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Mozilla TowTruck Drives Real-Time Collaboration

Service allows website publishers to easily integrate collaboration and communication.

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Real-time collaboration, once a relatively uncommon feature in software applications, may soon be unavoidable on the Web. Mozilla Labs has introduced a service called TowTruck that allows website publishers to easily integrate real-time collaboration and communication.

Easily, in this context, means adding two lines of code -- JavaScipt snippets -- to existing Web pages. Thereafter, website visitors can begin communicating with each other in real-time, thanks to technologies called WebRTC (Web Real-Time Communication) and WebSocket.

WebRTC has evolved from open source code that Google released in 2011. It provides a way to implement real-time voice, video and file transfers in Web browsers without plug-ins. Google, as it happens, released an API for real-time collaboration in Google Drive apps last month.

[ Google has dodged antitrust charges in Europe -- for now. Read EU Accepts Google Antitrust Proposal. ]

TowTruck works as follows: Once the JavaScript code has been embedded, a website visitor can activate the TowTruck service with a button that presents a collaboration link. The visitor then sends that link to a friend -- via email or some other means -- and once the friend clicks on the link, his or her browser will open to a page where text entered by one user is mirrored in the browser of the other user.

At least that's the theory. In practice, it might be a few months before all the bugs get ironed out. Mozilla Labs characterizes TowTruck as alpha-quality software and advises against using it in a production environment. At the same time, the TowTruck code is open source, so anyone can contribute to improve it.

Presently, real-time text chat is functional. Mozilla Labs says real-time video and audio chat are coming. Those using Firefox Nightly builds or the most recent version of Google Chrome should be able to test audio chat.

On Friday, Mozilla said CEO Gary Kovacs will step down later this year, although he will remain on the company's board of directors. In June, Mozilla is expected to release Firefox OS, an open-source mobile operating system that's intended for smartphones aimed at emerging market countries.

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User Rank: Apprentice
4/17/2013 | 4:09:38 AM
re: Mozilla TowTruck Drives Real-Time Collaboration
I tried this out with a friend (the example Mozilla provides) and it was pretty nifty.
We could, of course, edit text in the same field as well as see the location of each other's cursors and clicks. If my friend browsed to another page it gave me a prompt offering to follow him.
Awesome that a couple lines of code can enable a page to offer this type of real pear-to-peer connection (understanding, of course, that there's more code on the server doing the negotiation).
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