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6 tips to turn your slow loading website into a brisk browsing experience

Internet users want a speedy experience and they’re not getting it, a fact that leaves them frustrated and website owners with less revenue. Don’t believe it? Numbers don’t lie. A full 53 percent of surfers want any site they visit load in three seconds or less. The largest ecommerce sites in the world recognize this necessity – they load incredibly fast. Most of the rest of the internet leaves a time gap that makes for a lot of gritted teeth and nervous toes tapping the floor. The good news is that speeding up a slow website is not difficult or time-consuming. The bad news is you might not choose to do it.

Are You Flirting with the Performance Poverty Line?

The performance poverty line is a term that represents the point at which being slow doesn’t matter because you’ve already lost most of your traffic. That number sits at around 8 seconds. The more pertinent question is, do you know your website’s speed. REALLY know your website’s speed?

No guessing because this is important stuff.

There’s an easy way to find out. Pay a visit to a website called Pingdom — it’ll probably load fast because it’s sort of their business — and enter your URL in the box. Select a location from the dropdown menu and hit “start.” Unless they’re exceptionally busy (it happens sometimes) you should get a performance summary in less than a minute.

Screen capture of Pingdom report

There’s a good chance what you see won’t impress anyone, but that’s okay. Few websites do. We’re here to provide you with a road map to get those numbers headed down, down, down and your visitors to start getting happy, happy, happy. Let’s call this…

A 6-Part Roadmap to Fast Websites and Happy Customers

Part 1: Magically Shrink Your Website

Actually, as far as we know, there’s no way to magically shrink your website but you can get the same effect by applying a sweet little bit of technology called Gzip compression. When implemented, some site owners have seen overall file size reduction of as much as 70 percent. That’s huge. Actually it’s tiny and that’s the point. It works like this. When a request hits the server to view the website, it automatically zips all the files before sending them onto the requester’s browser, where it is unzipped and displayed.

Part 2: Fix Bad Design and Too Many HTTP Requests

Every element on your website — we’re talking about images, videos, scripts, and even text — generates an individual request to the server. The more “stuff” your website has, the more requests there are and the longer it takes to load. If ever there was an argument for using a minimalistic approach when designing your website, this is it. Fewer requests mean a faster website. The tricky part is to not get distracted by all things you could do and stick to only what is needed to accomplish the site’s mission.

Overview of http requests and responses

Part 3: Put Hefty Images on a Diet

Images are huge. Incorrectly (or not at all) optimized, they put a terrible strain on bandwidth and leave the server and browser gasping from the strain. While we could write a book on the topic, there is one thing you can do that will fix a lot of the issues and that is choose the correct format — png, gif, and jpeg are good — and make the things as small as you can stand BEFORE uploading to your website. If you upload a full size image, even if you reduce it later, the server still has the original version and that’s the one that clogs the pipeline.

Part 4: Upgrade Your Hosting

We love cheap stuff as much as the next person but when it comes to choosing a web hosting plan, you need to understand the different types of plans and know when it’s time to upgrade. Inexpensive shared plans can be as low as a few dollars a month and that’s okay for a hobby or site that doesn’t have much traffic yet. Once you reach a certain level, though, the shared resource approach of this kind of plan will almost certainly mean slow-loading and downtime. While a dedicated server might not be worth the expense, a virtual private server or VPS hosting can be a great compromise.

Schematic depicting VPS

Part 5: Turn on Browser Caching

Browser caching is an easy-to-implement, tactic that most fast-loading websites use. The idea is simple. Rather than force the server to send over all the website files every time someone visits, static files (those that don’t change) are stored in the browser’s temporary memory and only dynamic files have to be retrieved. Obviously, this doesn’t help on a first visit but, with browser caching enabled, subsequent visits will be quicker. For WordPress websites, W3 Total Cache is a free plugin to look for. Others just require a simple code addition.

Part 6: Resolve Plugin Conflicts

This WordPress-specific advice is based on the reality that a lot of site owners install plugins that they never update or even use. Considering the third-party nature of these bits of software, it should be no surprise that they don’t always play nice together — they weren’t intended to. If your WordPress website is slow or buggy, one of the first actions to take is to uninstall any plugins you aren’t using. After that, turn what’s left off one at a time and check site speed. There’s a good chance you’ll find one of the culprits to slow loading.

Final Thoughts

The state of technology today is such that people expect (even if it’s not a reasonable standard) a website to load in three seconds or less. A clean, fast-loading experience will go a long ways towards creating loyal customers and more revenue, which are both good things to shoot for as an online entrepreneur. Keep in mind that the process is iterative. There’s no magic wand that will turn your site into a speed burner. Small actions taken methodically, such as the ones described, should, over time, move you incrementally closer to that three second target. Good luck and thanks for reading.

Photo of Gary Stevens

Member author Gary Stevens is a front end developer. He’s a full time blockchain geek and a volunteer working for the Ethereum foundation as well as an active Github contributor.

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Working with All Star Code in NYC to empower minorities to get into development

Sometimes it is great to work for a large company that gives you opportunities to do some good. I am currently in New York to run a workshop with All Star Code in our offices. Originally Aaron Gustafson was supposed to also be part of this but he got sick. Instead I am happy to work with Rachel White, Claudius Mbemba and Adina Shanholtz to help All Star Code.

Originally All Star Code approached me to get a bulk order for Surfaces for their students to work with. When I heard that their curriculum was involving Git, Node, Web Development and Debugging in Browsers and the stack was Sublime Text and Chrome Devtools I offered a small change. So now we’ll be teaching the teachers of All Star Code’s next course how to use Visual Studio Code and do all the development and debugging inside that one. My main driver there was that Code is open source and thus the students don’t need to get another license.

If you wonder what All Star Code does you can head over to the Decoded Chats blog, where I interviewed Mahdi Shadkamfarrokhi, their head of curriculum.

If you prefer to have an audio version, you can download it here (MP3, 18MB)

Here are the questions I asked:

  1. You work for All Star Code. Can you give us a quick introduction what that is and what you do? (00:13)
  2. How low are the numbers of developers that came from a minority background? What are the main reasons? (01:40)
  3. Do you think that by teaching communication skills together with technological skills you become more interesting for someone with a less privileged background? Is selling technology skills as a part of a whole package more successful? (02:49)
  4. The program has been running for quite a while. Is there a success story you are really proud of? (04:20)
  5. You learn a lot by teaching as you can’t fake it – you have to know. Do you find that it is easier to keep your skills up-to-date by running this program? (04:46)
  6. What are the biggest barriers for your students to get into development? Is it hardware access? Connectivity? The style and language of documentation out there? (06:14)
  7. I learned a lot because when I started computers didn’t do much and you had to program. Do you think that nowadays kids are less inclined to learn as computers are more seen as a consumption device? (07:47)
  8. There is a vast amount of online courses to choose from when it comes to learning how to program. Many of them decayed a bit after the first round of funding dried out. How do you find great and trustworthy resources? (10:10)
  9. A lot of creativity happens on the web but these makers don’t know or don’t get into professional development. Where do you go to find people for your course? (12:04)
  10. Do you see Open Source and services like GitHub to host, document and discuss your projects as an opportunity for newcomers? (14:49)
  11. How can people help you? Are there ways to volunteer? (18:07)

I’m very excited to be working on this.

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Turning a community into evangelism helpers – DevRelCon Notes

These are the notes of my talk at DevRelCon in San Francisco. “Turning a community into evangelism helpers” covered how you can scale your evangelism/advocacy efforts. The trick is to give up some of the control and sharing your materials with the community. Instead of being the one who brings the knowledge, you’re the one who shares it and coaches people how to use it.

fox handshake-campusparty

Why include the community?

First of all, we have to ask ourselves why we should include the community in our evangelism efforts. Being the sole source of information about your products can be beneficial. It is much easier to control the message and create materials that way. But, it limits you to where you can physically be at one time. Furthermore, your online materials only reach people who already follow you.

Sharing your materials and evangelism efforts with a community reaps a lot of benefits:

  • You cut down on travel – whilst it is glamorous to rack up the air miles and live the high life of lounges and hotels it also burns you out. Instead of you traveling everywhere, you can nurture local talent to present for you. A lot of conferences will want the US or UK presenter to come to attract more attendees. You can use this power to introduce local colleagues and open doors for them.
  • You reach audiences that are beyond your reach – often it is much more beneficial to speak in the language and the cultural background of a certain place. You can do your homework and get translations. But, there is nothing better than a local person delivering in the right format.
  • You avoid being a parachute presenter – instead of dropping out of the sky, giving your talk and then vanishing without being able to keep up with the workload of answering requests, you introduce a local counterpart. That way people get answers to their requests after you left in a language and format they understand. It is frustrating when you have no time to answer people or you just don’t understand what they want.

Share, inspire, explain

Starts by making yourself available beyond the “unreachable evangelist”. You’re not a rockstar, don’t act like one. Share your materials and the community will take them on. That way you can share your workload. Break down the barrier between you and your community by sharing everything you do. Break down fears of your community by listening and amplifying things that impress you.

Make yourself available and show you listen

  • Have a repository of slide decks in an editable format – besides telling your community where you will be and sharing the videos of your talks also share your slides. That way the community can re-use and translate them – either in part or as a whole.
  • Share out interesting talks and point out why they are great – that way you show that there is more out there than your company materials. And you advertise other presenters and influencers for your community to follow. Give a lot of details here to show why a talk is great. In Mozilla I did this as a minute-by-minute transcript.
  • Create explanations for your company products, including demo code and share it out with the community – the shorter and cleaner you can keep these, the better. Nobody wants to talk over a 20 minute screencast.
  • Share and comment on great examples from community members – this is the big one. It encourages people to do more. It shows that you don’t only throw content over the wall, but that you expect people to make it their own.

Record and teach recording

Keeping a record of everything you do is important. It helps you to get used to your own voice and writing style and see how you can improve over time. It also means that when people ask you later about something you have a record of it. Ask for audio and video recordings of your community presenting to prepare for your one on one meetings with them. It also allows you to share these with your company to show how your community improves. You can show them to conference organisers to promote your community members as prospective speakers.

Recordings are great

  • They show how you deliver some of the content you talked about
  • They give you an idea of how much coaching a community member needs to become a presenter
  • They allow people to get used to seeing themselves as they appear to others
  • You create reusable content (screencasts, tutorials), that people can localise and talk over in presentations

Often you will find that a part of your presentation can inspire people. It makes them aware of how to deliver a complex concept in an understandable manner. And it isn’t hard to do – get Camtasia or Screenflow or even use Quicktime. YouTube is great for hosting.

Avoid the magical powerpoint

One thing both your company and your community will expect you to create is a “reusable power point presentation”. One that people can deliver over and over again. This is a mistake we’ve been doing for years. Of course, there are benefits to having one of those:

  • You have a clear message – a Powerpoint reviewed by HR, PR and branding and makes sure there are no communication issues.
  • You have a consistent look and feel – and no surprises of copyrighted material showing up in your talks
  • People don’t have to think about coming up with a talk – the talking points are there, the soundbites hidden, the tweetable bits available.

All these are good things, but they also make your presentations boring as toast. They don’t challenge the presenter to own the talk and perform. They become readers of slides and notes. If you want to inspire, you need to avoid that at all cost.

You can have the cake of good messaging and eat it, too. Instead of having a full powerpoint to present, offer your community a collection of talking points. Add demos and screencasts to remix into their own presentations.

There is merit in offering presentation templates though. It can be daunting to look at a blank screen and having to choose fonts, sizes and colours. Offering a simple, but beautiful template to use avoids that nuisance.

What I did in the past was offering an HTML slide deck on GitHub that had introductory slides for different topics. Followed by annotated content slides how to show parts of that topic. Putting it up on GitHub helped the community adding to it, translating it and fork their own presentations. In other words, I helped them on the way but expected them to find their own story arc and to make it relevant for the audience and their style of presenting.

Delegate and introduce

Delegation is the big win whenever you want to scale your work. You can’t reap the rewards of the community helping you without trusting them. So, stop doing everything yourself and instead delegate tasks. What is annoying and boring to you might be a great new adventure for someone else. And you can see them taking your materials into places you hadn’t thought of.

Delegate tasks early and often

Here are some things you can easily delegate:

  • Translation / localisation – you don’t speak all the languages. You may not be aware that your illustration or your use of colour is offensive in some countries.
  • Captioning and transcription of demo videos – this takes time and effort. It is annoying for you to describe your own work, but it is a great way for future presenters to memorise it.
  • Demo code cleanup / demo creation – you learn by doing, it is that simple.
  • Testing and recording across different platforms/conditions – your community has different setups from what you have. This is a good opportunity to test and fix your demos with their hardware.
  • Maintenance of resources – in the long run, you don’t want to be responsible for maintaining everything. The earlier you get people involved, the smoother the transition will be.

Introduce local community members

Sharing your content is one thing. The next level is to also share your fame. You can use your schedule and bookings to help your community:

  • Mention them in your talks and as a resource to contact – you avoid disappointing people by never coming back to them. And it shows your company cares about the place you speak at.
  • Co-present with them at events – nothing better to give some kudos than to share the stage
  • Introduce local companies/influencers to your local counterpart – the next step in the introduction cycle. This way you have something tangible to show to your company. It may be the first step for that community member to get hired.
  • Once trained up, tell other company departments about them. – this is the final step to turn volunteers into colleagues.

Set guidelines and give access

You give up a lot of control and you show a lot of trust when you start scaling by converting your community. In order not to cheapen that, make sure you also define guidelines. Being part of this should not be a medal for showing up – it should become something to aim for.

  • Define a conference playbook – if someone speaks on behalf of your company using your materials, they should also have deliveries. Failing to deliver them means they get less or no support in the future.
  • Offer 1:1 training in various levels as a reward – instead of burning yourself out by training everyone, have self-training materials that people can use to get themselves to the next level
  • Have a defined code of conduct – your reputation is also at stake when one of your community members steps out of line
  • Define benefits for participation – giving x number of talks gets you y, writing x amount of demos y amount of people use give you the same, and so on.

Official channels > Personal Blogs

Often people you train want to promote their own personal channels in their work. That is great for them. But it is dangerous to mix their content with content created on work time by someone else. This needs good explanation. Make sure to point out to your community members that their own brand will grow with the amount of work they delivered and the kudos they got for it. Also explain that by separating their work from your company’s, they have a chance to separate themselves from bad things that happen on a company level.

Giving your community members access to the official company channels and making sure their content goes there has a lot of benefits:

  • You separate personal views from company content
  • You control the platform (security, future plans…)
  • You enjoy the reach and give kudos to the community member.

You don’t want to be in the position to explain a hacked blog or outrageous political beliefs of a community member mixed with your official content. Believe me, it isn’t fun.

Communicate sideways and up

This is the end game. To make this sustainable, you need full support from your company.

For sustainability, get company support

The danger of programs like this is that they cost a lot of time and effort and don’t yield immediate results. This is why you have to be diligent in keeping your company up-to-date on what’s happening.

  • Communicate out successes company-wide – find the right people to tell about successful outreach into markets you couldn’t reach but the people you trained could. Tell all about it – from engineering to marketing to PR. Any of them can be your ally in the future.
  • Get different company departments to maintain and give input to the community materials – once you got community members to talk about products, try to get a contact in these departments to maintain the materials the community uses. That way they will be always up to date. And you don’t run into issues with outdated materials annoying the company department.
  • Flag up great community members for hiring as full-time devrel people

The perfect outcome of this is to convert community members into employees. This is important to the company as people getting through the door is expensive. Already trained up employees are more effective to hit the ground running. It also shows that using your volunteer time on evangelism pays off in the long run. It can also be a great career move for you. People hired through this outreach are likely to become your reports.

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Quick tip: stop Powerpoint from breaking words into a new line

With my talk decks needing more re-use in the Windows/Microsoft community, I am trying to use Powerpoint more and wean myself off the beauty of Keynote (and its random crashes – yes, all software sucks).

One thing I realised today is that Powerpoint thinks it is sensible to break words anywhere to go to a new line, not by word, or even syllable, but by character:

default line break setting
Words are broken into new lines at any character, which makes alignment a not enjoyable game of “find the breakpoint”

This is the preset! To get rid of it, you don’t need to summon the dark lord, but all you need to do is to unset the default. You can find this in:

Format ? Paragraph ? Line Breaks and Alignment ? uncheck: “Allow Latin text to wrap in the middle of a word”

Here’s a recording to show the difference:

fixed line break setting
By unsetting the preset you can do what you want – line breaks are now only possible after full words

Why this would be a preset is beyond me. Now I can breathe freely again.

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Makethumbnails.com – drop images into the browser, get a zip of thumbnails

About 2½ years ago I wrote a demo for Mozilla Hacks how to use Canvas to create thumbnails. Now I felt the itch to update this a bit and add more useful functionality. The result is:

http://makethumbnails.com

It is very easy to use: Drop images onto the square and the browser creates thumbnails for them and sends them to you as a zip.

homepage

Thumbnail settings page

You can set the size of the thumbnails, if you want them centered on a coloured background of your choice or cropped to their real size and you can set the quality. All of this has a live preview.

If you resize the browser to a very small size (or click the pin icon on the site and open a popup) you can use it as neat extra functionality for Finder:

resize to simple mode

All of your settings are stored locally, which means everything will be ready for you when you return.

As there is no server involved, you can also download the app and use it offline.

The source, of course, of course is available on GitHub.

To see it in action, you can also watch the a quick walkthrough of Makethumbnails on YouTube

Happy thumbing!

Chris

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Turn your Facebook page into a Firefox OS mobile app

Whether you are a business or community page owner, what would be better than increasing your page reachability by offering your standalone mobile app?

Apptuter is an open source framework to help you achieve that, with minimum coding knowledge and easy to follow steps you would be able to produce your own app. The framework currently supports Facebook pages as a content source and is capable of producing apps for Firefox OS and Android platforms.

How it works

Let us take a test drive on how this is supposed to work. In our example we will generate a standalone app using Mozilla’s Facebook page as a content source.

Clone the repository

First step would be to download or clone the Apptuter-Firefox directory from the Apptuter repository:

git clone https://github.com/egirna/apptuter.git

Directory structure should look like this:

Get the Facebook numerical id

Then we will need to get the Facebook numerical page id. If you have assigned a friendly page name, the page ID will not be visible from the page URL, in this case we will need to visit the following URL to retrieve it: https://graph.facebook.com/mypagename

In our example this would be: https://graph.facebook.com/mozilla

Page ID will be visible on the first line of data returned.

Create a Facebook app

Next step would be creating a Facebook app: You will able to get App ACCESS TOKEN by combining APP ID & APP SECRET so that the requested URL should be in the following form: http://graph.facebook.com/endpoint?key=value&access_token=app_id|app_secret

Requesting Page Info (Info.js) is where we are going to define those parameters, replace PageID with the numerical that can be found at /Apptuter-Firefox/js

var Main = function () {
    this.pageName = ‘pageID’;
    this.name = null;
    this.category = null;
    this.description = null;
    this.photoArray = null;
    this.postArray = null;
    this.infoArray = [];
    this.accessToken = 'AppID|AppSecret';
    this.pictureUrl = null;
    this.paging = 'https://graph.facebook.com/' + this.pageName + '/posts?limit=20&access_token='+this.accessToken;
    this.pagingNext = 'https://graph.facebook.com/' + this.pageName + '/posts?limit=20&access_token='+this.accessToken;
}

Let us define our new app properties in the manifest.webapp file found at the directory root:

{
  "name": "Mozilla App",
  "description": "This is an example app of apptuter framework",
  "launch_path": "/Shared/index.html",
  "icons": {
    "32": "/images/app_icon_32.png",
    "60": "/images/app_icon_60.png",
    "90": "/images/app_icon_90.png",
    "120": "/images/app_icon_120.png",
    "128": "/images/app_icon_128.png",
    "256": "/images/app_icon_256.png"
  },
  "chrome": {
    "navigation": true
  },
  "version": "1.0.1",
  "developer": {
    "name": "Egirna Technologies Limited",
    "url": "http://www.apptuter.org"
  },
  "orientation": [
    "portrait"
  ],
  "default_locale": "en"
}

Artwork

Only thing left is the artwork. From the repository, go to /Apptuter-Firefox/images and replace the default images with those of our example logo with matching dimensions and file name.

Success!

And we are done! Let us test what the app would look like using Firefox OS Simulator:

You ultimately are responsible to use this software in compliance with Facebook, Google and Mozilla terms of service and end user license agreement. This applies to any service this software may integrate with.

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Embedding WebRTC Video Chat Right Into Your Website

Most of you remember the Hello Chrome, it’s Firefox calling! blog post right here in Mozilla Hacks demonstrating WebRTC video chat between Firefox and Chrome. It raised a lot of attention. Since then we here at Fresh Tilled Soil have seen a tremendous amount of startups and companies which have sprung up building products based WebRTC video chat technology. Tsashi Levent-Levi who is a WebRTC evangelist has been interviewing most of these companies on his blog, the list is quite impressive!

WebRTC chat demo

Much like most of early adopters we have been playing around with WebRTC for quite awhile now. We have of course created our own WebRTC video chat demo and have also very recently released WebRTC video chat widgets.

The widgets work very simply, anybody can take the following HTML embed code:

<!-- Begin Fresh Tilled Soil Video Chat Embed Code -->
<div id="freshtilledsoil_embed_widget" class="video-chat-widget"></div>
<script id="fts" src="http://freshtilledsoil.com/embed/webrtc-v5.js?r=FTS0316-CZ6NqG97"></script>
<!-- End Fresh Tilled Soil Video Chat Embed Code -->

and add this code to any website or blog post. You’ll see the following widget on their website:

From here it’s dead simple to start a WebRTC video chat, just make up a name for a room, type it in and click start chat. Tell the other person to do the same and you’re all set.

As always make sure you’re giving this a try in Firefox Nightly or the latest stable build of Google Chrome. If you are on a tablet make sure you are on Google Chrome beta if you are using the Google Chrome browser.

Something else to note is that for this first version our video chat is limited to just two participants per a room. If a room name is occupied by two people the third person who tries to connect to this room simply won’t be able to connect.

How It Works

Without getting too deep into the code behind how WebRTC video chat actually works, let’s briefly go over what is actually happening behind the scenes when you click the start chat button and how WebRTC video chat actually works. Here is a step by step timeline of what actually happens to give you a better idea:

A quick note about this step: “Once remote media starts streaming stop adding ICE candidates” – this is a temporary solution which might result in suboptimal media routing for many network topologies. It should only be used until Chrome’s ICE support is fixed.

A quick and very important tip to remember when you are trying to get this to work. We used a ‘polyfill’ like technique as shown in this article by Remy Sharp. As Remy describes we wrote a piece of code to adapt for the Firefox syntax to get cross-browser functionality.

Issues We Ran Into and How We Solved Them

As you might expect we ran into a number of problems and issues trying to build this. WebRTC is evolving quickly so we are working through a number of issues every day. Below are just some of the problems we ran into and how we solved them.

PeerConnection capability in Google Chrome

While working with the new PeerConnection capability in Chrome we discovered a strict order of operation for it to work; more specifically:

  • Peers must be present with local streaming video before sending SIP (offer/answer SDP)
  • For ‘Answerer’; Do not add ICE candidate until the peer generates the ‘Answer SDP’
  • Once remote media starts streaming stop adding ICE candidates
  • Never create peer connect for answerer until you get the ‘Offer SDP’

We fixed it by handling those issues and handling the connection in the order described above. This was crucial to making the connection work flawlessly. Before we did that it would work only every once in a while.

Added latency due to lag

When streaming to a mobile device there is added latency due to lag and limitations of surfing the net via mobile phone.

We solved this by making the resolution of streamed video reduced via a hash tag at the end of the URL. URL can optionally contain '#res=low' for low resolution stream video & '#res=hd' for HiDefinition streaming video as an optional URL parameter. A quick note here that other configurable properties are now available such as frames per second which you can use for this same purpose.

Recording the WebRTC demo

We’ve been dabbling with recording video WebRTC demo. When recording video we used the new JavaScript type arrays to save the streaming data. We quickly discovered that it is only possible to record the video and audio separately.

We solved this by creating two instances of recording, one for the audio and one for the video, that utilized the new javascript data types and recorded both streams simultaneously.

Conclusion

It’s exciting to dabble in this stuff, we love WebRTC so much that we created an entire page dedicated to our experiments with this technology and others which we believe will transform the web in 2013. If you have any question please give us a shout.

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