Dialogic Blog

Audience Participation Made Easier with WebRTC

by Alan Percy

Apr 27, 2017 12:41:16 PM

audience participation made easier with WebRTC

If you’ve ever had the chance to present to a large group, you know how difficult it is to engage your audience and keep their attention.   Even the best presenter has significant competition from the ever-present mobile device in the hands of the audience. Here’s how the problem can be solved with WebRTC and Communications APIs.

It’s not uncommon to look out at an audience and only see the tops of their heads while they browse their email or social media. One way to engage your audience is to allow them to steer the conversation with questions and comments. I’ve tried this with Tweetwalls and polling platforms, but they weren’t meant for the application and can easily be “trolled” by a bored audience member or someone out on the internet. 

It’s also not uncommon to find attendees afraid to “step up to the microphone” and verbally ask the question.    

These challenges are being solved with an innovative application I saw this last week at Enterprise Connect during the WebRTC and Communications API tracks where I met Marek Wawrzyniak, CEO and Founder of Tap To Speak, an application software development firm based in Arizona.
tap to speak

Marek was kind enough to join me for a podcast on the Communications Developer Zone, sharing his story about his journey to developing his audience engagement application “Tap to Speak.” His story starts in seminary school in Indiana, where Marek honed his skills in public speaking and started his software development craft. Soon after seminary school, a local company hired him to do some programming in COBOL before getting involved in web development and applications. 

Along the way, Merak noticed a need to enhance audience engagement in public forums and making it easier for the audience to pose questions and drive the conversation. He saw this as an opportunity for a new application. 

“Why not turn the smartphone microphone into a microphone that people can use to ask questions?” 

The challenge was voice-enabling an application, integrated with a web portal for presenter to allow instant messaging and voice questions.  WebRTC offered a potentially perfect solution, allowing one-way audio with a pure web application. 

He and his development team started with an open source WebRTC library that quickly produced a working demonstration. “My developers put together an initial demo in two weeks.”  

The demo allowed Marek to start marketing his application to companies with great positive interest (including from Disney).  But there were problems with the open source software that were causing reliability issues and peer-to-peer connectivity issues in some venues.      

“Those of you that develop with WebRTC know how difficult it can be!”   

One of the challenges is establishing a peer-to-peer media stream from a participant’s smartphone and the presenter’s laptop with minimal latency.   As Marek noted, “Some of the conference rooms block the connections, preventing peer-to-peer connections within their networks” (a security technique).   His application needed to detect that peer-to-peer was being blocked and engage an external TURN server to pass the media stream from the smartphone to the presenter.   

Time to start over. 

Marek and his developers partnered with Temasys for a second round of development and have done a total redesign based on the new platform. Fortunately for Marek, the Temasys platform automatically manages media streaming and provides TURN services, solving his connectivity issues. 

As demonstrated during Enterprise Connect, Marek was able to establish real-time voice connections between the two session moderators, showing how users can submit voice questions in large venues, even when the WiFi is suspect. 

But Marek isn’t done yet as he’s working on a couple dozen new features and continuing to sell the Tap to Speak platform in the US and Europe. 

As the story comes to a close, despite some initial challenges, WebRTC and Temasys turned out to be core technologies that made his application possible.   

At your next conference or town hall event you may be lucky enough to see both WebRTC and Tap To Speak in action, hopefully keeping both you and the audience engaged.   

Listen to the Communications Developer Zone podcast with Marek Wawrzyniak to hear his story on how he built Tap To Speak.

Topics: Communications Application Development