Posts categorized "WebRTC"

Updated "Directory Dilemma" Article Now On CircleID...

Back in December, 2014, I published a post here called "The Directory Problem - The Challenge For Wire, Talko And Every Other "Skype-Killer" OTT App". After receiving a good bit of feedback, I've now published a new version over on CircleID:
The Directory Dilemma - Why Facebook, Google and Skype May Win the Mobile App War

I incorporated a good bit of the feedback I received and also brought in some newer numbers and statistics. Of note, I now have a section on WebRTC where I didn't before. You'll also notice a new emphasis in the title... I'm now talking about the potential winners versus the challengers. I also chose "Directory Dilemma" not only for the alliteration but also because the situation really isn't as much a "problem" as it is an overall "dilemma". It may or may not be a "problem".

I'm not done yet.

I'm still seeking feedback. I intend to do yet another revision of this piece, but in doing so intend to:

  • Change it from the informal tone at the beginning to more of a "paper" style;
  • Include a bit more about potential solutions.

Comments and feedback are definitely welcome... either as comments here on this site, on social media or as email to "[email protected]".

I'm not sure when I'll do that next iteration, but probably later this year.

Thanks in advance!

P.S. An audio commentary on this topic is available... see the embedded audio plater at the bottom of this post... (below the graphic)


Directory dilemma




WebRTCHacks Publishes Analysis of Facebook and WhatsApp Usage of WebRTC

WebrtchacksThe team over at webrtcH4cKS (aka "WebRTCHacks") have been publishing some great articles about WebRTC for a while now, and I thought I'd point to two in particular worth a read. Philipp Hancke has started a series of posts examining how different VoIP services are using WebRTC and he's started out exploring two of the biggest, Facebook and WhatsApp, in these posts:

Those articles are summaries explaining the findings, with much-longer detailed reports also available for download:

Both of these walk through the packet captures and provide a narrative around what is being seen in the discovery process.

A common finding between both reports is that the services are not using the more secure mechanism of DTLS for key exchange to set up encrypted voice channels. Instead they are using the older SDES mechanism that has a number of challenges, but, as noted by the report, is typically faster in enabling a call setup.

All in all the reports make for interesting reading. It's great to see both Facebook and WhatsApp using WebRTC and I think this will only continue to help with the overall growth of WebRTC as a platform. As an audio guy, I was pleased to see that Facebook Messenger is using the Opus codec, which is of course the preferred codec for WebRTC... but that doesn't necessarily mean that it has to be implemented by companies using WebRTC within their own closed products. Kudos to the Facebook team for supporting Opus!

Thanks to Philipp Hancke for writing these reports and I look forward to reading more in the series!


Wow! Cisco To Acquire Tropo's Communications Application Platform

Tropo siteWOW! In companion blog posts today Cisco and Tropo announced Cisco's intent to acquire the Tropo team and platform:

As someone who was at Voxeo in 2009 and helped launch Tropo (and wrote many of the early blog posts about it[1], as well as some of the python samples), I'm thrilled for the team there now that this is happening.[2]

Congratulations to all involved!

Over the years since leaving Voxeo, I've written about Tropo from time to time and continued to watch its progress. I've continued to be very impressed by what they've done over the years. They've truly made it easy for people to create powerful applications using simple programming languages.

It looks like the Tropo website is struggling right now so here is a snippet of their announcement post:


Six years ago we launched Tropo with the idea to make it easy to power phone calls through a simple API. Since then, we’ve empowered thousands of developers to add voice and messaging to their applications.

From our very first sign-up in 2009, to powering thousands of mobile and voice applications, our mission has been the same: to make real-time communications more accessible and productive through great APIs.

Today we’re thrilled to share that Tropo is joining Cisco’s Collaboration Technology Group. Together we’ll enable completely new ways of communicating by opening up Cisco’s collaboration products to every developer on the planet (and maybe some off the planet…hey, they need collaborative tools on the International Space Station!)  :)


Knowing a good number of folks at Cisco, too, I think this is a great win for them in that they'll be able to make some of their products and services more accessible to developers.

I remember well back in 2009 when Jonathan Taylor (then CEO of Voxeo) brought in the Adhearsion team and "Voxeo Labs" was set up. Tropo was the first of the Voxeo Labs products, along with a number of others that were released over the following years. I watched as Voxeo Labs was then spun off from Voxeo in 2012 as a separate company and then Voxeo was acquired by Aspect in 2013... and Voxeo Labs was renamed to Tropo.

I watched, too, as the Tropo team continued their heavy involvement with WebRTC and brought that technology even deeper into their various services.

Congratulations to Jonathan Taylor, Jason Goecke, Johnny Diggz and all the rest of the Tropo team on this acquisition!

I look forward to seeing what Tropo and Cisco will do together to make it even easier to create voice, chat, messaging and other kinds of applications!


UPDATE #1: Jonathan Taylor has published a post on Facebook that outlines some of the history that led to this announcement. He includes this information related to Cisco:

We were even more surprised when Cisco approached us about acquiring Tropo. Selling Tropo was the last thing on our minds. But the potential was clearly huge for both companies, and over the course of the discussion, the deal terms clearly quite attractive. So here we are today!

UPDATE #2: A number of news stories are appearing on Techmeme.

UPDATE #3: Writing over on NoJitter, Zeus Kerravala dives into more detail about the acquisition based on his pre-briefing with Cisco's Rowan Trollope. Zeus' article: Cisco to CPaaS Providers: Game On!


[1] Although in the time since I left in 2011, my account was understandably removed from the Tropo site and the author on all those posts I wrote between 2009-2011 was changed to someone else. :-)

[2] In full disclosure, I should note that I am a very minor shareholder in Tropo after exercising a few options upon leaving Voxeo in 2011. I had no knowledge of this acquisition and have not participated actively with Tropo since leaving in 2011.


Wire Launches WebRTC Voice/Chat Web App For Windows, Linux, more - Includes High TLS Security

Yesterday the team over at Wire launched a new WebRTC-based "Wire for Web" app that lets people on Windows, Linux or any other platform now communicate with people using Wire on iOS, Android or OS X. You can get to it simply at:
https://app.wire.com/
If you already have an account you simply sign in with your credentials. If you don't have an account you can easily create one.

I've been running both the native Mac OS X client and the web client for a bit now (I was part of web beta program for Wire) and it is truly amazing how well the team has made the web experience to be seamless between the web and native client. Here's a screenshot showing both side by side (click/tap for a larger image):

Screenshot wire for web

In the web view on the right you have the browser bars at the top and one of the images did not go the full width of the column, but otherwise the experience and visual display has been essentially identical between the two platforms. The synchronization between the two is nearly instantaneous and all the features work really, really well.

Notifications in the web browser (if you allow them) work great to alert you to new messages.

And the voice calls from within the web browser have the same outstanding audio quality I've come to expect from Wire.

All in all the web implementation is quite excellent.

This new web app also addresses a concern I had from the initial launch of Wire back in December - the lack of a client for users on Microsoft Windows. With this web app Windows users - and Linux users - can now equally participate in communication over Wire. This is all courtesy of WebRTC that allows modern browsers to be able to use voice and chat from directly within the browser. Wire co-founder and CTO Alan Duric published a post about how they use WebRTC.

Alan also clued me in to the strong degree that the Wire team takes security extremely seriously. In fact I would say they take it more seriously than many other similar web apps I've seen. If you go over to Qualys SSL Labs and plug in "app.wire.com" you get a result of an "A+":

Ssllabs app wire com

The same can NOT be said of other similar web interfaces that I tested from similar services.

I've been writing about Wire for a bit now (see my various articles) and I have it running on my Mac all the time, primarily because of the great value I get out of a couple of group chats that I am in. From a chat / messaging perspective it's one of the best I've seen and I find it extremely useful.

Curiously, I don't find myself using Wire as much for actual calls, primarily because I find that much of my interaction has moved to video calls, and Wire doesn't support those yet. When I do use Wire the audio quality is truly amazing, but that has to do with the audio pedigree of the team behind Wire, and the fact that they are using the Opus codec. On a larger level, there is also the continued "directory dilemma" that I've written about, namely that Wire has the same struggle as most other new tools in that you need to gather a strong "directory" of people who are actually using the app for it to be an app that people regularly use. Most of the people with whom I regularly communicate aren't users of Wire ... yet.

Still, the release of this "Wire for Web" gives me hope that Wire may be able to build some momentum now that, for example, Microsoft Windows users can now join in. Time will tell... but this will definitely help!

Kudos to the team at Wire for this very excellent web release?

P.S. If you are using Wire, or try it out, you should be able to find me on Wire as "Dan York".


Note: an audio podcast about this topic is also available:

Congrats to the Jitsi Team On Their Acquistion By Atlassian

Jitsi

Congratulations to Emil Ivov and the whole team behind Jitsi for their acquisition by Atlassian! As they say on the Jitsi news page:

The Jitsi Community just got a lot stronger! BlueJimp, founder of Jitsi, is now part of Atlasssian! The plan is to keep Jitsi at the cutting edge of innovation by keeping it open and in the hands of those who created it in the first place: the open source community.

The news is outlined in an article on TechCrunch and explained in more detail in a HipChat blog post.

To be clear, Atlassian is acquiring the company BlueJimp that employed the founders of Jitsi, but in the process they are also effectively getting the open source Jitsi project. It's great to read in their blog post, though, that they intend to continue to support and invest in the project.

I've been a big fan of Jitsi for quite some time as it was one of the earliest VoIP clients to support both IPv6 and DNSSEC. I wrote about this support both here and also over on the Deploy360 blog and recorded this video interview with Emil Ivov:

Previously I'd also written about Jitsi's support for DNSSEC as it was the first softphone to do so.

More recently I've been using Jitsi's WebRTC-based video bridge for some of the remote participation work we've been experimenting with inside the IETF.

It's all great work and I'm delighted that Emil and his team have found a home inside of Atlassian. I hope it works well for them all and I hope we see further evolution of Jitsi and other similar products.

Congrats to the whole team!


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The Directory Problem - The Challenge For Wire, Talko And Every Other "Skype-Killer" OTT App

Skype directoryAs much as I am enjoying the new Wire app, there is a fundamental problem that Wire faces... as well as Talko, Firefox Hello and every other Over-The-Top (OTT) or WebRTC application that is seeking to become THE way that we communicate via voice, chat and/or video from our mobile phones and desktops. That is:
How do they gather the "directory" of people that others want to talk to?

The fundamental challenge all of these applications face is this:

People will only USE a communication application if the people they want to talk to are using the application.

And where I say "talk" it could also be "chat" or "message" or... pick your communication verb.

It's all about the "directory" of users.

There's a war out there right now... and it's a war for the future of our communications between each other. It's a war for messaging... and it's also a war for voice and video.

And it all comes back to... which communications application or service can provide the most comprehensive directory of users?

Which communications tool will be the one that people use the most? Will any of them replace the default communications of the mobile phone?

NOTE: A number of updates have been added to the bottom of this post.

Today's Fragmented User Experience

The reality is that today we use several different tools for real-time communications ... and that creates a bit of a frustrating user experience. If I want to send a message to Joe, do I send him a message on Skype? Facebook? WhatsApp? Google+? Twitter? SMS? iMessage? BBM? Wire? email?

If I want to call him and speak via voice or video, do I use Skype? Facebook Messenger? Google+ Hangouts? Facetime? Wire? Talko? Viber? Firefox Hello? <insert WebRTC or OTT app du jour here>? Or just call him on his regular old phone line?

By trial and error we start to figure out which of the people with whom we regularly communicate are available over which channels. Certain family members may be through Facebook... others through WhatsApp or Skype. Work colleagues through Jabber or Yammer... except for some of them who primarily use Skype. These friends detest Facebook and so they are in Google+ ... and then there's that guy who thinks all of these new apps are junk and only wants to talk to you via SMS and phone.

It's a mess.

And every new app and service wants to fix it... and wants to be THE communications application/service that you use.

Skype/Microsoft Has A Directory

Over the years, I think it would be impossible to count the number of times we've seen new communications applications trumpted as "Skype-killers". "This new app/service WILL be the one to replace Skype. It's new. It's better. It supports (something). Everyone will switch and the world will be so much better!"

Except they don't switch.

Even when Skype's audio quality is no longer what it once was.

And why not?

Because Skype has a massive user directory.

When I speak at a conference I can ask the attendees "who has a Skype ID?" and usually almost every hand goes up. They may not use Skype as their primary communication tool, but they have an ID. They can be found on Skype.

Now a large part of this is because Skype has now been around for over 11 years and truly led the disruption that "consumer VoIP" has caused in the larger telecom industry. Part of it is that Skype prioritized the user experience and made it drop-dead simple to install and use. Part of it is that Skype made it easy to find other Skype users.

But the point is that Skype amassed this huge directory - and now is the default way that many of us communicate via voice or video over the Internet. Certainly many of us, myself included, would like a better mechanism at this point... but we still use Skype because that's where the people are! The directory of users is there.

Facebook Has A Directory (Two, Actually)

Facebook messenger callWhen it comes to a user directory, certainly one of the biggest in the world right now is Facebook. With over a billion users Facebook has an enormous ability to connect people together.

With Facebook Messenger, they are definitely aiming to replace SMS and become THE messaging application you use on your mobile phone.

And now in many regions of the world, Facebook lets you initiate voice conversations through simply clicking on a telephone icon in the Messenger interface.

They make it simple and easy... and it works because "everyone" has a Facebook account (or at least 1 billion people do).

Facebook has a massive user directory.

(Of course, every chat and voice conversation can then be mined for data for Facebook advertisers... but that's a topic for another post...)

Facebook actually as two massive user directories if you consider that they also own WhatsApp and most stats right now say that WhatsApp has over 600 million users. (Which is actually more than Facebook Messenger, which recently crossed the 500 million user mark.)

Put these two together and while there is certainly duplication between the two directories, they do represent a huge directory of users.

P.S. And Facebook actually has a third user directory in the form of Instagram (which now has 300 million users)... but we've not yet seen them do anything with real-time communications there.

Google Has A Directory

And then of course Google has its own massive directory. Everyone who has a "Google Account". Every Gmail user. Every Google+ user. Every Google docs user.

Hundreds of millions of Google users.

Google's focus today seems to be on Hangouts, which is available from the desktop and also from the iOS and Android mobile platforms. While Hangouts started out inside of Google+, Google has separated the application out. I'll note that just today they are rolling out a new version of Hangouts on Android that lets you add your phone number so that you are easier to find. They may at some point also integrate their Google Voice offering better into Hangouts.

Apple Has A Directory

Apple idIt goes without saying that Apple has its own massive directory from the hundreds of millions of iPhone and Mac users, almost all of whom get integrated into Apple's iMessage and Facetime services through their Apple ID. With iMessage and Facetime, Apple's directory includes my own phone number, as well as my email addresses.

Apple also makes the user experience insanely simple. When I go to call a contact, I am offered the choice of calling them via Facetime (audio or video) or the regular phone. When I send a message, Apple automagically sends the message over iMessage if the recipient is registered in Apple's directory. As a user I have no clue about this unless I realize that "blue bubbles" are iMessage and "green bubbles" are regular SMS.

The point is that Apple can do all this and make it so simple because they have this massive user directory.

LINE And WeChat Have Directories

While we in North America don't tend to know their names, there are apps building huge user directories in Asia. WeChat, based in China, now has over 468 million monthly active users worldwide. LINE, out of Japan and used in much of Asia, has over 170 million monthly active users. There are others such as KakaoTalk in Korea that have large directories.

The Telcos Have Directories

Of course, the original user directories for mobile phone users reside with all of the mobile service providers / telephone companies. They have the customer names and phone numbers. Their challenge is one of sharing that information between each other - and also their general challenges with embracing the world of OTT communications apps that threaten their basic revenue streams.

Some telcos have tried - and continue to try. Telefonica had "Tu ME" and now has "Tu Go". Orange has Libon. T-Mobile did have "Bobsled" but that seems to have disappeared. And then of course there was (and still is, although on life support) Joyn, the traditional telcos attempt to provide rich communication services and fight back against OTT apps. As Dean Bubley wrote at the time, RCS/Joyn was in trouble from the start and now seems to have faded from consideration.

I should note that Telefonica is doing some great work in the WebRTC space and is involved with Mozilla's latest Firefox Hello effort. There are other traditional carriers who are also doing some good work with WebRTC and other OTT works ... but I've still not really seen any of them figure out how to tie their apps and services back to the large user directories they collectively have.

Everyone Wants To OWN The Directory

Notice a common thread across all of these directories?

They are all owned / controlled by corporations - some of whom are among the largest in the world.

They have NO interest in sharing their directories.

They are all about the "lock-in".

Well... I should say... they are glad to "share" in the sense that they are glad for you to use their directory as a source of identity in your application or service. "Login with Facebook" or "Login with Google" or "Login with Twitter" ...

A better way to say it would be:

They have no interest in federation / interoperability between directories.

They want to own the directory. They want to be THE source of "identity" ... but that's a topic for yet another post.

And each of the ones I've listed is a commercial entity with their own investors or shareholders and their own ideas of what they will do with your data and your communication...

(NOTE: This is not a new problem - I wrote about "walled gardens" back in 2007 with regard to email and messaging - some names have changed but the problem remains.)

One Directory To Rule Them All?

Amidst all this we've seen various attempts to provide a global directory for IP communications. ENUM was one in the open standard space, but the original vision of "public ENUM" ran into a barrage of security and privacy issues and faded from view. (ENUM is still heavily used within SIP-based networks either within telcos or within peering relationships between telcos.)

On the corporate side, he original Google Voice was an attempt to put users in control, at least as far as a telephone number. Give out one number and have it ring many devices or apps. The .TEL people tried this with their original vision for that top-level domain. iNum tried to offer this with their numbers. Many other attempts have been made...

The question with all of these is how to make the directory accessible to other entities in a secure fashion - and how to deal with privacy issues, telemarketers, spammers, attackers, etc.

Back to the "Directory Problem"

How, then, does a new startup like Wire or Talko or Firefox Hello or whoever-releases-their-WebRTC-app-today build up a significant enough directory of users so that the application is usable by large numbers of people?

How do they compete with these massive user directories being built by Facebook, Google, Apple and others?

I don't know.

(If I did I'd probably start up a company... ;-) )

What I do know is that, as I said in my initial thoughts on Wire, "my iPhone is littered with the dead carcasses of so many other apps that have launched trying to be THE communication platform we all want to use."

Some may opt to use the identity systems of one of the major vendors mentioned before - but now you are putting your user directory in the hands of some other entity and relying on them to be there. And... you are excluding people who may not use that system.

Some apps/services may make it easy for you to "find your friends" through using your "social graph"... the connections you have on Facebook, Google, etc.

Some apps use your phone number as an identifier, but they still have to build up their own directory of users.

I don't know the answer... but I see this as a fundamental challenge for any new entrant in the space. How do they gain the directory of users so that people will be able to communicate with others using this new service?

THAT is what the team at Wire needs to answer... and Talko... and every other app.

Unless, of course, they just want to be happy as a smaller, more niche player.

But most of these apps and services want to be THE communication platform you use more than any other. Their success - and funding - is tied to that goal.


A Final Thought - The Bigger Picture

Let me end with one thought... this "directory problem" is in fact tied to the larger challenge of "identity" on the Internet. Back in the pre-Internet days our "identity" for real-time communications was simple - our telephone number. We might have had several phone numbers, but they were ours and they were/are globally unique and globally routable.

With the Internet, we gradually moved to where email addresses were (and still are in many ways) our "identity" online and became the identifiers that we used for many forms of communication.

BUT... when we've moved to IP-based real-time communications, first with instant-messaging / chat and then with voice and video, we've also moved into a realm of fractured identities and identifiers with, as noted above, many different companies vying to have us use their system so that their directory is the most complete and comprehensive.

I do definitely worry about a future in which our identities and the user directories are controlled by large corporations. This, to me, seems like it could be a severe barrier to the "permissionless innovation" that has brought about the "Internet of opportunity" that we have today.

I'd like to hope that we'll arrive at some form of distributed and decentralized identities and directories that can be federated together so that people can find each other. (Which is why I'm intrigued by what the Matrix.org folks and others are doing.) I do worry, though, that the financial incentives are there for the larger corporate players to fight each other for dominance... and leave us regular users of the Internet without a choice.

Thoughts?


An audio commentary on this topic is available on SoundCloud:


UPDATE #1 - On Twitter, Aswath Rao asserted that Firefox Hello doesn't have the directory problem because it provides a way to pass a URL out to anyone so that they can simply call you at that URL. I documented this myself in a post back on December 2nd. I can see his point, but I would argue that for Firefox Hello to be truly useful to me in my regular ongoing communications, I need some form of a "directory", either as a directory in the cloud maintained by Mozilla, or as a local address book in my Firefox browser that keeps track of those URLs. To the degree that Mozilla wants to let Firefox Hello users build up their contact list, I think they still have this issue of building the directory.

UPDATE #2 - In the comments to this post, Tim Panton points out that in many cases people do not want to be contacted. I agree, and in fact I think that the prevalence of email spam is in part what has driven so much of us to separate (walled gardens) messaging apps such as Facebook, Twitter, etc. Within those walls I have MUCH stronger control over who may contact me at what point. I do agree that any communications app/service needs those kind of controls - whether that is part of the directory or part of the client application or in the service infrastructure seems to be a bit of an implementation consideration.

UPDATE #3 - The folks at FireRTC contend that they don't have to worry about the directory because they are leveraging PSTN telephone numbers. As I replied, they can certainly use the phone number as an identifier to locate other users. This is a great idea and is done by many similar apps, including Facetime, WhatsApp, Viber and more. BUT... all that does is help bootstrap the directory creation process. They still have to build their directory so that users of their app can find and contact other users.

UPDATE #4 - Aswath and I have been engaged in a Twitter discussion where he points out that WebRTC addresses can be much more decentralized like email addresses have been. He argues that they can provide much greater richness and freedom than a static directory of users.

He's right... BUT... we now come back to the "discovery" issue that directories also address. How do I find your WebRTC URL to call you at? Sure, you can email it or IM it to me ... and I can then store it in my address book or contact list. But somehow I have to get it first - and I have to know that it is the current and best address to use for you.

I often use Facebook to send a private message to someone because it's easier than finding their email address and sending them a message. Now, if I synced my contact lists across all my devices perhaps it would be easier... but I don't and so sometimes FB messaging is easiest. I can see the same kind of thing happening with WebRTC URLs.

UPDATE #5 - In response to this post, Phil Wolff wrote a long series of tweets with ideas for further research on this topic.


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More Observations About The "Wire" App

After yesterday's launch of Wire, I continued to use it a bit today and am writing these notes, mostly for my own memory.

Group Chats ARE Persistent

In my post yesterday I said that it seemed like Wire group chats were "persistent" (something I'd previously written about with regard to Skype). Today I can confirm that they ARE persistent. When I fired up the Wire app this morning I received all the messages that had been posted into the group chat overnight while I'd been offline.

Further, when I went to add someone to the group chat, I received this message:

Wire add people

The Wire team also deserves credit for how smoothly they make the scrolling back through the chat history. Works very well!

No IPv6... yet

Friends tested Wire in an IPv6-only network and confirmed that it unfortunately does not yet work. In reaching out to someone at Wire the word was that they are definitely investigating this to see what can be done. The issue is that the Wire app connects to Amazon EC2 servers - so it's really an issue of Amazon's capabilities.

I will say again that Wire at the very least deserves credit for coming out with a website, www.wire.com, what works over IPv6! That immediately puts them far ahead of most other communications startups.

The Mac OS X Client Rocks!

Wow! What a great desktop client! It works extremely well. I loved the ability to drag and drop images directly into a chat window. Calls worked great from the client. So far a great experience!

The Heavy Use Of Profile Pictures Takes Getting Used To

The profile photo you use winds up being the background for the entire screen on the mobile device - or for the sidebar in the Mac and iPad clients. And that photo changes to be of the last person with whom you communicated. Sometimes that can lead to a bit of strange user view depending upon the profile photo used. Here's one that worked fine for me:

TJ Evans

... but others were a bit strange. The ubuiquitous presence of the photos does take a bit to get used to.

The Use Of Colors Is Fun

Wire lets you choose a color in the settings. This is then used for the highlighting and cursor color that you see. It also shows up in other places such as this listing of people:

Top people

... where it shows the colors people are using. I can see people having fun with this.

Pings Are Useful

At first I was skeptical of what a "ping" could really be useful for (remember Facebook's "Poke"?). But then a friend sent a ping while I was off in some other app - on my Mac I got this nice big box:

Ping

I could then just hit "REPLY" and flip over to the Wire app. Of course, he sent another ping and I then had the option to silence the pings:

Ping

It was a useful way to know there was something to pay attention to over in Wire. Obviously this could be abused... I've not yet checked into what settings there are to control this.

More To Explore...

I continue to be quite impressed with both the iOS and Mac versions of Wire. More thoughts as I get a chance to experiment further...

P.S. If you are using Wire, feel free to find me as "Dan York" or "[email protected]" ...


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Initial Thoughts On "Wire", The New Communication App From Ex-Skypers

Wire com 400Another remarkable day in Internet communications! Today brought the launch of "Wire", a "modern communications network" that runs on iOS, Android, Mac OS X and soon in WebRTC-equipped web browsers.

My first thought was naturally - do we really need YET-another-OTT-communication app?

After all, my iPhone is littered with the dead carcasses of so many other apps that have launched trying to be THE communication platform we all want to use. (And indeed I've written about many of them here on this site.)

But what makes Wire different for me from so many other similar apps that have launched (and faded) is really the PEOPLE involved. The news announcement mentions, of course, Skype co-founder Janus Friis as one of the big names behind Wire. Jonathan Christensen is also the co-founder and CEO of Wire. The news post says this:

The company's team comprises former product and technology leaders from Apple, Skype, Nokia, and Microsoft. Christensen held leadership roles at Microsoft and Skype, and was co-founder and CEO at Camino Networks. Along with Christensen, founders include Alan Duric, Wire’s CTO, a co-founder of Telio (Oslo exchange TELIO) and co-founder of Camino (acquired by eBay/Skype); and Priidu Zilmer, Wire’s head of product design, who led design teams at Vdio and Skype. Wire’s Chief Scientist Koen Vos, created SILK and co-created Opus, the standards for fidelity and intelligibility in voice over IP that billions of people use today.

I've known Jonathan over many years from his time at Skype. Alan Duric is a personal friend from the world of SIP, IETF and more. Some of the others are names I've known - and I've been told privately of others who are there, including apparently Jaanus Kase, who was one of the first working on Skype's community relations back in 2006/2007.

It certainly looks like an excellent team!

Does that mean it will succeed? Not necessarily... but it certainly has a far greater chance in my mind than many of the other attempts.

I have a GREAT amount I want to write about with regard to Wire, but for today I just want to write a few initial thoughts.

VERY Minimalist User Interface

When they say that Wire is about "simple, beautiful conversations", they aren't joking about the "simple" part. The user interface is extremely minimalist. All based on gestures and revealing just the information you need.

It's very cool as you get used to it... but it's also a bit non-intuitive - at least for older greybeards like me. At one point I simply wanted to reply in text and wound up calling someone (Alan, as it happened).

It is definitely great to see someone experimenting with a new UI to the degree that they have.

I installed it on both my iPhone 5s and my older iPad2. It worked great on both devices. The iPad, in particular, had a very nice view in the landscape mode. I did not yet install it on my Mac but spoke with several people who did.

Chats With Photos, SoundCloud and YouTube

When you start chatting with someone, it's very easy to add photos. You also could just drop in a link to a SoundCloud sound or a YouTube video and the player would automagically appear in the chat stream. And yes... animated GIFs work, too.

Call Quality - and Chats During The Call

I made several calls today and the quality was excellent. All high-quality voice. Presumably using the Opus codec or something similar. It's great that during the call you still have the full chat capability as I was sharing text and photos with the person I called.

Persistent Group Chats

I was extremely pleased to see how wonderfully well the "group chats" worked. Someone pulled a bunch of us "early adopters" into a chat room and it felt like we were back in 2006 or so in the early days of Skype and many of the early VoIP offerings. A very pleasant experience.

The group chat also synced very nicely between devices. A message I wrote on my iPad showed up just moments later on my iPhone. Others reported a similar experience with the Mac client.

Perhaps best of all the group chats appeared to be persistent group chats. After shutting down the app and then reconnecting later, I seemed to get all the messages that had been exchanged when I was offline. I've written before about the power of persistent group chats in Skype, and it was good to see what looked like something similar here. (Need to do more testing to confirm... but it looked good.)

What's Missing?

I realize today was the first day of the launch and that the product will evolve considerably, but some initial things I found missing:

  • Perhaps the biggest surprise was the lack of video, purely because that seems to be included in almost every other OTT communications app these days.
  • Not having a Windows client also seemed odd, given that they had a Mac OS X client. (Not that this mattered to me personally, but it just seemed odd.)
  • I also missed the ability to edit a message you've already posted.

So Now What?

I'm definitely intrigued by what I see... I'll keep using Wire and will install the Mac OS X client.

There's still the larger issue that this is yet-another-silo-of-communication that is separate from all the other mobile apps and services out there... but that's the topic for another post.

And there's the ever-present "directory" issue, i.e. how will Wire grow the directory of users so that you find the people there that you want to communicate with? But that, too, is a topic for another post. It's not clear, too, what the business model is.

I was also initially intrigued by the idea that Wire might work over IPv6 ... but while the www.wire.com website DOES work over IPv6 (yea!), further examination and network sniffing shows that the traffic going from the application goes to Amazon EC2 servers that are only on IPv4. I'm looking forward to learning more about what might or might not be true here.

All that aside, Wire looks so far like a very cool new entrant into the realm of mobile communications apps... and I'm looking forward to more experimentation and usage in the days and weeks ahead! If you are using Wire (or decide to try it out), please feel free to contact me in the Wire app as "Dan York" or via "[email protected]".

Congrats to Jonathan, Alan, Jaanus and the rest of the Wire team for their launch today!

More Articles To Read

What Do YOU Think?

Have you tried Wire out yet? What do you think? Will you use it?


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How To Test Firefox Hello, Mozilla's New WebRTC Video Call Service

Wow! Mozilla's new Firefox 34 includes a great new WebRTC-based feature called "Firefox Hello" that lets you call people without requiring them to have an account with Firefox. You simply send them a URL via email, chat or some other method - and they can start calling you from within Firefox.

Here's all you need to do to try it yourself. First, you need Firefox 34, of course. Once you have upgraded or installed the software, you should see a "Hello" button over on the far right side of the browser's top bar:

Firefox hello button

If you don't see this button, as I didn't, you may have to perform the following steps, as documented in a Firefox help page:

1. Open the "Customize" section of the browser to add the "Hello" button to your menu bar:

Firefox customize

2. Drag the "Hello" button to the browser bar or to the drop-down menu.

Now, in my case, that still didn't work and I had to use the additional trick mentioned in the help article of going to http://about:config and changing "loop.throttled" to "false" (simply by clicking on that setting). After restarting Firefox I was then able to go into the Customize window and add the Hello button to the browser.

Initiating A Call

Once the Hello button was visible I just had to click on it to get a URL that I could pass along to someone:

Firefox hello url

I posted it, somewhat ironically, into a Skype chat where a number of us who are "early adopters" of VoIP tech hang out... and Dick Schiferli (of Pamela fame) soon clicked the link. The call request window appeared in the lower part of my Firefox window:

Firefox hello request

The first time we tried Dick was signed in to a Firefox account but I was not. We got an error and the call couldn't connect:

Firefox hello call failure

Now, I don't know if this was a transient error caused by so many people trying it out... or if this was an issue with the "guest" access, but a few minutes later when I was also signed in Dick and I had no problem connecting:

Firefox hello call in browser

And there we were talking!

Cross-Platform Testing

In a good test of cross-platform interop, Dick was using Firefox on Microsoft Windows 8 and I was using Firefox on Mac OS X. The quality both in terms of voice and audio was great. We did notice one interesting difference between the platforms. On OS X I had an arrow that let me "pop out" the Hello window into a separate window that I could then resize and move around my screen:

Firefox hello pop out

There was no way for either of us to simply click a button and make the conversation go "full screen", but with this pop-out window I was able to resize it to take over most of my iMac's screen.

Missing Chat...

Interestingly, one of the things I found missing from our experience was any form of integrated chat. I wanted to share with Dick a link to a screenshot of what I was seeing on my computer and wound up sharing that link through a Skype chat.

I don't know that I need chat... but I found it curious that I would just expect chat to be available. Given that Skype and Google+ Hangouts both offer this, my expectation does make a bit of sense.

Further Testing...

Given that I just created my Firefox account today, I couldn't test the use of contacts as documented in the Mozilla blog post about the beta of Firefox Hello. I look forward to doing so. I also want to go back and try it again when I am not signed in to verify that guest access does indeed work.

All in all I was quite impressed with the ease and quality of this first public release of Firefox Hello!

More info about Firefox Hello and Firefox 34 in general:


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Join Me On VUC Today At Noon US EDT To Talk IPv6, IoT, WebRTC and more...

Today at 12 noon US Eastern (in about 3.5 hours), I'll be part of a panel on the VoIP Users Conference (VUC) talking about IPv6, WebRTC, the Internet of Things (IoT) and much, much more... you should be able to watch it live at live.vuc.me or embedded here:

VUC host Randy Resnick had a scheduled guest be unable to attend and so he asked a group of us to come on for what he is calling a "VUC Vision" session. I will be on there, as will, I believe, Tim Panton and a number of others. I expect the discussion should range over good variety of topics. It should be a good time... you're welcome to join in the discussion.

It's probably best to also join the IRC backchannel where links are shared, questions are answered and other comments occur. You also can visit the Google+ event page for the VUC session today where there may be additional links and info.

If you won't be at your computer, you can also call in via:

  • sip:[email protected]
  • +1 (646) 475-2098
  • Skype:vuc.me

The session will of course be recorded so you can listen/watch later.

Vuc vision 20141003


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