Summit2008/Sessions/Proposals/Snowl: Messaging in the Browser

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Session Synopsis

Snowl is a labs experiment on messaging in the browser. Lots of users use desktop applications like Thunderbird and Apple Mail to converse with each other online, while many others use web apps, including not only webmail but also social networks, web discussion forums, and other site/service-specific tools.

Is there a role for Firefox in this mix?

The session will start with a demonstration of the prototype in progress, then move to a conversation about whether and how messaging makes sense in the context of the browser.


  1. MailNews_Talk:Future_of_Mail#Thoughts_On_a_Next-Gen_Conversations_App
  2. Labs/Proposals/Snowl
  3. Urgent Changes Are Needed To Facebook Messaging
  4. User:Andrew_Sutherland/MailNews/GlobalDatabase
  5. presentation slides
  6. prototype extension
  7. source code



The Snowl prototype is a Firefox extension designed to aggregate the different ways users send and receive messages online (email, feeds, social networks, etc.) into a unified datastore of messages, a set of task-based interfaces for reading, writing, and recalling them, and an API for extending the app with new views.

Its goals are to make it easier for people to have online conversations without regard to the medium through which those conversations take place; to experiment with models for bringing messaging to the browser; and to investigate the potential of XUL and other Mozilla technologies to enable the building of desktop-quality hybrid remote/local applications.

Current Status

The prototype implements read-only messaging with support for one message source: feeds.

It lets you subscribe to feeds via Firefox's built-in feed reader picker and import OPML. Feed items then get retrieved regularly, stored in a database, and presented to users via two views: a list view much like the thread pane in three-pane mail readers, and a "river of news" view that displays a scrollable web page of messages.

The list view lives in browser chrome and sits above or next to the tabbrowser, using a tab browser tab to load the messages themselves, while the river view loads inside a tab and displays all messages as a stream of content inside that one tab.

Both views let users filter messages by various attributes (unread, current, etc.) and search them using fulltext search. Ultimately the search facility is intended to also provide arbitrary attribute:value searches à la Google.

There's also a simple list of message sources, similar to the folder pane of a mail reader, that loads into a browser sidebar. Ultimately this is intended to become a more general list of collections of messages organized in a variety of useful ways, like by person or custom search criteria. (In the interim, you can bookmark a custom search by bookmarking the river view after searching it, since it loads in a browser tab and updates its URL with the search terms you enter.)

And there's a basic API for retrieving a collection of messages, so third parties can experiment with their own views on the information Snowl collects. Currently, that API is only exposed to chrome, but it is intended to eventually be accessible to content (with appropriate safeguards, of course).


mail-like list view: Snowl-screenshot-1.png

"river of news" view: Snowl-screenshot-2.png