Move Over Google Plus Hangouts. Appear.in Is Here & It’s Really Good

Video conferencing isn’t something most people get excited about. Until recently, the field has been dominated by the likes of Polycom and Cisco in the enterprise sphere, and Skype and Google Plus picking up the slack in the consumer sphere.

Commonly, video conferencing hasn’t been done especially well. For the most part Skype stutters and glitches out more than a Max Headroom marathon, even with a fast internet connection. Meanwhile, users of Google Plus Hangouts are required to sign up for a Google account and install a bulky, bloated plugin before chatting to their mates.

People have been crying out for a decent video conferencing app for ages. Everyone was using Google Plus. We thought that was it. We were wrong. Meet Appear.in.

HTML5 Video Conferencing

Appear.in is a slick, visually beautiful, and snappy take on the Google Hangouts model. HTML5 only (here’s a HTML5 tutorial for beginners). No flash. No plugins. No sign-ups. No bullshit.

Produced by Norwegian telecommunications titan Telenor, Appear.in allows you to share your webcam, microphone, and screen with up to 8 people. Inviting people to your hang out is simply a matter of sharing a link.

It uses WebRTC (real time communication). This is a recently announced feature which uses simple JavaScript APIs and HTML5 to stream content in real-time. This is integrated into Firefox, Opera (Webkit only), and Google Chrome, with IE and Safari yet to show it any love.

Privacy nuts will get a kick out of this service. No content from your video conference is stored on their servers, and traffic is encrypted with strong SSL encryption.

How Does It Work?

Creating a videoconferencing room with Appear.in literally couldn’t be any easier.

Navigate to the site. You’ll be prompted to create a room. Give it a name (ideally something that is easy enough to remember) and click ‘create’.

appearin create room   Move Over Google Plus Hangouts. Appear.in Is Here & Its Really Good

You’ll then be prompted to grant Appear.in access to your microphone and camera. If you’re happy with this, allow it and proceed forwards.

appearin camera and mic   Move Over Google Plus Hangouts. Appear.in Is Here & Its Really Good

You’ll then see yourself appear on the screen. Huzzah, It works! Now, time to invite some friends to your conversation. Remember that link you created earlier? That’s all you need to pass on to your friends in order for them to join your room.

appearin home   Move Over Google Plus Hangouts. Appear.in Is Here & Its Really Good

Once they’ve joined the room and granted access to their camera and microphone, they’ll automatically appear in the page.

appearin dill   Move Over Google Plus Hangouts. Appear.in Is Here & Its Really Good

That’s pretty much it. If you wish to claim the room for yourself, you can assign a code to it, thus preventing anyone else from getting dibs on your meeting home.

There are some advantages to having your own room. Firstly, owners of the room get an adorable little crown next to your video feed, showing all other participants in the chat who’s in charge. You can also change the background of the room, and you can lock the room to other participants.

Owners of a room can also eject troublesome participants. This is handy if someone’s mic is on the fritz and emitting a high-pitched wail, or if you’re just feeling particularly malicious.

appearin claim   Move Over Google Plus Hangouts. Appear.in Is Here & Its Really Good

You can also screenshare. This works pretty much as it does on Google Plus Hangouts, although you’ll have to set a flag in your web-browser for that to work. Instructions are below in the screenshot.

appearin screen share   Move Over Google Plus Hangouts. Appear.in Is Here & Its Really Good

Quality

Here’s the big question. How was the audio and video quality? In one word, excellent.

I tested it with a friend based in the United Kingdom. There wasn’t any perceivable lag on either of our ends, and video and audio quality was nothing short of superb. One could speculate that this is possibly an advantage of Appear.in being owned by one of the largest telecoms companies in the world, with all the expertise that comes with that.

Conclusion

Will Appear.in crush Skype and Google Plus Hangouts? God, I hope so. There’s so much to love about this amazing little site. It’s fast, based upon open technologies and super-simple. They even host their developer documentation on Github.

But what do you think? Let me know in the comments below.

Image Credit: Steve Browbrick

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32 Comments -

AM

Very nice, very cool. It’s about time companies embraced the less-is-more philosophy and streamlined services to make them functionally efficient yet simple for even novices to use.

Matthew H

Agreed. That’s one of the things I picked up on in my review. Appear.in doesn’t require any plugins, or any authentication. Just navigate and go. :)

Cheers for your comment!

Del

You overlook some useful features of the Google Plus Hangout, like the ability to record. Then there’s the ability for those not in the hangout to view it in at other places like YouTube.
If you just want to kickback and chat with a friend, fine, but many on Plus use it as a teaching tool. Hence, this is not a viable option for that.

Matthew H

True. And let’s not forget the many great Google Plus Hangouts plugins. However, as a basic communication tool, Appear.in excels Google Plus.

Ian H.

I guess my big question is: will it scale? Lots of things work fine before the entire world discovers them, but are the underlying technologies going to allow for thousands or hundreds of thousands of simultaneous users? Skype was supposed to be completely distributed, as I recall, but it all runs through MS’s servers now, so I’m a little disconcerted to read that the Appear.in also seems to need to run through an intermediary also.

Do the technology and standards now exist to have truly distributed video conferencing, or will it always require server-side intermediaries?

Bjørn Remseth

That’s a really good question. I’m not working on appear.in myself but my colleagues down the hall are so I’m a bit familiar with the issues:

For conferences with small number of people appear.in should scale brilliantly. Appear.in’s server-based infrastructure only sets up the conversation, the actual traffic is handled by WebRTC. So setting up many many thousands of simultaneous conversations is doable using today’s setup. That part scales very well indeed.

WebRTC itself also scales quite well, within some limits: WebRTC is inherently peer to peer, and will try very hard to set up a proper peer to peer connection between the browsers. This is known as a “full mesh” interconnectivity. Once you have many parties in a conversation there will come a point where you are using too much bandwidth and connection quality starts to suffer. The present implementation puts a hard limit on the number of participants of a conversation to eight, but you may experience problems with fewer participants if bandwidth is scarce. Scaling to very large conversations does not at present work very well.

One way to get around that would be to connect to a central server and let that mix the different video/audio streams together and send out only a single vide stream to every client. At the moment that’s not the way it’s done in appear.in, but it is technically feasible.

Hope this addresses some of the things you were wondering about.

Matthew H

Wow! Fascinating stuff Bjorn.

I’m really excited about WebRTC, and I’m quite glad you guys are road testing it in a serious communications application. The appear.in guys should open a developer blog? As a coder and a HTML5 junkie, I’d love to read it!

jc

@Ian H
The reason that Skype goes through MS servers is so Microsoft can analyze all communications through it.

Lois

Wondering if it archives the video on line. Would like to try this with student conferences, but don’t want the video saved on the WW Web.

Ingrid @ appear.in

Hi Lois!

None of the audio or video content is stored online at the moment, as the streams are sent directly between the computers in the conversation over a peer-to-peer connection.

Trish

I’m going to check this out. Have you seen Zoom.us? Very nice program.

Jim Evans

Yes, Zoom.us is great!

Matthew H

Not seen zoom.us. Will check it out!

Nick

Any chance this garners Enterprise adoption?

G Lud

This is terrible…..Using latest Chrome
1. No notification sound that someone is joining
2. The audio was garbled and out of sync

Ingrid @ appear.in

Hi,
Sorry to hear that you experienced problems!
1. There should be a notification sound played when someone new joins the room.
2. There are still some issues with echo as not all of the browsers have fully implemented echo cancellation yet. At the moment, it works best if both participants are using Chrome. Also, the quality of the call is highly dependent of the network connection that the participants are on. Feel free to get in touch at feedback@appear.in for more troubleshooting!

Guy M

Interesting. This might be the trick for talking with family living elsewhere. Plus, excellent Max Headroom reference.

Matthew H

I don’t even know why I made it. It’s not like I grew up in the 80s, or anything.

Dennis

A little word about not supporting iOS devices like iPhones, iPads, iPods, etc. would have been helpful. Any word on when that might come about? Thanks.

Ingrid @ appear.in

Hi!
We are exploring how we can make appear.in work on iOS devices, but it is not likely to be supported by browsers because of lack of WebRTC support in iOS. If you want to be notified when we have a solution ready for iOS, you can sign up here: http://eepurl.com/N8Bez

– Ingrid, Product manager @ appear.in

Ian H.

@Bjørn Remseth

Thanks for the info – the bit about the point-to-point connection is what I was most concerned about. While you may have a point about connecting to a server to reduce the number of incoming streams, that’s where company growth could limit the scaling potential (although with a Telco backing them up, it seems reasonable to assume they can keep up).

Thanks for taking the time to answer!

Anonymous

Anonymous

I’m all for anything that gets me out from under Google’s web of surveillance.

Muktanil D

I tried appear.in but could not get the audio to work…sadly I had to go back to skype.

Matthew H

Ah, what a pity. I’ve not found any issues with it, so far.

Angela A

Wow, so good for getting people who aren’t tech savvy into a chat.

Matthew H

Yeah, it’s pretty awesome. It’s basically Google Plus hangouts my nan could use.

Anonymous

It would help to know what firewall ports are required. I’ve been asked to take a second look at this by my manager, and agree it looks good, but a lack of firewall documentation is a major blocker for us to get it setup for a trial here. Also the requirement to have audio/video, and lack of text chat – any idea when these will be resolved? I tweeted the last question.

Matthew Hughes

Unless I’m wrong, I think you only need port 443 open, because WebRTC is basically just HTTP/HTTPS traffic.

That said, try asking Appear.In and let me know what they say! :)

Jkjack

does appear.in work on android devices or only via computer?

FAHIM

I have tried through my smartphone using wifi and connect to my desktop PC which uses wired ISP connection. Every thing works fine except the voice !!!! not coming up! volume is on. smart phone records and play perfectly but it fails on video/voice chat why ?

Uwe

I tried it and it works – with connection problem. Considering it is still new, I am fine with that. My question is: what is in it for Telnor? Why are they doing it?