Introducing TowTruck: A Collaboration Service For Every Website

Ian Bicking

1

tl;dr
We’re building an experimental service for websites called TowTruck that makes it easy for your users to collaborate in real-time. TowTruck easily gives your website text and/or audio chat, presence, co-authoring, co-browsing, and is built to be extended by your website. Watch the screencast and see it in action.

TowTruck Logo

Do you love using Etherpad and Google Drive (previously Docs) to collaborate? We do too. The potential for that kind of collaboration is one of the great things about the web – except that only a handful of web applications take advantage of that potential. We think that every site should offer simple, easy-to-use, instant collaboration embedded directly on their site.

What makes TowTruck different.

As a web developer, you simply drop TowTruck into your site and it just works. It provides the full out-of-the-box experience users need to get things done collaboratively. It will also give you the opportunity to extend TowTruck to enrich the authoring experience.

Unlike screensharing and related tools, with TowTruck there is no need for your users to jump around to use different applications to collaborate. Your users can collaborate directly and see changes in real-time on your site, no matter the context. Users could be co-authoring a page together, or helping each other out if they can’t find something on your site.

Several libraries have existed to help make your pages collaborative, but they’ve never caught on. (Google have recently announced another.) These libraries tend to emphasize editor synchronization but leave out all the other details. Those details are important: tools to show where each person’s attention is, to chat, to see each other’s movements around a site, to start and maintain sessions.

We want TowTruck to complement the web as it exists, not requiring applications to be replaced or revamped. And we’ve found the web works really well for this – we have tremendous power to apply introspection to web pages. For example, a simple query like $("textarea") can give us the text fields on a page, we don’t need to hook deep into an application’s code to apply these tools. Developing TowTruck has been exciting because it feels like the web was built for this kind of tool.

Why did we want to build this?

The original prototype was built to help budding webmakers. It was trying to be a code editor with the collaboration features you’d expect to see in a Google Drive app.

The technology has changed a lot since that first prototype, and the scope has widened: We want everyone to be able to work together on the web. Not just sharing links, and not just in siloed applications with collaboration features built in. Everywhere we look we see reasons to collaborate on the web: mentoring, making travel plans, triaging bugs, navigating large sites or complicated interfaces. Anytime we find ourselves talking about a page, we have wished we were also working on that page together.

We want to bring the experience of looking over someone’s shoulder to the web. And we want it to be just as casual as that: something you can use to ask a quick question or show something off, with no more barrier to starting than sharing and opening a link.

Learn more.

If you want to learn more, check out the site or check out the screencast. If you want to try it out, use the example. If you want to look at the code check the Github project. If you want to offer an idea, leave feedback here, on Twitter at @moztowtruck, or email the team at towtruck@mozilla.com.

The TowTruck team consists of @adruck, @ianbicking, and @simonwex.

We hope you enjoy TowTruck, now let’s collaborate!

One response

  1. Arul shaji wrote on ::

    Wow Mozilla is again and again proving it is a legend in internet world, with its new features. I love Mozilla and am addict for it. Happy to read about this new feature.