Thursday, March 21, 2013

Will The-Man-In-The-Middle Get Out of The Way?

I saw this in my Twitter feed few days ago:

A bold statement. I was impressed. Let us contextualize it a bit.

In 2008 Gartner predicted Top 10 Disruptive Technologies for the next four years would be:
  • Multicore and hybrid processors
  • Virtualization and fabric computing
  • Social networks and social software
  • Cloud computing and cloud/Web platforms
  • Web mashups
  • User Interface
  • Ubiquitous computing
  • Contextual computing
  • Augmented reality
  • Semantics
The precise extent of some of those are fuzzy, but I think we could make a case for a couple being universe-denting, life-changing and commerce-altering. Both social networks and cloud computing might make the grade. It is interesting there are hierarchical dependencies in the list: multi-cores enable virtualization which enables cloud computing which enables cheap start-ups building web mashups. So good on Gartner for that.

However, if one takes ubiquitous computing to mean mobile devices, smartphones, and perhaps specifically the iPhone (recall it being dubbed "The Jesus Phone"?), I would exclaim that we have a winner. Further, the smartphone revolution wasn't especially predicated upon any of those other technologies. The disruption was borne of envisioning and implementing the device, and then having the chutzpah to break the stranglehold carriers had on what kind of devices could attach to their mobile networks. It has been said that Apple's market cap today being half it's peak is a realization the iPhone was an epic disruptive singularity.

For the record, Gartner did not specifically mention the iPhone.

That said, could Mr. Swalmius possibly be onto something with WebRTC? A decade is an eternity and Gartner had scores of analysts but might he right in pointing to an audacious economic re-arrangement lurking here?

How about a world without telephone numbers. When was the last time you used directory assistance or a phone book? When I need to make one-to-one contact with anyone promptly, I consider the channel which will most likely solicit a timely response. For more intimate contacts, frequently it is SMS, but increasingly so, a private message via a social network like Twitter or Facebook. If real-time interactivity is essential, I resort to a phone call, Skype, or G+ hangout.

Peer-to-peer communication has generally heretofore required third-party entities for both endpoint mediation as well as store-and-forward of message payload. See e-mail, SMS, et al. These third-parties are increasingly not disinterested in your content.

The potential of WebRTC and it's associated technologies have these characteristics:
  • Encrypted, peer-to-peer communication - there is no "man-in-the-middle". 
  • Runs in a browser, nothing else to install; no browser plug-ins or extensions like existing collaboration solutions which rely upon Flash or Java
  • Can run on that thing you carry around with you.
This is not a broadcast medium, but it does turn the web inside out. There are so many things that could go wrong to derail this, but it is fascinating to ponder what might get traction. Peruse some of the links below.