assuming we count per device here).
The downside is that with minutes, there’s usually less regard to what is done in that minute. A video minute is the same as a voice minute on most platforms when it comes to pricing. And a low resolution video minute is the same as a high resolution video minute.Subscriptions
Subscriptions is related to minutes, and deals with the question of what it is you count the minutes against?
The two most common practices here is to count devices or count subscriptions.
Some of the WebRTC PaaS services work off the notion of a publish subscribe mechanism. Devices can publish media streams into a session, and devices can subscribe to media streams from the session. This is an elegant approach that can nicely be used when describing a complex scenario with asymmetric behaviors.
In an SFU group video call model, where each user publishes his own media streams and subscribes to the media streams of all other participants, the number of subscriptions grows at a polynomial rate: with N active users in a session, you’ll be counting N*(N-1) subscribed media streams.
In WebRTC PaaS, paying per subscribed minutes tends to be cheaper than paying per device minutes for lower group sizes (and vice versa)
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It makes sense for a vendor to apply a per-subscription price as in many cases, his own costs are probably tightly coupled with the number of media subscriptions in the system.
Subscriptions are slightly harder to count than devices, but it is still gives you a solid number and an easy estimate.Bandwidth
The main complaint about per minute pricing is that it is a reminder of the old telecom days. The notion was that once we go for VoIP, cloud, web, WebRTC or whatever you want to call it, you can price it closer to the usage and not stay at the high level of a minute concept.
If it was limited only to the difference between audio and video then so be it. Give two price points per minute and you’re done. But video is different. It becomes more of a hassle with video. You can probably get video going with as little as 300kbps with 10-20mbps being applicable to 4K video resolutions. That’s not including things like 360 videos and other crazy trends like 8K or 10K resolutions that were just added to the HDMI spec.
So vendors are now looking into taking the route that is so common in IaaS – pricing per bandwidth processed.
Usually, that would be subscribed bandwidth. The reason for that is that cloud services usually cost the vendor based on the bandwidth he sends to browsers and mobile devices and not for bandwidth it receives on its cloud servers.
Here are a few quick things to validate in this price schemes:
Note that if you’re doing peer-to-peer sessions (that means doing a 1-on-1 session where you don’t want media to go through the vendor’s servers), you won’t be paying for bandwidth at all – unless the media gets relayed via TURN. TURN relay depends on network conditions and can’t be estimated properly (highly reliant on your users), but a rule of thumb of 15-20% of the sessions is usually used here.
Paying per bandwidth will tend to be cheaper than by minute. The reason is that the end result will be tailored to your exact usage pattern. That said, there are several downsides here:
Going for this IaaS type of a model is a great way to lower price points for customers, but at the same time it is a great way of dealing them with a huge headache.
At testRTC, I’ve been trying for some time now with my colleagues there to estimate what are costs are/should be. How much will we end up paying for our IaaS vendors every month? It is so hard, that I usually can’t even understand the detailed invoices we receive at the end of each month. I fear that the same is/will occur with per bandwidth pricing in WebRTC PaaS.Where Do We Go From Here?
In the latest update to my WebRTC PaaS report I’ve included a new appendix explaining pricing models in this space.
But the coolest thing yet was the inclusion of a new tool – a price calculator.
It is probably the 4th or 5th that I’ve created in 2017, each with its own nuances, target use cases and complexities.
This one was meant to be as generic and as simple as possible.
You enter the expected number of sessions you plan to have on a monthly basis, the number of users and the bandwidth per stream (there are a few suggested values in there).
Then you enter the pricing model and the price points of the vendors you want to compare, and the result will be the expected monthly cost you’ll have for each vendor.
Need something a bit more tailored? Reach out to me and I’ll help you out.
This latest update of my WebRTC PaaS report brings with it new vendors as well as a new price calculator.
It is becoming a ritual. Every 8 months or so I update the WebRTC PaaS (or CPaaS) report.
Every time I am surprised by the changes that occur. They come in 4 different areas:
How did we do since last time?New Vendors Covered ECLWebRTC by NTT Communications
I’ve been watching the work done by NTT Communications for quite some time. It started as a project that has signaling capabilities in it. At the time, they called it SkyWay.
Later on, they developed and added an SFU into the mix.
In September 2017 they decided to open up their platform globally. That’s the point where it made sense to add them to the report.Phenix
Phenix has been an enigma to me in the past two years.
From afar, it looked like a vendor trying to go after the broadcast market with a low latency technology based on WebRTC. Recently they approached me to explain what it is that they do and to check if it fits into this report.
And it did.
Phenix is focused on the large scale interactive streaming sessions. Places where you want to pick one or a few broadcasters and have their interactions shared with a larger audience.Vendors Closing Doors
We had those as well.Tropo by Cisco
Acquisitions of a WebRTC CPaaS vendor is sometimes beneficial and sometimes terrible for its customers.
TokBox’ acquisition by Telefonica was a good thing.
Tropo’s acquisition by Cisco… not so much.
Two years after its acquisition, Tropo closed doors to new customers. The signs were out there, since the platform didn’t really evolve. The service is still up and running, but I don’t think Tropo customers are happy to be using Tropo right now, and I don’t think Tropo/Cisco are happy to be needing to serve these customers. A lose-lose situation here.
Cisco simply pivoted. They decided that Tropo was not the right strategy and wanted to double down on Cisco Spark APIs and developer ecosystem.forge by Xura
Forge is another sad story of our industry.
Starting life as Crocodile RCS, it has been acquired by Acision. Acision was acquired by Comverse. Which got rebranded to Xura. Which was taken off the market by Siris Capital.
Forge, and probably other assets of Xura were just collateral damage in this process.M&A and Pivots in WebRTC PaaS Apidaze acquired by VoIP Innovations
VoIP Innovations acquired Apidaze. This is a good signal for the platform’s health. Looking at the investment section of Apidaze’ 4-pager in my report shows the story:
A lot of the attention and focus was taken from Apidaze API platform and put towards Ottspot, a “slack business phone app”.
This acquisition by VoIP Innovations might mean a renewed focus on the Apidaze platform and the developers who use it.TrueVoice is now Voxeet
TrueVoice was added to the report earlier this year. At the time, Voxeet added it as another product offering. This time around, Voxeet is making the APIs the main product.
This caused the TrueVoice brand to be removed, and Voxeet to be the actual thing.
Building a platform for developers is an all consuming process. Larger companies might be able to cope with doing that in parallel to other activities, but the smaller vendors will struggle. The fact that Voxeet decided to pivot and focus on developers is a good sign.Putting it all in a Visual
Here’s what it means visually:
2 in. 2 out. A few minor changes elsewhere.
The report shows the transitions in this market since 2014.What’s in the report?
The report is quite long. It now contains 223 pages. This includes:
Want to get a sneak peak into the report? You can check out these two PDF resources:
As you can see, this time, TokBox were kind enough to sponsor their 4-pager of the report and have it publicly available.
Here’s what Badri Rajasekar, TokBox CTO had to say:
2017 has been a big year for WebRTC. In what many considered a very significant piece of the puzzle, Apple announced support for WebRTC in Safari, finally allowing developers to use WebRTC on any browser platform. At the same time, we’ve seen a surge in adoption of live video communications driven in part by consumer demand. BlogGeek.me’s evaluation of this market is a valuable read for those looking for snapshot of this year’s trends in WebRTC.
Check out TokBox 4-pager from the report. You can expect to see 19 other such detailed profiles of the other vendors that the report covers.Report Tools
The report doesn’t come only as a “standalone” PDF file. You can access to a few additional tools:
There’s a ton more in the report, and work I do with vendors in this space – those offering such services, looking to offer such services or want to use these services.
WebRTC API Platforms are different than the classic/legacy/common CPaaS.
As I am working on getting the final TBDs in my upcoming report update on Choosing a WebRTC API Platform, I wanted to share something that may seem obvious, but probably isn’t.
When talking about CPaaS, WebRTC brings with it something more than just accessibility from the browser.
Here’s the makeup of a CPaaS platform:
There’s backend telephony in there, built out of some VoIP server components, connected to the carriers to handle things like phone numbers and actual calling.
Developers connect to that backend via REST APIs, or some other form of scripting interface.
Latencies and wait times aren’t important for the most part, so the CPaaS vendor doesn’t need to be spread across the globe to provide the service. A couple of data centers for redundancy and some reduction in latencies is usually enough.
Here’s what a WebRTC API platform looks like:
There might or might not be REST APIs. they are important, but definitely aren’t the main way developers interact with the system. That’s done via the SDKs. The SDKs are wrappers around the REST APIs or some other interface (probably WebSocket based), allowing getting the actual media and processing it as part of the SDK – either in the browser or on a mobile device.
And then there’s the backend. Signaling and NAT traversal are rather mandatory. Without them, this won’t be a WebRTC API platform. In the majority of the cases, you’ll also have access to an SFU, allowing you to support group video calls. All that backend? Especially the media parts of NAT traversal and SFU? They have to be as close to the end user as possible, so these platforms often deploy globally, on all possible data centers of a cloud provider (think AWS or GCE) and sometimes running on multiple cloud providers to increase their reach.
The difference then?
There’s a challenge selling to developers. They tend to underestimate the effort involved. And they usually prefer building new shiny toys than polishing and maintaining something that’s working. This is made worse by the seemingly “easy” fashion by which you can get a WebRTC peer-to-peer call happen inside a browser between two tabs. It gives the impression that developing and running WebRTC at scale is trivial.
Especially when you compare it to connecting to a phone number and dialing it. Doing this via an API is easy. But how do you go about dialing out a number on your own without the assistance of CPaaS? Is there a really simple example of this? Not really. This requires more than just programming – the value here is the accessibility to the phone network, which is considered a royal ongoing headache. So it is easy to outsource and to understand its value.
Here’s how the thinking goes:
SDKs? Sure. We can write them.
Signaling? I found a project on github that looks popular enough.
NAT Traversal? Everyone’s already using coturn. Should be simple enough to get it up and running.
SFU? Just passing data around. Can be written in a weekend.
Will WebRTC API Platform vendors be able to overcome this challenge? How can this be explained to developers? There is a lot that goes into building such a platform. More than the mere initial technical hurdles.
Browsers are changing. There are now 4 of them that have “support” for WebRTC. That support is different between browsers. New browser versions break things that used to work before. The specification is being finalized now, but no browser supports it yet.
Media backends need to be maintained. Monitored. Updated. Secured. In an ongoing basis.
In the coming years we will see a shift from H.264 and VP8 video codecs to VP9, HEVC and/or AV1 video codecs. This will require additional investment in the infrastructure.
And still it is believed to be easy and simple.
It isn’t.Planning on Launching Your Own WebRTC API Platform?
If you are planning to launch your own WebRTC API Platform, then you should know what you’re up against.
In the past 4 years I’ve been looking at this market, analyzing it. Seeing it grow and mature. The report covers 20+ vendors offering WebRTC API Platforms. Most of the are active. A few died or got acquired and taken off market.
One of the things to note is how new WebRTC API Platform vendors make their decision to launch their service. What do they decide to include in their initial launch. What do they use as differentiating factors from the existing players.
The space is rather crowded already, even if no clear winner exists yet.
Make sure to do your homework here. Understand what you’re up against and why should developers come to you and not to others. And plan for the long run.Planning to Use a WebRTC API Platform?
If you are in the build vs buy decision point, then think of the alternative costs of each approach. Also figure out your time to market and each and the risk of failure. For new projects, I tend to suggest a platform instead of self development. It reduces risk and upfront costs, but more than that, it enables experimenting and proving the business before committing too much into the project.
If you decided to build on your own, make sure your reasoning is rock solid. If the only reason is cost, then I suggest you recalculate.
If you decided to buy into a platform instead, then pick a platform that fits your need. But make sure it is here to stay as much as you can – this market is dynamic and is bound to stay that way for a few more years.The Report Update
The updated report will get published later this week.
If you want to learn more about it, just contact me.
TensorFlow is one of the most popular Machine Learning frameworks out there – probably THE most popular one. One of the great things about TensorFlow is that many libraries are actively maintained and updated. One of my favorites is the TensorFlow Object Detection API. The Tensorflow Object Detection API classifies and provides the location of multiple […]
The post Computer Vision on the Web with WebRTC and TensorFlow appeared first on webrtcHacks.
WebRTC Index has been around for 3 years now. Are you listed?
The idea behind it was quite simple. We create a place where someone can come and publish his company and its services – assuming they are related to WebRTC. The list grew, and now stands at 250 published vendors.
What we also did, was make sure the site is sustainable (there’s work to be done to keep it up to date). We chose the sponsorship approach:
Vendors can be listed freely in the index, but if you are a sponsor, then you get a bit of extra juice. You appear on the main page as a sponsor, get listed first on relevant search results, and get a few more ways to express what it is you offer on your own page.
What the WebRTC Index turned out into is a place to search for relevant vendors to assist people in understanding the industry and to pick up someone to work with.
And here comes my question to you?
Are you listed in the WebRTC Index?
Got check – http://webrtcindex.com/
I’ll sit and wait here. In the dark. Next to the nameless virtual machine that is hosting this website of mine.
Not there? Then read on…How can you join the WebRTC Index?
The system is easy and works as a manual process.
It really is that simple.
And it is a free process – no need to pay anything to join the list.
So why wait?
Twilio isn’t the first CPaaS vendor to offer serverless. And it definitely won’t be the last. Expect serverless CPaaS offerings in the future.
When I started researching for my first WebRTC API platforms report, one of the vendors I looked at was Voximplant. One of the things they referred me to was something they call VoxEngine. As its web page describes it, it is “an application engine that runs your apps inside the VoxImplant cloud” = Serverless.
I liked the idea, but didn’t think much of it at the time. It was rather new anyway.What is Serverless Computing?
If you haven’t been following the API scene, then you might have missed the notion of serverless computing. It is a concept where the code you write gets executed by the cloud. Directly. No need to run your own OS, VM or whatever container. Write the code. And it runs. Magically.
If you look at the compute models of XaaS, here’s the picture you’ll probably find:
Where would Serverless fit in?
With Serverless, you write the “Application” but it and its data get handled and maintained by someone else.
What do you gain out of it?
What do we have here then? Economies of scale at play. The vendor doing PaaS is already handling scalability, maintenance and security for you and a lot of other customers, so theoretically, he is doing and can do a better job of it than you can in the long run. This free you up to focus more on the user experience, ending with a better application and faster time to market. And there’s the added benefit of where the code is running (closer to the rest of the code).Serverless = Functions
While Serverless is the popular name, there’s another one that has been coined – FaaS – Functions as a Service; which then made it into the names of many of these products: Google Cloud Functions, PubNub Functions and Twilio Function to name a few.
Many API vendors now are starting to offer these serverless capabilities – so now you no longer need to have a server of your own connected to their service – you can just run your code in their XXX Functions product instead.
In some cases, using these Functions product is free, while in most cases, there’s a usage based payment model on running these Functions.Serverless CPaaS
Back to CPaaS and where serverless fits.
I think there are only two vendors in the CPaaS market today who are offering serverless (If I missed anyone – please share in the comments below):
In the last Twilio Signal event in London, Jeff Lawson mentioned that Functions was Twilio’s fastest growing product since its launch, so there must be a market for that.
CPaaS is slightly more complex these days, so it is important to see what serverless fits first. Let’s split CPaaS into a couple of API layers and products:
In some ways, the proprietary scripting language API layer can be viewed as a crude form of serverless. You state your needs inside a piece of script that indicates the flow of actions to take on events, offering it as response to webhooks from the CPaaS vendor.
The REST APIs are those that are easily usable within a serverless environment. Instead of making remote calls via APIs from one server to another, handling things like security, authentication and scale, you just run the call as close as possible to its destination.
And then there’s the client SDKs. These run on the target devices themselves, and it is hard to see how you can translate them into serverless – they are already built to communicate with the CPaaS vendor’s backend, so they’re out of scope here.
Since CPaaS products are roughly aligned by the types of API layers that are used for them, we can reach the following conclusions:
A few things to note here:
From a vendor’s perspective, serverless is now becoming important.
Simply because it is part of Twilio’s runtime offering. And one that Twilio states is growing rapidly. I wouldn’t want to be left behind as a competitor.Why not use an IaaS vendor’s FaaS offering?
Just had to put these two in the same sentence.
Since the dominant IaaS vendors (Azure, AWS and Google Cloud) all have a serverless offering, why do you need one in CPaaS? Can’t you just connect the IaaS one to the CPaaS one?
You most certainly can. But you will be using two different vendors now. And to some extent, using something like AWS Lambda only makes sense if you are already making use of multiple AWS services.
Assuming what you do gravitates around communications, then using a Serverless CPaaS product makes more sense. It will bring with it reduced latency and improved security over using an external serverless product.Serverless is coming to CPaaS
Like it or not, serverless is coming to CPaaS.
If you are a CPaaS vendor and you are asking yourself what’s next – make sure you’ve got serverless in your offering or your immediate roadmap.
If you are a developer using CPaaS – see if serverless can help you develop your application faster.Selecting a CPaaS vendor for your WebRTC application? Check out my WebRTC APIs report
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.
Looking for a WebRTC course to dig deeper and build a solid architecture for your product?
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.
Looking for a WebRTC course to dig deeper and build a solid architecture for your product?
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
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