Real Time Communications Featured Article

Why WebRTC Will Eat Skype's Lunch

December 04, 2015

Context is killing Skype. Or it will soon, at least.

I love Skype, and I’ve been a happy user for years. Before there was Viber and Facebook Messenger, before VoIP made calling cheap, I could call international friends for free and see them on video. I’ve been video chatting for years, and most of the time I’ve done it through Skype.

The problem is that the world is moving on from the Skype paradigm. It isn’t so much that Skype has gotten bad at what it does. The problem is that Skype is more or less just the same as it was eight years ago. In the mean time, new standards have emerged that make the Skype value proposition less compelling.

Specifically, WebRTC challenges Skype. An open source real-time communications protocol championed by Google, WebRTC lets two people connect through video, voice or chat without the need for special software, plugins or login credentials; WebRTC runs natively in Google Chrome and Firefox web browsers, and both Microsoft and Apple will almost surely support it in the future whether they like it or not.

What makes WebRTC a Skype killer is not that it does video chat better, for instance, or that it will grab the network effect from Skype. WebRTC challenges Skype because it can be more contextual.

With Skype, you’re basically using the service like a proprietary phone system. To talk with another person on Skype, you exchange user names, switch to the Skype application and connect.

Because WebRTC is a peer-to-peer open standard and easily embeddable in apps and web sites with a few lines of Javascript, it can be far more contextual than Skype. You connect in-app instead of switching to a dedicated communications client. This makes the communication about the message, not the communications technology itself.

That difference in context is subtle but huge. Although it doesn’t sound that hard to log into your Skype account and connect with a colleague, it is far easier to click a button on the same page you’re browsing and interact automatically and in context. For customer service situations this has obviously applications, but it also makes sense for teams, communities and most other interactions.

Skype has been a useful service, but it operates from an old paradigm. We’re past the wonders of real-time communications and now we’re onto more contextual communications and getting things done with the technology. For that, WebRTC makes a lot more sense.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi

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