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Open Standard for Social Apps

December 10th, 2012 by Graham Attwell

I think this is important. For day to day work – both research and teaching and learning – we use a lot of different social software programmes. We  know we cannot rely on these in the long term. Intrusive and inappropriate advertising can render applications useless. Services may disappear. Others move from being free to being paid for. And yet others change the conditions of use. But with a multiplicity of services and with new applications appearing almost daily, it is usually possible to find something which will do the job.

At the same time for more critical services – such as web sites or database services – we use our own leased servers. That too works fine.

The problem comes with longer term development projects – such as the Learning Layers project. On the one had we need the advanced infrastructure that better funded social software providers are able to offer. But we also need some guarantee of longevity and stability in terms of service provision plus an openness to allow us to develop on top of these platforms. And here we have a problem.

Mozilla seems to be developing an answer to this problem. According to webmonkey, Mozilla’s “newest Social API demo removes the need for social websites entirely, tapping emerging web standards to create a real-time video calling, data sharing app — one part Skype, one part Facebook, all parts web-native.”

The Social APi is built through WebRTC, which is a proposed web standard that Mozilla and others are working on in conjunction with the W3C. The RTC in WebRTC stands for Real-Time Communications, and the core of WebRTC is the getUserMedia JavaScript API, which gives the browser access to hardware features like the camera and microphone.

As the Firefox blog explains:

Prior to WebRTC, video calling applications were either stand-alone, isolated apps (like Skype) or browser plug-ins which lacked the tight connection to the browser internals to guarantee a good quality call.

We share data in WebRTC using DataChannels, which Mozilla is the first to implement.  DataChannels is a powerful component of WebRTC that can be used by itself or combined with an audio/video chat to send almost any data that the browser can access.

This could have huge potential for developing new applications – both for business and learning – and free us from the dilemma of either using proprietary applications or being forced into substantial infrastructure development..

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