URLs For People Focused Mobile Communication

on (ttk.me b/4VE1) using BBEdit

The key to making icons of communication applications actually work on a website, and open communications (whether text, voice, or video) are special kinds of URLs that launch those applications. This post is third in a series.

From the mockups:

mobile website icon header

In the order presented from left to right, top to bottom, here are example URLs for each of the icons, with expected actions, test results notes from iOS & Android, and links to more info:

And that's it for the communication applications in the mockup. However, there are some variants of those URL schemes worth considering.

URL Scheme Options

There are a couple of options for the above URL schemes, e.g. Gtalk can be used for making calls (instead of just instant messaging), and Skype can be used for instant messaging (instead of just calls):

While the Gtalk variant is not immediately useful, the Skype chat option could be useful during:

These same contexts could also be used to conditionally show or hide a FaceTime: URL (in addition to showing them only for iOS browsers).

20th Century Schemes

There's also tel:18008765309, fax:18008765309, and mailto:fail@example.com URLs for phone calls, faxes, and email. However:

Thus I discourage using these, but they're there if you're feeling nostalgic for 20th century communication tools, services, and regulated national oligopolies.

What About WebRTC?

WebRTC is perhaps the biggest absence from this list of communication methods, and unfortunately that's because despite the interoperability at the API level, at a high level, WebRTC does not have a simple URL solution unlike the others above. There is no "webrtc://" URL scheme with parameters that will automatically open a WebRTC call to your mobile device. WebRTC needs a simple URL scheme like that to "just work" like the alternatives above - without needing any script. Robert O'Callahan blogged some thoughts on WebRTC and I look forward to seeing this figured out.

What About FirefoxOS and others?

Lastly, I haven't yet had a chance to see how well these URLs could work on FirefoxOS (unknown schemes appear to do nothing in the browser), nor found applications that explicitly register support for Web Activities for those URLs.

For now, try experimenting with the URLs in the above list on your own devices, operating systems, and browsers, and report your own results.

Thanks to help from:

If you have different results or results for additional platforms, let me know!

Next Steps

The next building block will be figuring out minimal semantic markup for representing these communication actions.

However, as is often the case when figuring out the individual pieces of a problem, the analysis of these URL building blocks has revealed at least one or two more to figure out:

I've added these to the building blocks post accordingly.