Firebase brings Google Docs-like collaboration to its real-time backend

Firebase team

Firebase, which offers a real-time back-end for software developers, is adding capabilities that let developers easily build real-time collaboration into their applications.

Based on what it’s seen from its users, the San Francisco startup considers collaboration a really big vertical, cofounder James Tamplin said in an interview.”Many people have tried to build collaborative text editors like Google Docs, but it’s really difficult. Users were using Firebase to synchronize their whole text block, but that’s not as efficient as Google Docs, which just syncs the changes,” he said. Figuring out how to just deal with the deltas and how to handle re-dos and un-dos when multiple people work on the same thing at the same time is a really hard problem.


“We actually replicated a full collaborative text editing library atop Firebase and are open sourcing it [under the MIT license],” he said.

As GigaOM has reported, developers use Firebase to easily create and debug web applications without having to worry about server infrastructure.

If several people are collaborating on a WordPress blog post, for instance, with a a Firepad plug-in, they would be able to work on the same document at the same time, with Firepad tracking edits and enabling re-dos as needed.

Atlassian is using Firepad in a plug-in for Stash, a tool for managing Git code repositories. That add-on lets different team members edit code together. and startup LiveMinutes is using it to build a way to pull content out of Evernote and work with that content collaboratively, Tamplin said.

What Firebase is doing with Firepad is similar to Etherpad, which Google bought in 2009. Firebase competes in a broader sense with companies like Pusher and Pubnub.

Being able to endow apps with collaboration is becoming table stakes for building the next wave of applications,  Tamplin said. “We want the next Twitter or Facebook to be built on Firebase,” he said.

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