Thursday, October 01, 2015

Confab - Adhoc private VOIP/chat for conferencing

In my copious free time I am working on a new system I am (tentatively) calling Confab.
Confab is an adhoc (on demand) VOIP conference call system utilizing the popular gamer VOIP/chat system Mumble.

Confab will use any Mumble client (iOS, Android, Windows, Linux, etc) but will only implement enough of a subset of a Mumble server to allow for quick conference calls. (Mumble certs won't be used for authentication, so you won't have to install certs on your Mumble client.)

The idea is that there is no conference call service running until you need one. And, once you are done, it goes away.

But, why not use free stuff like Skype or Google Hangouts?

  1. Skype and Google Hangouts require registered accounts (with personal info about you)
  2. Skype and Google Hangouts persist your previous chats (which can be annoying if you never want to talk to these people again)
  3. Your account is "permanent". Your connections, your password, etc. Always there waiting to be cracked or exploited.

With Confab, you point your browser to the Confab Website, enter a conference start time and you are provided with a server name, a port number and a small once use password (e.g. a23gHYz). The Confab Mumble server (tied to the designated port) doesn't accept connections until the startup time.
Because each session is tied to a unique port number, there is more security than can be offered by a single server with "channels" or "rooms".

You give your participants the server name, the port number and password so they can join.  Once people join you can chat(text) or talk(voip).  The Confab session terminates after 10 minutes of idleness (no one is talking or chatting).  You can also configure an absolute call duration time (e.g. 60, 90 minutes, etc).  Each Confab session should support a couple of dozen participants.

Why not just use a normal Mumble server?  I want to drop the gaming oriented features, but I plan to add unique server-side features such as:
  • Federated servers - connect multiple servers to allow inter-conference calls.
  • Support for bridging to other "open" chat/voip servers.
  • Support "audio casts" (recording and simultaneous broadcasting of audio via one user's phone/computer) to dozens of participants
  • Moderated conferences (e.g. question and answer sessions, etc) via helper bots.
  • Voicemail (and text message) capabilities (call in and leave a message for others)
  • Possible support of POTS (plain old telephone service) bridges

I'm finishing up the basic Mumble-compatible server right now (not yet supporting the above features).  It is designed to be lightweight and fairly scale-able. I have no intention on providing or modifying existing client side software.

My server software will be released as open source.  I am planning on setting up a small test server on Amazon AWS or Digital Ocean.  I'll let you know (here) when it is stood up.  If this works out, maybe I can get some donations (Amazon, PayPal, etc) to offset the costs...

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