WebRTC: A New Standard for Free, Open Video Chat, File Sharing, and More In the Browser

Everybody loves video chatting with friends, sharing files, instant messaging, and web surfing together. In education, it seems like we always need newer and better tools for working together collaboratively on the web in real time to make learning more immediate and dynamic. A new free web technology called Web Real Time Communications, or WebRTC, is emerging that allows you to connect directly and anonymously with collaborators, browser to browser, desktop or mobile, without any company like Skype or Google Hangouts standing in between you collecting data on you.

I could blather on telling you what it is, but what really matters is what you can do with it. The first wave of apps that use WebRTC are coming out and showing us a future where we can put chat rooms on any site, video chat, share files, and call people without getting a giant corporation involved. Let’s look at a few of the standout stars:

 Sharefest: Instant anonymous file sharing

Sharefest lets you drop a file in a box and send it to a friend. Simple, fast, and with no sign in necessary.

 Appear.In: Hang out with friends, not with Google

Appear.In lets you set up a video chat room, send friends the link, and start talking. No accounts, no sign up necessary, just talk! I have already added an Appear.in chat room to my course in the Canvas LMS by simply adding a link in the Modules page. Anyone who follows the link is directly added to the chat room, all within the familiar Canvas frame so they feel like they never left my course. This didn’t require any special integrations or plugins– just add the link and collaborate. Amazing.

 Talky.io: Web Calling, Hold the Skype

Similar to Appear.In, Talky.io lets you claim a chat room and start video chats from Chrome and Firefox. Both tools allow you to claim a chat room with a password, but neither requires any more personal information than that!

TogetherJS: Add Real Time Chat to Any Website

Together.js, a Mozilla experiment, allows you to add a chat box to any website by cutting and pasting a couple lines of code. No need to decide between Google Hangouts or Facebook messenger– just start your own!

 

The Future of WebRTC

As you can see, this new technology has the potential to upset the major players in the cloud collaboration industry like Skype, Google, and larger enterprise companies like Cisco. It also has the ability to bring high quality video conferencing and collaboration to schools while protecting the privacy of students (of everyone, really!) WebRTC democratizes online collaboration– if your school runs a server you can even set up your own private cloud collaboration system with free, open source tools. This may simplify schools’ tech adoption decisions when choosing a new solution for file sharing, video hosting, or chat.

At the time of writing our news headlines are filled with tales of government spying and high-profile leaks of users private information by cloud service providers. In this atmosphere, you can expect to see more and more WebRTC-powered apps that let us share information without routing our traffic through centralized server farms, but instead let us connect directly and privately with our collaborators, browser to browser.

While the standard is currently only implemented in Chrome and Firefox, I expect to see support come to IE and Safari in 2014. Keep an eye out for WebRTC-powered tools in 2014, and keep thinking about how you can use them to simplify your classroom collaboration.

To learn more, see the related articles below. If you are using WebRTC in education or want to share a tool I missed, please add it in the comments. Thanks!

 

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