File Under: APIs, Web Services

Mozilla’s ‘TowTruck’ Brings Real-Time Collaboration to Any Website

Image: Screenshot/Webmonkey

Mozilla’s TowTruck is a new project aimed at making it easy to collaborate on the web in real time — think real-time screensharing and co-authoring on any webpage.

TowTruck is an experimental Labs project at the moment (alpha), but adding it to your site for testing takes only two lines of code. Head on over to the new TowTruck site to grab the code. If you’d like to try TowTruck from a user perspective, check out Mozilla’s demo pages.

Originally conceived as a tool to help budding web developers by offering real-time collaboration — in other words a live, co-authoring environment you can use to demonstrate HTML and CSS — Mozilla says TowTruck is also useful for “mentoring, making travel plans, triaging bugs, navigating large sites or complicated interfaces.”

TowTruck also taps WebRTC for some extras like chat and voice chat, which makes it especially useful as a teaching tool.

Here’s how Mozilla’s Ian Bicking (the creator of virtualenv, among other useful Python-based tools) describes TowTruck on the Mozilla Labs Blog:

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.

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.

Probably the best way to get a handle on what TowTruck does and how you can use it is to watch the screencast:

TowTruck is not, as Bicking acknowledges in the Labs post, an original idea. Google has its Drive API and I seem to get at least one pitch a month on similar, independent projects.

What sets TowTruck apart is its simplicity for both developers and users. Its focus on authoring, mentoring and learning to code might also give it an in with the burgeoning “learn to code” movement. Whether or not that’s enough to help TowTruck succeed where so many others have failed remains to be seen.