Mozilla TowTruck: experimental web collaboration project

Martin Brinkmann
Apr 14, 2013
Updated • May 4, 2013

Mozilla just launched the TowTruck project on Mozilla Labs to provide Internet users from all over the world with options to collaborate together and in real-time on the web.

So how does it work? The webmaster has to add a few lines of JavaScript code to a website or page on a site to enable TowTruck on it. Users who visit that site can activate the TowTruck feature then and invite their friends or colleagues to join them by sending them a custom link. This works regardless of physical location, network or provider used.

When a friend or colleague opens the link in the browser a prompt is displayed so that the session can be joined or rejected. All existing users will be informed when a new participant joins the session. This is not only indicated by the user icon on the right in the floating TowTruck toolbar, but also by a new cursor and username that appears on everyone's screen.

Note that each user has full control over the browsing screen. They can scroll the page or perform any other action on the screen without affecting what is displayed on the screen for the other participants of the session. The only exception to that rule is that any item that gets edited, think a source code or form that is on the screen, is displayed in real-time on the screen of all other users.

A basic chat is currently available that all session members can use to communicate with each other. Mozilla plans to integrate voice and video chat in future versions which should simplify things considerable.

So what can we use TowTruck for? There are quite a few examples where it may make sense. Say you need to edit code and want a designer or second coder to work with you on it. Or, maybe you need to fill out many forms and want to speed things up by filling them out together. There are also options to simply browse a long page together, or collaborate on a blog article with different writers.

Some thing need to be sorted out. I'd like to see an option to jump to the position of a participant right away. This is not possible currently. Only a down or up arrow next to the member's name on the screen indicates the position. Another useful feature would be to make someone lead so that the page is automatically scrolled when the lead scrolls up or down on the page.

TowTruck is an interesting web collaboration service that could make life a lot easier for a lot of web workers and users. Definitely something to check out and keep an eye on to see if and how it evolves.


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  1. Gonzo said on April 15, 2013 at 1:12 am

    Seems like a modern private IRC or instant messenger through the web browser.
    One more function of the browser and one less program needed. Cool.

  2. Caspy7 said on April 14, 2013 at 4:54 pm

    Wow, this is nifty. I’m guessing they’re using the (non-video/voice) components of WebRTC to pull this off?
    Just checked, yup, they are. Looks like the same will be true of audio & video.

    I tried it out with someone and failed, but once the kinks are ironed out, looks like this should work with Chrome and any other browsers that support WebRTC.
    I love this stuff. Very exciting.

    P.S. You misspell TowTruck as “TwoTruck” once.

    1. Martin Brinkmann said on April 15, 2013 at 2:13 am

      Thanks Caspy, corrected.

  3. Sina said on April 14, 2013 at 10:24 am

    Interesting :)
    Thanks Martin.

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