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Thursday, October 10, 2013

Amazon's Mayday may signal its long-awaited WebRTC strategy

One of the things I've been waiting for is Amazon's foray into the world of WebRTC.

I've been wondering whether it would be simply adding the ability to speak to a customer support rep on the main website, to other users about product reviews - or perhaps the other way, as a competitor to APIs from TokBox & Twilio & Tropo, or as a hosted media/TURN server offer as part of Amazon EC2 or its other cloud services.

We still don't have a full story. But we might have a hint, with the new "Mayday" button on the Kindle Fire HDX (article here) which offers live tech support including one-way voice & video. You can see the Tech guy, but he can't see you. However, the data streams are two-way so the support agent can do diagnostics and so on.

At the moment, it's a little unclear what technology is being used either between the Kindle and the Amazon data centres, or internally within the contact centre facing the agent. It might be WebRTC or a close relative, but nobody's saying one way or the other yet.

However, there are three interesting angles to this:

a) It's a great idea from Amazon which will improve customer convenience, and potentially increase sales (albeit with extra costs of employing agents)
b) It further "democratises" the idea of embedding voice and video capabilities directly into applications and devices, for purposes other than a "phone call". This is a good thing for the WebRTC community, as it opens more eyes to what's possible - and, specifically, that embedded/contextualised comms is going to gradually steal share from "standalone" models of speech or video.
c) Amazon tends to "platformise" its internal technology. It designs and builds its systems in a way that it offer them externally as well, gaining both external revenues and reducing its own unit-costs by spreading them over greater volumes. That's what's driven EC2 and AWS business models, as well as numerous lesser-know platforms that Amazon provides for e-commerce, web-hosting and even physical logistics/warehousing. I remember hearing the CTO give a speech where he talked about building things "inside out".

So... I wonder if Amazon's big WebRTC play *isn't* going to be around technology, such as hosted virtualised gateways on AWS (although that might happen with partners, as it has historically with Flash media servers). Perhaps it isn't going to compete in the contested WebRTC API/SDK space with AddLive & TokBox and the growing range of other cloud players either.

Perhaps it's going to be a more generic "Video customer service & diagnostics"-as-as-service player. (MDaaS or Mayday-as-a-service is probably a snappier name). If this works well on the Kindle, imagine what other devices or applications could benefit from an Amazon-powered Mayday button. Certainly makes a bit of a difference from a generic "call me" button that is a mainstay of WebRTC today.

Just as LiveNinja has used WebRTC to build a generic "consult with an expert" platform, maybe Amazon will be the leader in WebRTC-enabled "interactive tech support". Or, perhaps "almost WebRTC" if they decide they can do better than the official standard for this specific use-case. The nice thing here is that nobody has to be purist about WebRTC, especially for "silo" applications. It's not like something like Mayday needs to interop with legacy SIP services - so its creator is free to use whatever works best, and the user will neither know nor care if it's WebRTC, Flash or magic pixies making it all happen.

Also worth noting that Amazon is doing a lot of stuff around voice recognition and virtual assistance as well, so maybe they'll front-end it with a new flavour of IVR, but with the V standing for video, not voice.

1 comment:

Scott Colesworthy said...

Great post as always. For those enterprise customers that want to be early adopters of an industrial strength video enabled contact center, an early market player is Interactive Intelligence integrated with Vidyo. My understanding is that an early win of this integration is American Well. Love to get confirmation of this if someone has first hand knowledge.