Imagine a web where our browsers connected directly to each other to do voice, video, media sharing and run applications, using P2P and real-time APIs, rather than going through centralized servers that controlled traffic and permissions. That's a potent idea and if implemented properly could future-proof a part of the web from authoritarian crack-downs, disruptions by disasters and more. It could also establish a permanent lawless zone of connected devices with no central place to stop anyone from doing anything in particular.
It just so happens that something like that may now be under development in the most official of venues. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) announced today the formation of a new Web Real-Time Communications Working Group to define client-side APIs to enable Real-Time Communications in Web browsers, without the need for server-side implementation. The Group is chaired by engineers from Google and Ericsson. It sounds like Opera Unite to me (see video below), but democratized across all browsers. It sounds like it could be a very big deal.
Below: Here's how Opera described its Unite technology at launch two years ago. Opera is always several years ahead of its time.
"These APIs should enable building applications that can be run inside a browser," the new Working Group's charter says, "requiring no extra downloads or plugins, that allow communication between parties using audio, video and supplementary real-time communication, without having to use intervening servers (unless needed for firewall traversal, or for providing intermediary services)."
The working group is focused on the Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) that devices will use to implement these connections, but is working with an IETF group developing a technical protocol for transmission of the data between browsers. The first indication of this work appeared two months ago with the discovery of a mysterious flag inside Google Chromium.
The W3C's new working group on all this is chaired by Harald Alvestrand of Google and Stefan Håkansson of Ericsson. It plans on meeting regularly through February 2013 and is placing a special emphasis on ensuring users have control over and are aware of what media they might be transmitting from their browsers to others.