I love technology, and at the same time, I'm not one to fall head over heels for shiny new tech. Technologies often go through an initial hype cycle, then either fall off the earth or settle into a steady growth while the world catches up. I always remember something that my colleague Fred (Macadamian's CEO) told me years ago during the dot-com bubble - "we tend to drastically overestimate the impact of an innovation in the short term, and drastically underestimate it in the log run.
Every once and a while though, a technology comes along that actually lives up to the hype. In the past few months, we've been working with network equipment companies and with network operators to create concepts and working prototypes to help envision how WebRTC will change enterprise and consumer communication. About halfway through our first brainstorming meeting, I had one of those "wow, this changes everything" moments.
This changes everything. Video and voice chat inside the browser hasn't really taken off because it's difficult and expensive to implement, and it's challenging to convince customers to install the plug-ins or clients required. A few years ago eBay paid a substantial amount of money for Skype to improve communication between sellers and buyers. It never really took off, maybe because Skype, at the time, wasn't completely ubiquitous.
Now imagine if you could reach out to the seller via voice or video chat, while still maintaining anonymity in both parties, straight from the browser - no plug-ins, no need to download and install a separate client?
It gets even more interesting when you think about the experiences you could create in B2B and B2C. An online investment company that wants to differentiate with superior levels of customer experience could offer voice and video communications straight from the browser, perhaps through a paid, premium advisory service. Because you are connecting through the browser, provided you gave them permission, the advisor would instantly know your trading history, your account information, and even share your screen. You would eliminate the time your customer would need to spend navigating touch-tone menus, entering 16 digit account numbers, and re-explaining their issue to new agents. And in such a sensitive transaction, communicating over video establishes a whole new level of trust.
In e-commerce, forward-thinking companies like Zappos could offer even more compelling customer service, both voice and video, straight from the browser. Because you're connecting through the browser, the customer service rep would know your browsing history, what products you've been viewing, and your account information. A customer could even show a Zappos rep a type of shoe they own over video, and ask for help finding something similar.
WebRTC will touch every online experience that can be enhanced by more personal, one to one, real-time communication. We're limited only by our imagination right now, and no doubt it will launch completely new business models we haven't even thought of. And it gets even more exciting when support for WebRTC reaches mobile browsers. Currently, the Chrome and Firefox browsers support WebRTC. Only Opera has announced support in their mobile browser for WebRTC, but we can bet that we'll see it soon on Android devices.
About the Author
Matt heads Macadamian's Silicon Valley lab, and is VP of Strategy and Innovation at Macadamian. He is a trained Innovation Games (tm) facilitator who helps clients define mobile and software-as-a-service strategies, and works with them to uncover new opportunities for innovation and envision new products. Matt was the founder of the Ottawa Software Executive Forum, an executive roundtable that included VP and C level leaders from companies like Cognos, QNX, Corel, and IBM, and met monthly to discuss the direction of the industry and the future of software. Matt is a 15 year veteran of mobile and web technology who delivers frequent webinars on mobile product strategy, moderates executive roundtable discussions on the future of mobility, and is a past speaker at events like Sun's JavaOne and IBM's global partner conferences.
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