Working together within a company today no longer requires being in the same room, or even in the same time zone. Employees are spread across geographies, and customers and partners are distributed around the globe.
How can you make it easier for users to collaborate without adding more complexity to their workday? Not by installing specialist software or by deploying exotic extensions in their browser! How can you respect the security constraints of technical environments without adding any particular rule for this type of solution?
The answer is to use open source WebRTC technology to build your web conferencing solution.
What is WebRTC and What is it good for?
RTC stands for “Real Time Communication” and WebRTC technology is a solution to achieve real-time communication in a web browser. Initiated by Google and Mozilla, it is an open protocol that opens a communication channel between two users, this channel can then accommodate different types of data such as audio and video.
In this protocol, the two users are connected via a central server that forms their meeting point. So User A, who initiates the connection, asks the server where the User B is and if User B accepts the connection. If B accepts, the application sends a connection request to A via the central server. Then it contacts B to open the connection between them. Once this channel is open, the application can use it without using the central server.
Why use WebRTC?
Primarily because it’s an open format (and that is important for eXo Platform!). The protocol specifications are managed by the IETF, and the API specifications are managed by the W3C. This gives us the guarantee of a protocol and a stable API over time, and versatility as it is suitable for all market players who meet these specifications.
This protocol has been implemented in most recent browsers on the market due to its stability, so it can be used natively, without the user having to install a plugin or proprietary extension.
In addition, the WebRTC technology can pass through the different layers of an organisation’s network security (firewall or NAT) in a transparent way for the user, to establish a peer-to-peer connection between users. Connections between users can be decentralised which lightens the load for system administrators, since they will not have to manage and maintain a dedicated server for that purpose.
Finally, there is no need to replace or update existing desktop or mobile devices since the protocol is compatible with so many browsers.
How do we use WebRTC with eXo Platform?
As a user, I can see information about other users at any time – in my activity feed, in a list of people, in the chat application, in the forum, when they’re mentioned in an activity. Hovering the cursor over any of these displays launches a popup from which I can make a call:
Users’ colleagues are only ever a single click away.
We wanted to simplify this feature as much as possible to make collaboration between the users of our platform quick and easy.
This article discusses a web conferencing feature for collaboration between employees within a company, but we think it could also be deployed in a B2B or B2C setting, to connect customers with a company’s support team, sales or consulting departments. In fact, it could be deployed anywhere that it would facilitate exchanges between people.
What’s next for WebRTC?
Currently the WebRTC protocol only allows communication between two users, but solutions are being drafted that would allow groups of people to communicate.
Using WebRTC as a building block opens up a huge field of possibilities. Many applications are possible using this protocol in addition to transmitting voice and images. One can imagine a screen sharing solution for example, as part of a web conferencing suite, document co-editing, co-browsing the web or a whiteboard solution.
We imagine connecting our our web conferencing solution to other solutions in a corporate information system.
We are at the beginning of a new era in business collaboration, and the WebRTC protocol is the foundation of a set of solutions that will enable everyone to communicate and collaborate in an ever easier and faster way.