Help Out Mom

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I start a synced browsing session?

There are two ways to start synced browsing. The first is to use the extension's dashboard. Once you are in a call, the dashboard will display a new button labeled 'Start Synced Browsing on Current Tab.' Clicking on this will initiate a synced browsing session for the web page that is being shown on the current tab.

Alternatively, you can use a context menu item. Again, once you are in a call, you can right-click anywhere in the background of a web page, and you will find a 'Browse page with [user]' menu option that will initiate a synced browsing session.

Why do synced browsing pages open in separate windows?

This is a requirement of the technology used to provide the synced browsing experience. For the layout on the mirrored page to exactly match its counterpart, it must have identical dimensions. To maintain this size sync, the extension needs to be able to resize the page and this is only possible when it is viewed in a separate window. Unfortunately, popup windows do not have the general browser menu items or address bar. This creates some issues with navigation that are addressed in the following two FAQs.

Can I enter a new URL in a synced browsing page?

The short answer is no. As explained in the previous question, synced browsing pages must be opened in separate windows that do not have an address bar in which a URL can be entered.

However, there are a few ways around this limitation. First off, you can begin your synced browsing page on a search site like google.com. From there you can enter a search term (or even a URL) and receive a results page with links that can be followed.

Also, it is possible to have multiple synced browsing sessions open at one time. To open a new URL in a second synced browsing session, navigate to that page in the main browser window, and either right-click or use the extension dashboard to start a new session.

While the familiar 'back arrow' button is not present on synced browsing pages, navigation controls are available on the Sync Status box visible in the bottom right-hand corner of the page. These work the same as the missing browser buttons. Also, as with any web page, you can use keyboard shortcuts (Alt + Left Arrow or Alt + Right Arrow) to navigate backward and forwards.

Is it possible to "switch roles" during synced browsing and let the other user drive navigation?

Yes. Synced browsing sessions need a designated driver and a watcher. Initially, the user that starts the synced browsing session is the driver, however, it does not need to stay that way. In the bottom right-hand corner of the page, the watcher will see the extension's icon and, if they mouse over it, they will see an option to request a role switch. If approved, the roles are reversed and a new driver is running the show.

Is it possible to automatically answer incoming calls?

Yes. In fact, users who connect with people they trust often prefer this mode. The extension's options page has a checkbox that lets you toggle the auto answering feature. To open the options page, click on the gear icon () on the dashboard.

Why can't I hear any videos?

If you are the driver of the synced browsing session, all videos are muted by default. When this is not the case, each participant would hear two distinct audio streams: one coming directly from their browser window and a second from their peer. Because of delays in audio transmission, these two streams will be slightly off which makes it difficult to hear what is going on. To avoid this, we mute audio output for the driver. As the driver, you can still click on the volume controls of the video, but the changes will only affect sounds on the watcher's page.

If you would prefer direct audio for each participant, you can enable this. The extension's options page has a checkbox that lets you toggle whether or not to mute driver-side videos. To open the options page, click on the gear icon () on the dashboard.

Why can't I open a synced browsing page on Gmail?

Synced browsing sessions can have issues on certain google sites, including Gmail. The issue stems from how Chrome handles cookies from google.com. During synced browsing sessions, cookies are temporarily synced between the two peers. This is required so that all page resources load properly and 'role-switches' work as expected. However, because google.com cookies are tightly integrated into the Chrome browser, they do not get synced and as a result, certain google sites experience load failures. These issues can usually be resolved by having the mirrored page open in incognito mode, as the cookie store for incognito pages are isolated from the main browser cookie store.

To enable this, you will need to change a setting to allow the extension to operate in incognito mode. You can find the 'Allow in Incognito' setting towards the bottom of the extension's settings page . Once this change is made, mirrored pages will automatically start opening in an incognito window.

How does synced browsing differ from traditional screencasting solutions?

Our product uses an event-driven technology that relays display 'instructions' rather than continuous screenshots. When a synced session is initialized, the initiator (or driver) sends the page's URL and the contents of its DOM (i.e. the HTML tags and attributes) to the connected peer (or watcher). This allows the mirrored page to initialize while loading the bulk of the site resources and visible content (i.e. images, fonts, stylesheets, etc.) directly from the site. After initialization, the driver monitors for events that affect the display. These include DOM mutations, scrolling, zooming, mouse movements, etc. These changes are then relayed to the mirrored page and applied to keep the displayed content perfectly in sync.

There are several advantages to this approach. First off, it does not require significant upload bandwidth as the peer-to-peer messages sent to maintain page sync tend to be small. In contrast, screencasting solutions have higher networking requirements, which are often not met for residential internet connections that are geographically distant.

Another advantage is display quality. Because each peer is viewing the same DOM with all images downloaded from the same source, they see identical, full-resolution displays of the same web page. In contrast, screencasting over limited bandwidth connections often appear as jerky, low-resolution representations.

And lastly, the architecture allows for a straightforward reversal of roles, where the initial watcher gets to control browsing. The change boils down to where display events are detected and the direction of the messaging used to maintain the mirrored page. This role-switching behavior provides an ideal way to not only collaborate but also to help someone get comfortable surfing the web.

The downside of this technology is that it is not as robust as screencasting. Screencasting works on every site, regardless of content, while this technology can run into issues with certain flavors of HTML such as video and canvas elements. We are working to resolve all these issues, but for those users who want a "works-everytime" solution, it is possible to screencast with the extension. While the feature is somewhat hidden, screencasts can be initiated during a call by using the Alt + z keyboard shortcut. This will bring up the familiar prompt from which the user can choose what tab, application or desktop to share with their peer.

Does the extension work with ad blockers?

Yes and no. If one of the users has an ad blocker while the other does not, ads will be visible on one end and hidden on the other. This can lead to page layout issues where the users see slight differences in the visible content. On pages dominated by ads, the difference could be significant. To avoid this, both users should either be running the same ad blocker software or use none at all.

I just can't get it to work. What can I do?

We're sorry to hear that, but we hope you won't give up. Please send us an email at support@helpoutmom.com with as much details as possible on what issues you face. It's helpful to include roughly when the problem happened as we may be able to find some relevant information in our error logs.

I'm a Firefox user. How can I try this?

Unfortunately, at the moment you are out of luck. We have plans to create a Firefox extension, but currently our product is only available for Chrome. If you would like to be notified when a Firefox version is ready to go, shoot us an email at support@helpoutmom.com.

How is this free?

This is a new product that we are busy building and fine-tuning. While we remain in this mode, the product will stay 100% free of charges and advertising. However, there are significant development and maintainance costs involved, so this will not last forever.

Just so it doesn't come as a surprise, we intend to start charging a reasonable monthly subscription fee. Furthermore, subscription fees will be the only way in which we will monetize this product. In particular, we will never sell personal information or browsing histories for advertising purposes.