Mozilla Launches Real-Time Web Collaboration Framework

TogetherJS framework expands Mozilla's TowTruck collaboration technology for the Web.

Thomas Claburn, Editor at Large, Enterprise Mobility

October 17, 2013

2 Min Read

7 Vendors To Watch At Cloud Connect Chicago 2013

7 Vendors To Watch At Cloud Connect Chicago 2013

7 Vendors To Watch At Cloud Connect Chicago 2013 (click image for larger view)

Mozilla, long known for its commitment to open, collaborative development, wants to make it easier for online publishers to encourage collaboration on their websites.

On Thursday, the company introduced TogetherJS, a JavaScript framework that simplifies the process of adding real-time collaboration features to any Web page.

In May 2009, when Google launched Google Wave at its developer conference, real-time collaboration across browsers represented the cutting edge of Web technology. Four years later, collaboration can be implemented as an afterthought.

As Ian Bicking, engineer at Mozilla, and Robert Nyman, technical evangelist at Mozilla, explain in a blog post, TogetherJS allows website visitors to see each other's mouse position on screen, to follow each other's browsing, to edit Web forms or watch videos together and to chat via audio and WebRTC.

[ Is Captcha, the swirly-letter security mechanism we love to hate, on its way out? Read Forget Captcha, Try Inkblots. ]

To those who follow Web technology closely, this might evoke a sense of deja vu. The introduction of TogetherJS is really the re-introduction of a Mozilla project called TowTruck that debuted in April.

TogetherJS is TowTruck under a new name, with new capabilities, including: auto-follow, which allows a user to follow another user to a different Web page; participant windows, which provide information about other users in an active collaboration session; profile settings, which allow avatar selection and color customization; revised notifications, which provide a clearer sense of what other participants are doing; and mobile device support.

The framework remains extremely simple to implement. Mozilla has made it possible to add collaboration to any website with only a few lines of code. However, not all browsers can handle TogetherJS: Web Sockets support is required. Recent versions of popular Web browsers support Web Sockets, but Mozilla recommends either Firefox or Chrome. WebRTC support is required for audio chat.

Developers looking to implement real-time collaboration on their websites have other options. Google in March released the Google Drive Realtime API for adding collaboration via JavaScript. There's also Firebase, a platform-as-a-service offering for collaborative applications. These options offer persistence, explain Bicking and Nyman, while TogetherJS does not -- it handles synchronization between browsers but not the storage of data.

TogetherJS assumes users will be happy using Mozilla's hub server for coordination. For companies that can't do this for security reasons, it's also possible to host one's own hub server.

About the Author(s)

Thomas Claburn

Editor at Large, Enterprise Mobility

Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful master's degree in film production. He wrote the original treatment for 3DO's Killing Time, a short story that appeared in On Spec, and the screenplay for an independent film called The Hanged Man, which he would later direct. He's the author of a science fiction novel, Reflecting Fires, and a sadly neglected blog, Lot 49. His iPhone game, Blocfall, is available through the iTunes App Store. His wife is a talented jazz singer; he does not sing, which is for the best.

Never Miss a Beat: Get a snapshot of the issues affecting the IT industry straight to your inbox.

You May Also Like

More Insights