All posts tagged ‘Mozilla Labs’

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.

File Under: Web Basics

Mozilla Questions Web Orthodoxies With ‘Pancake’

Mozilla Labs has launched a new project designed to question the web as we know it, including what some might think of as the web’s sacred cows — like whether or not we need to see URLs.

Pancake, as the new project is known, will help Mozilla, “better understand what people do on the web, why and how they do those things, and how we can make those things easier and more efficient.” The goal of Pancake according to Mozilla’s new, awesomely titled Director of Pancake Stuart Parmenter, is to play with “huge concepts, monumental problems and occasionally crazy ideas.”

Among the ideas in Pancakes’ sights that many might consider crazy is questioning whether users need to care about the URL. Note that no one is questioning the URL itself, just whether or not the user needs to be concerned with it. Indeed Pancake won’t be the first time Mozilla has questioned whether or not the user needs to know about URLs, nor is Mozilla alone on that score, Google’s Chrome team has also experimented with hiding the URL bar.

Might there be some better means of letting the user know where they are, where a link leads and all the other things URLs currently do? That’s exactly the sort of question that Pancake wants to ask. We’ll never know the answer, and possibly never push the web in interesting new directions, if no one is asking the question.

If you consider the URL bar a sacred part of the web browser, fear not, no one is taking way your URL bar. The goal of Pancake is not to force anything down your throat, but to make the web better. That might mean, as Parmeter writes, “inventing new metaphors and new systems,” but the main goal of those new metaphors and systems is to “give users greater power and control within the modern web.”

In that sense it’s difficult to tell exactly what Mozilla plans to do with Pancake. In the immediate future Pancake will be rolling out its first prototype app, but the announcement is extremely vague about what that app might involve. Historically Labs projects are a very mixed bag. For every very successful Labs effort — like the syncing features that are now a standard part of Firefox — there are several others that have been quietly shelved (Ubiquity anyone? Prism?).

Pancake’s first prototype app — whatever it may be — will be released within the next few months. In the mean time you can check out the new wiki page or join the Pancake Google Group. All the other usual Labs pages — documentation, roadmap, designs and other content — will come in the weeks ahead.

File Under: Browsers, Visual Design

Mozilla’s ‘Home Dash’ is a Dashboard for Your Personal Web

Your favorite sites ready to go with Home Dash

Mozilla Labs has cranked out an interesting new experiment dubbed Home Dash, a Firefox add-on that removes the standard web browser interface — the location bar, search bar and tabs — and leaves behind just a Firefox logo. Click the logo and you’ll be presented with a dashboard where your most-visited sites are found.

It’s not an entirely new take on browsing, but Home Dash is definitely an extreme departure from the traditional web browser interface. In its current form, Home Dash is a bit like the idea pioneered by Opera’s Speed Dial feature — present a user’s most visited sites and eliminate the need to search. But Home Dash goes further and eliminates most of the browser chrome as well.

If you’d like to take it for a spin, head over to the Firefox add-ons site and install Home Dash (you’ll need to be using a Firefox 4 beta release for Home Dash to work). For some tips and help with Home Dash, see Mozilla’s follow-up post.

The idea behind Home Dash is to move from a search or recall-based browser to a “browse-based” browser. The web browser as we know it is primarily a recall-based experience. Much like the command line of yesteryear, it’s up to you to remember URLs and websites (or create bookmarks and shortcuts). But a browse-based interface works on recognition rather than recall — you see a thumbnail of where you want to go; you click on it. The burden of remembering names and URLs, or even creating shortcuts, is removed. Mozilla’s Head of User Experience, Alex Faaborg, has a nice piece with some more background on the difference between these two approaches.

With Home Dash you browse to the sites you like, rather than typing in URLs or search terms to find them. For now that means Home Dash pulls up your twenty-four most visited sites as thumbnails. When you hover a thumbnail the actual site will load in the background, but for anything beyond your most-visited sites you’re back in the search bar, recalling. The usefulness of Home Dash will depend entirely on how you use the web. For those that typically visit the same sites over and over, Home Dash may be a better interface. But if you more frequently search new information, and land on new sites, Home Dash may get in the way.

Eventually, the team behind Home Dash is planning to let you customize the dashboard by adding and removing websites, as well as resizing the thumbnail previews the way you see fit. Plans also call for Home Dash to broaden the range of “sites” so you can add web apps, widgets and even people. For now though Home Dash is very experimental and limited.

Home Dash is also buggy, UI elements flashed and occasionally disappeared in our testing and overall experience felt more like a step backward than anything else. In fact, it may well be that the URL bar is the command line perfected and we don’t need a browse-based experience. After all, once you’ve moved beyond your twenty-four sites, Home Dash offers nothing you can’t already do with the URL and Search bars.

However, while the traditional desktop experience may not be the ideal setting for Home Dash, it isn’t hard to see the appeal on touch screen devices like the many Android-based tablets that are due to arrive in the near future. The Mozilla Labs announcement makes no mention of tablets, but a touch-based version of Home Dash seems inevitable.

If you’d rather not install something as experimental as Home Dash, check out the video below which covers the basics (requires a WebM-video-capable browser):

Video (1:05) downloads: webm (5mb) and ogv (4mb)

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File Under: Browsers, Social

Mozilla Contacts Helps Firefox Discover Your Social Web


A new add-on for Firefox lets you take along one of your most valuable digital assets — your address book — wherever you travel on the social web.

The latest experiment to emerge out of Mozilla Labs, Contacts is a Firefox add-on that stores all the contact information for all of your friends on social networks and across multiple address books (both local and web-based) in the browser.

An experimental alpha was first announced in March with the ability to pull in your contacts from Gmail, Twitter and the Mac OS X address book. This week, Contacts received its first update, and can now import data from LinkedIn and Plaxo as well. There are also stability improvements, and some new discovery features that make it easier to find additional information about people who are already in your address book.

In the blog post covering Contacts 0.2, Mozilla’s Michael Hanson says his team is working quickly on adding support for other social networks, Thunderbird’s address book and the Windows address book.

All of us social web junkies have felt the pain involved with “finding friends” on new social networks, or of having to copy and paste e-mail addresses from one place to another just to communicate with somebody on a new web service, or on one we don’t frequently use. Because of this, systems which make your address book, buddy list or other “friend data” accessible across the web are becoming more vital. They essentially give you the ability to sync all of your address books — your own personal Rolodex, that vast store of extremely important data you’ve been cultivating for years, and likely the only social network it’s safe to say you’ll never abandon — and use them on any website you visit.

There are two key components to Contacts. First is an e-mail auto-completion engine, which will auto-complete e-mail addresses on any website you visit without sharing any of your friends’ contact information with the website. Second is an address book API which allows a website to access your own personal contacts database stored in the browser. Of course, you control which sites have permission to access your contacts, and how much of your address book each site can see.

It’s important to note that Mozilla Contacts is still in the early alpha stage, and will become more feature-rich as development continues.

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Mozilla Labs Seeks to Tame Your Address Book With ‘Contacts’


Mozilla Labs has a new goal — saving your contacts list from the chaos of the web.

If you’re like most of us, your contacts are probably spread out all over the place — in your webmail provider, on social networks like Twitter or Facebook, on your mobile and maybe even hiding in a desktop address book app.

In short, your contacts are a vast, sprawling jungle. Mozilla Labs wants to solve that problem and a new project, dubbed, appropriately enough, Contacts is aiming to help you centralize and organize your various lists.

The Contacts project works by using the browser to sort, organize, access and share your contact data. The information is stored in a local database and — should the project take flight — will eventually be synced across platforms by the Weave add-on.

contactsA prototype of the Contacts interface. Click the image for a larger view.

For now, the most notable features of the Contacts add-on is some very nice auto-completion in web forms. The features is roughly analogous to what Gmail does in the To field of your e-mails, but obviously Contacts’ auto-completion works on any website.

To build the database, Contacts will pull your info from GMail, Twitter and the Mac address book. Mozilla has promised that the list of supported apps and web services will be expanded shortly thanks to the importer API (which eventually will be public, meaning other add-ons can access it).

The other nice thing about Contacts is the per-site privacy control which make it relatively easy to control which sites can grab which data.

Like Mozilla’s Raindrop experiment, Contacts has loads of potential and might one day be another must-have part of Firefox, but for now the add-on is very rough.

If you’d like to take it for a spin there’s an experimental, pre-alpha version of Contacts available for download. Just keep in mind that Contacts is very experimental code and could crash your browser.

If you like what you see in Contacts or you have ideas on how to improve it, be sure to let Mozilla know.

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