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. ilev said on August 4, 2012 at 7:53 pm

    Doesn’t Windows 8 know that www. or http:// are passe ?

    1. Martin Brinkmann said on August 4, 2012 at 7:57 pm

      Well it is a bit difficulty to distinguish between domains and files for instance.

    2. Leonidas Burton said on September 4, 2023 at 4:51 am

      I know a service made by google that is similar to Google bookmarks.

  2. VioletMoon said on August 16, 2023 at 5:26 pm

    @Ashwin–Thankful you delighted my comment; who knows how many “gamers” would have disagreed!

  3. Karl said on August 17, 2023 at 10:36 pm


    The comments section under this very article (3 comments) is identical to the comments section found under the following article:

    Not sure what the issue is, but have seen this issue under some other articles recently but did not report it back then.

  4. Anonymous said on August 25, 2023 at 11:44 am

    Omg a badge!!!
    Some tangible reward lmao.

    It sucks that redditors are going to love the fuck out of it too.

  5. Scroogled said on August 25, 2023 at 10:57 pm

    With the cloud, there is no such thing as unlimited storage or privacy. Stop relying on these tech scums. Purchase your own hardware and develop your own solutions.

    1. lollmaoeven said on August 27, 2023 at 6:24 am

      This is a certified reddit cringe moment. Hilarious how the article’s author tries to dress it up like it’s anything more than a png for doing the reddit corporation’s moderation work for free (or for bribes from companies and political groups)

  6. El Duderino said on August 25, 2023 at 11:14 pm

    Almost al unlmited services have a real limit.

    And this comment is written on the dropbox article from August 25, 2023.

  7. John G. said on August 26, 2023 at 1:29 am

    First comment > @ilev said on August 4, 2012 at 7:53 pm

    For the God’s sake, fix the comments soon please! :[

  8. Kalmly said on August 26, 2023 at 4:42 pm

    Yes. Please. Fix the comments.

  9. Kim Schmidt said on September 3, 2023 at 3:42 pm

    With Google Chrome, it’s only been 1,500 for some time now.

    Anyone who wants to force me in such a way into buying something that I can get elsewhere for free will certainly never see a single dime from my side. I don’t even know how stupid their marketing department is to impose these limits on users instead of offering a valuable product to the paying faction. But they don’t. Even if you pay, you get something that is also available for free elsewhere.

    The algorithm has also become less and less savvy in terms of e.g. English/German translations. It used to be that the bot could sort of sense what you were trying to say and put it into different colloquialisms, which was even fun because it was like, “I know what you’re trying to say here, how about…” Now it’s in parts too stupid to translate the simplest sentences correctly, and the suggestions it makes are at times as moronic as those made by Google Translations.

    If this is a deep-learning AI that learns from users’ translations and the phrases they choose most often – which, by the way, is a valuable, moneys worthwhile contribution of every free user to this project: They invest their time and texts, thereby providing the necessary data for the AI to do the thing as nicely as they brag about it in the first place – alas, the more unprofessional users discovered the translator, the worse the language of this deep-learning bot has become, the greater the aggregate of linguistically illiterate users has become, and the worse the language of this deep-learning bot has become, as it now learns the drivel of every Tom, Dick and Harry out there, which is why I now get their Mickey Mouse language as suggestions: the inane language of people who can barely spell the alphabet, it seems.

    And as a thank you for our time and effort in helping them and their AI learn, they’ve lowered the limit from what was once 5,000 to now 1,500…? A big “fuck off” from here for that! Not a brass farthing from me for this attitude and behaviour, not in a hundred years.

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