All posts by silvia

Annual Release of External-Videos plugin – we’ve hit v1.0

This is the annual release of my external-videos wordpress plugin and with the help of  Andrew Nimmolo I’m proud to annouce we’ve reached version 1.0!

So yes, my external-videos wordpress plugin is now roughly 7 years old, who would have thought! During the year, I don’t get the luxury of spending time on maintaining this open source love child of mine, but at Christmas, my bad conscience catches up with me  – every year! I then spend some time going through bug reports, upgrading the plugin to the latest wordpress version, upgrading to the latest video site APIs, testing functionality and of course making a new release.

This year has been quite special. The power of open source has kicked in and a new developer took an interest in external-videos. Andrew Nimmolo submitted patches over all of 2016. He decided to bring the external-videos plugin into the new decade with a huge update to the layout of the settings pages, general improvements, and an all-round update of all the video site APIs which included removing their overly complex SDKs and going straight for the REST APIs.

Therefore, I’m very proud to be able to release version 1.0 today. Thanks, Andrew!

Enjoy – and I look forward to many more contributions – have a Happy 2017!

NOTE: If you’re upgrading from an older version, you might need to remove and re-add your social video sites because the API details have changed a bit. Also, we noticed that there were layout issues on WordPress 4.3.7, so try and make sure your WordPress version is up to date.

WebRTC predictions for 2016

I wrote these predictions in the first week of January and meant to publish them as encouragement to think about where WebRTC still needs some work. I’d like to be able to compare the state of WebRTC in the browser a year from now. Therefore, without further ado, here are my thoughts.

WebRTC Browser support

I’m quite optimistic when it comes to browser support for WebRTC. We have seen Edge bring in initial support last year and Apple looking to hire engineers to implement WebRTC. My prediction is that we will see the following developments in 2016:

  • Edge will become interoperable with Chrome and Firefox, i.e. it will publish VP8/VP9 and H.264/H.265 support
  • Firefox of course continues to support both VP8/VP9 and H.264/H.265
  • Chrome will follow the spec and implement H.264/H.265 support (to add to their already existing VP8/VP9 support)
  • Safari will enter the WebRTC space but only with H.264/H.265 support

Codec Observations

With Edge and Safari entering the WebRTC space, there will be a larger focus on H.264/H.265. It will help with creating interoperability between the browsers.

However, since there are so many flavours of H.264/H.265, I expect that when different browsers are used at different endpoints, we will get poor quality video calls because of having to negotiate a common denominator. Certainly, baseline will work interoperably, but better encoding quality and lower bandwidth will only be achieved if all endpoints use the same browser.

Thus, we will get to the funny situation where we buy ourselves interoperability at the cost of video quality and bandwidth. I’d call that a “degree of interoperability” and not the best possible outcome.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that at this stage, Google is going to consider strongly to improve the case of VP8/VP9 by improving its bandwidth adaptability: I think they will buy themselves some SVC capability and make VP9 the best quality codec for live video conferencing. Thus, when Safari eventually follows the standard and also implements VP8/VP9 support, the interoperability win of H.264/H.265 will become only temporary overshadowed by a vastly better video quality when using VP9.

The Enterprise Boundary

Like all video conferencing technology, WebRTC is having a hard time dealing with the corporate boundary: firewalls and proxies get in the way of setting up video connections from within an enterprise to people outside.

The telco world has come up with the concept of SBCs (session border controller). SBCs come packed with functionality to deal with security, signalling protocol translation, Quality of Service policing, regulatory requirements, statistics, billing, and even media service like transcoding.

SBCs are a total overkill for a world where a large number of Web applications simply want to add a WebRTC feature – probably mostly to provide a video or audio customer support service, but it could be a live training session with call-in, or an interest group conference all.

We cannot install a custom SBC solution for every WebRTC service provider in every enterprise. That’s like saying we need a custom Web proxy for every Web server. It doesn’t scale.

Cloud services thrive on their ability to sell directly to an individual in an organisation on their credit card without that individual having to ask their IT department to put special rules in place. WebRTC will not make progress in the corporate environment unless this is fixed.

We need a solution that allows all WebRTC services to get through an enterprise firewall and enterprise proxy. I think the WebRTC standards have done pretty well with firewalls and connecting to a TURN server on port 443 will do the trick most of the time. But enterprise proxies are the next frontier.

What it takes is some kind of media packet forwarding service that sits on the firewall or in a proxy and allows WebRTC media packets through – maybe with some configuration that is necessary in the browsers or the Web app to add this service as another type of TURN server.

I don’t have a full understanding of the problems involved, but I think such a solution is vital before WebRTC can go mainstream. I expect that this year we will see some clever people coming up with a solution for this and a new type of product will be born and rolled out to enterprises around the world.

Summary

So these are my predictions. In summary, they address the key areas where I think WebRTC still has to make progress: interoperability between browsers, video quality at low bitrates, and the enterprise boundary. I’m really curious to see where we stand with these a year from now.

It’s worth mentioning Philipp Hancke’s tweet reply to my post:

— we saw some clever people come up with a solution already. Now it needs to be implemented 🙂

My journey to Coviu

My new startup just released our MVP – this is the story of what got me here.

I love creating new applications that let people do their work better or in a manner that wasn’t possible before.

German building and loan socityMy first such passion was as a student intern when I built a system for a building and loan association’s monthly customer magazine. The group I worked with was managing their advertiser contacts through a set of paper cards and I wrote a dBase based system (yes, that long ago) that would manage their customer relationships. They loved it – until it got replaced by an SAP system that cost 100 times what I cost them, had really poor UX, and only gave them half the functionality. It was a corporate system with ongoing support, which made all the difference to them.

Dr Scholz und Partner GmbHThe story repeated itself with a CRM for my Uncle’s construction company, and with a resume and quotation management system for Accenture right after Uni, both of which I left behind when I decided to go into research.

Even as a PhD student, I never lost sight of challenges that people were facing and wanted to develop technology to overcome problems. The aim of my PhD thesis was to prepare for the oncoming onslaught of audio and video on the Internet (yes, this was 1994!) by developing algorithms to automatically extract and locate information in such files, which would enable users to structure, index and search such content.

Many of the use cases that we explored are now part of products or continue to be challenges: finding music that matches your preferences, identifying music or video pieces e.g. to count ads on the radio or to mark copyright infringement, or the automated creation of video summaries such as trailers.

CSIRO

This continued when I joined the CSIRO in Australia – I was working on segmenting speech into words or talk spurts since that would simplify captioning & subtitling, and on MPEG-7 which was a (slightly over-engineered) standard to structure metadata about audio and video.

In 2001 I had the idea of replicating the Web for videos: i.e. creating hyperlinked and searchable video-only experiences. We called it “Annodex” for annotated and indexed video and it needed full-screen hyperlinked video in browsers – man were we ahead of our time! It was my first step into standards, got several IETF RFCs to my name, and started my involvement with open codecs through Xiph.

vquence logoAround the time that YouTube was founded in 2006, I founded Vquence – originally a video search company for the Web, but pivoted to a video metadata mining company. Vquence still exists and continues to sell its data to channel partners, but it lacks the user impact that has always driven my work.

As the video element started being developed for HTML5, I had to get involved. I contributed many use cases to the W3C, became a co-editor of the HTML5 spec and focused on video captioning with WebVTT while contracting to Mozilla and later to Google. We made huge progress and today the technology exists to publish video on the Web with captions, making the Web more inclusive for everybody. I contributed code to YouTube and Google Chrome, but was keen to make a bigger impact again.

NICTA logoThe opportunity came when a couple of former CSIRO colleagues who now worked for NICTA approached me to get me interested in addressing new use cases for video conferencing in the context of WebRTC. We worked on a kiosk-style solution to service delivery for large service organisations, particularly targeting government. The emerging WebRTC standard posed many technical challenges that we addressed by building rtc.io , by contributing to the standards, and registering bugs on the browsers.

Fast-forward through the development of a few further custom solutions for customers in health and education and we are starting to see patterns of need emerge. The core learning that we’ve come away with is that to get things done, you have to go beyond “talking heads” in a video call. It’s not just about seeing the other person, but much more about having a shared view of the things that need to be worked on and a shared way of interacting with them. Also, we learnt that the things that are being worked on are quite varied and may include multiple input cameras, digital documents, Web pages, applications, device data, controls, forms.

Coviu logoSo we set out to build a solution that would enable productive remote collaboration to take place. It would need to provide an excellent user experience, it would need to be simple to work with, provide for the standard use cases out of the box, yet be architected to be extensible for specialised data sharing needs that we knew some of our customers had. It would need to be usable directly on Coviu.com, but also able to integrate with specialised applications that some of our customers were already using, such as the applications that they spend most of their time in (CRMs, practice management systems, learning management systems, team chat systems). It would need to require our customers to sign up, yet their clients to join a call without sign-up.

Collaboration is a big problem. People are continuing to get more comfortable with technology and are less and less inclined to travel distances just to get a service done. In a country as large as Australia, where 12% of the population lives in rural and remote areas, people may not even be able to travel distances, particularly to receive or provide recurring or specialised services, or to achieve work/life balance. To make the world a global village, we need to be able to work together better remotely.

The need for collaboration is being recognised by specialised Web applications already, such as the LiveShare feature of Invision for Designers, Codassium for pair programming, or the recently announced Dropbox Paper. Few go all the way to video – WebRTC is still regarded as a complicated feature to support.

Coviu in action

With Coviu, we’d like to offer a collaboration feature to every Web app. We now have a Web app that provides a modern and beautifully designed collaboration interface. To enable other Web apps to integrate it, we are now developing an API. Integration may entail customisation of the data sharing part of Coviu – something Coviu has been designed for. How to replicate the data and keep it consistent when people collaborate remotely – that is where Coviu makes a difference.

We have started our journey and have just launched free signup to the Coviu base product, which allows individuals to own their own “room” (i.e. a fixed URL) in which to collaborate with others. A huge shout out goes to everyone in the Coviu team – a pretty amazing group of people – who have turned the app from an idea to reality. You are all awesome!

With Coviu you can share and annotate:

  • images (show your mum photos of your last holidays, or get feedback on an architecture diagram from a customer),
  • pdf files (give a presentation remotely, or walk a customer through a contract),
  • whiteboards (brainstorm with a colleague), and
  • share an application window (watch a YouTube video together, or work through your task list with your colleagues).

All of these are regarded as “shared documents” in Coviu and thus have zooming and annotations features and are listed in a document tray for ease of navigation.

This is just the beginning of how we want to make working together online more productive. Give it a go and let us know what you think.

http://coviu.com/

WebVTT Audio Descriptions for Elephants Dream

When I set out to improve accessibility on the Web and we started developing WebSRT – later to be renamed to WebVTT – I needed an example video to demonstrate captions / subtitles, audio descriptions, transcripts, navigation markers and sign language.

I needed a freely available video with spoken text that either already had such data available or that I could create it for. Naturally I chose “Elephants Dream” by the Orange Open Movie Project , because it was created under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 license.

As it turned out, the Blender Foundation had already created a collection of SRT files that would represent the English original as well as the translated languages. I was able to reuse them by merely adding a WEBVTT header.

Then there was a need for a textual audio description. I read up on the plot online and finally wrote up a time-alignd audio description. I’m hereby making that file available under the Create Commons Attribution 4.0 license. I’ve added a few lines to the medadata headers so it doesn’t confuse players. Feel free to reuse at will – I know there are others out there that have a similar need to demonstrate accessibility features.

Progress with rtc.io

At the end of July, I gave a presentation about WebRTC and rtc.io at the WDCNZ Web Dev Conference in beautiful Wellington, NZ.

webrtc_talk

Putting that talk together reminded me about how far we have come in the last year both with the progress of WebRTC, its standards and browser implementations, as well as with our own small team at NICTA and our rtc.io WebRTC toolbox.

WDCNZ presentation page5

One of the most exciting opportunities is still under-exploited: the data channel. When I talked about the above slide and pointed out Bananabread, PeerCDN, Copay, PubNub and also later WebTorrent, that’s where I really started to get Web Developers excited about WebRTC. They can totally see the shift in paradigm to peer-to-peer applications away from the Server-based architecture of the current Web.

Many were also excited to learn more about rtc.io, our own npm nodules based approach to a JavaScript API for WebRTC.

rtcio_modules

We believe that the World of JavaScript has reached a critical stage where we can no longer code by copy-and-paste of JavaScript snippets from all over the Web universe. We need a more structured module reuse approach to JavaScript. Node with JavaScript on the back end really only motivated this development. However, we’ve needed it for a long time on the front end, too. One big library (jquery anyone?) that does everything that anyone could ever need on the front-end isn’t going to work any longer with the amount of functionality that we now expect Web applications to support. Just look at the insane growth of npm compared to other module collections:

Packages per day across popular platforms (Shamelessly copied from: http://blog.nodejitsu.com/npm-innovation-through-modularity/)

For those that – like myself – found it difficult to understand how to tap into the sheer power of npm modules as a font end developer, simply use browserify. npm modules are prepared following the CommonJS module definition spec. Browserify works natively with that and “compiles” all the dependencies of a npm modules into a single bundle.js file that you can use on the front end through a script tag as you would in plain HTML. You can learn more about browserify and module definitions and how to use browserify.

For those of you not quite ready to dive in with browserify we have prepared prepared the rtc module, which exposes the most commonly used packages of rtc.io through an “RTC” object from a browserified JavaScript file. You can also directly download the JavaScript file from GitHub.

Using rtc.io rtc JS library
Using rtc.io rtc JS library

So, I hope you enjoy rtc.io and I hope you enjoy my slides and large collection of interesting links inside the deck, and of course: enjoy WebRTC! Thanks to Damon, JEeff, Cathy, Pete and Nathan – you’re an awesome team!

On a side note, I was really excited to meet the author of browserify, James Halliday (@substack) at WDCNZ, whose talk on “building your own tools” seemed to take me back to the times where everything was done on the command-line. I think James is using Node and the Web in a way that would appeal to a Linux Kernel developer. Fascinating!!