Billy Chia
Billy is the Asterisk Marketing Manager for Digium, Inc. Digium is the primary sponsor and maintainer of Asterisk, the world's...
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Billy Chia | May 30, 2014 |


5 Reasons the Web Will Disrupt Even if WebRTC Doesn't

5 Reasons the Web Will Disrupt Even if WebRTC Doesn't WebRTC is poised to be a turbulent force in the communications industry. But what if it isn't? Does that mean the status quo will be maintained, or is the Web itself enough to push forward disruptive change?

WebRTC is poised to be a turbulent force in the communications industry. But what if it isn't? Does that mean the status quo will be maintained, or is the Web itself enough to push forward disruptive change?

There is a strange paradoxical fascination with disruptive technology. On the one side of the coin, people love to see things shaken up and changed in fundamental ways. Disruptive technology has a knack for unseating an elite minority of incumbent market leaders, leaving behind fertile soil for the masses. This pushes opportunity and authority down to a greater number of smaller players. A good "power to the people" revolution is always an attractive story. It is unsurprising that we watch with excited anticipation for the next chapter to unfold.

Conversely, disruption brings massive uncertainty to our lives. The same market forces that grant new opportunities often revoke existing opportunities. It is a tricky endeavor to derive meaning by peering into tea leaves. The sheer stress of trying to read them correctly furls brows and turns hair from black to gray. Disruption is both a delight and a doom type of game.

Most assuredly, there are disruptive forces at work in the marketplace now. Technology has accelerated change to such a rapid pace that we no longer shift between phases of change and stagnancy, but rather, we exist in a never-ending cycle of continuous upheaval. While the state of change is largely accepted as a truism, there is debate over what specifically is acting as a change agent.

WebRTC, although gaining greater adoption by the minute, is one technology that still has a few holdups. (Namely, no native IE/Safari API, and a spec still in draft.) Now, don't get me wrong. I absolutely believe WebRTC is fuel for the change fire. But even if WebRTC in particular never lives up to the hype, the Web itself will disrupt communications as we know it today. Below are five reasons why:

1. The Web Has Disrupted Everything Else
Taking quick stock of the industries that have already been disrupted by the Web shows that communications is due to be next. Initially, the Web functioned as a text-based medium. Early on, newspapers, books and magazines gave way to blogs and social media. With increased bandwidth, Web audio and video took over. Streaming services like Spotify are beating out mp3 downloads. Even holdout king HBO has begun to port shows to Web-based streaming platforms, finally decoupling content from their legacy set-top subscription service.

What's next on the list? Text, audio and video packaged as Web communications. The cumulative weight of so many other paradigms moving to the Web helps to normalize the behavior of using a Web browser for everything. It becomes a very small step, even for the average, non-technical user, to communicate through their browser as well.

2. The Browser Has Evolved into a Robust Development Platform
What was once designed to merely serve static content has now become a powerful channel to deploy robust and feature-ful applications. Everything from video games to productivity apps is being built successfully in the Web environment. Even Web-based communications already exist.

What has slowed adoption has been the need for non-native plug-ins. On this front, WebRTC is certainly a key component of the browser as a development platform.

A prime virtue of WebRTC is that it alleviates the need for plug-ins and provides the promise of frictionless adoption. However, even apart from WebRTC, the momentum is strong for Web communications inherent in the increasing number of other applications quickly being ported to the Web.

3. Everyone is Learning to Code
The other day I was talking to one of our sales guys and he told me he was learning JavaScript. When sales guys and mayors are learning to code the world has gone topsy-turvy. Some are opposed to this trend, saying it would ultimately be a bad thing if more people knew how to write code. Regardless of the sentiment, the proliferation of accessible computer science education (also brought about through the Web) has empowered more people than ever to write software. This is changing the landscape.

Perhaps in the traditional world of software engineering, a deep understanding of all the bits and bytes was necessary. However, in the world of Web development, much can be accomplished by leveraging libraries and platforms. Powerful tools can be built relatively easily. I'm not saying our sales guy is destined to build the next great app, but with continued persistence he wouldn't be the first guy to transition from sales to engineering.

In short, with all of the available resources, the bar to entry has been significantly lowered. The potential pool of people with the skills necessary to accomplish innovation is expanding.

4. Customer Responsiveness is the New Development Paradigm
Once upon a time, software development was a slow, lumbering process. A specification was made, then coded, then tested, then deployed all in large, distinct chunks of time. This made adding new features and responding to customers difficult.

Modern software development methodologies focus on rapid prototyping and iterative deployment. This type of development process is tied closely to the Web. When you need to compile your code before it can run, it is difficult to iterate quickly. However, Web-based development with interpreted languages means code can be executed, tested, and sometimes even deployed almost instantaneously.

The advantage of using this development model with communications is the ability to become super-responsive to your customer base. Learning how your customers are interacting with your company and modifying your product in real time is how the Web works. As communications become more Web-centric, customers will come to expect communication paths that are fluid and natural. The "press 1 for sales, press 2 for support" method is not going to cut it anymore. What was once merely annoying will soon become unforgivable.

5. Communications as a Feature
Talk to your average app developer and the phrase "communications as a feature" doesn't register on their radar. Instead, they are simply asking to add voice, video and messaging to their existing applications. "Comms as a feature" is used to describe this phenomenon to telco-centric people where the emphasis is still on "communications" instead of on "features."

Here is where WebRTC really shines. Do you have an existing website or webapp that you'd like to simply add voice to as an extended feature? WebRTC makes this possible.

On this final point, I admit that it is a little harder to see the disruption of the Web alone, apart from WebRTC specifically. But, it is the idea that, "voice and video can be added to your existing application" that is so empowering and compelling.

Furthermore, once customers get the thirst for the simplicity of transaction it will become an overriding force. Imagine a customer using a product, and they now want to contact support for that product. If the possibility exists, why would they want to leave that interface to go and access some other interface, like a telephone, in order to make their call when it could be as simple as pushing a button in-product? This web-centric concept will persist, even apart from the specific technologies enabled by WebRTC.


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