Mozilla Blends Social API, WebRTC for More Social Apps

Mozilla is making good on its promise to take its fledgling Social API beyond the simple Facebook integration it showcased for the launch of Firefox 17. In fact, the company’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 direct peer-to-peer video calls and file sharing features come from WebRTC, 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.

Much of the enthusiasm around WebRTC comes from the fact that it enables web apps to do many of the same things that, without WebRTC support, require platform-native APIs. WebRTC will help developers build web apps that can compete with native apps, but it has other tricks up its sleeve — like a whole new way to connect with your friends on the web.

“While many of us are excited about WebRTC because it will enable several cool gaming applications and improve the performance and availability of video conferencing apps, WebRTC is proving to be a great tool for social apps,” writes Mozilla’s Maire Reavy on the Mozilla blog.

Reavy goes on to paint a picture of seamless social sharing through WebRTC and Mozilla’s Social API:

Sometimes when you’re chatting with a friend, you just want to click on their name and see and talk with them in real-time. Imagine being able to do that without any glitches or hassles, and then while talking with them, easily share almost anything on your computer or device: vacation photos, memorable videos — or even just a link to a news story you thought they might be interested in — simply by dragging the item into your video chat window.

Mozilla’s Social API-WebRTC mashup goes beyond previous demos, using a new WebRTC feature, one which Firefox is the first to support, DataChannels. DataChannels offer a way to send data from one WebRTC-enabled browser to another. DataChannels can send pretty much any data the browser can access, be it images, videos, webpages or local files.

For more details on how the DataChannel API works, check out this earlier post on the Mozilla Hacks blog. If you’d like to see exactly what’s happening behind the scenes of Mozilla’s Social API-WebRTC demo, the code is available on GitHub.