Background story: When recently stumbling into this big hole of missing out on jobs, that’s been caused by that friendly virus called CoVid-19, I started taking on a few jobs for a member of my family. I did a few smaller ones for them before, like fixing hacked WP sites, replacing a borked newsletter system for another, and so on. Mostly administrative tasks. Now, we started working on “the real thing”, in this case, getting a shop based on WooCommerce all up and running. Tasks like importing products from the old, pre-existing, custom-built shop, and setting up ClassicPress + WooCommerce, are pretty easily done.
Not so easily done are things like brainstorming, and working on important parts of the site together.
So, this is a specific, but very common work scenario: The client wants something done, you work with the client, and the designer, both as developer and webdesigner / usability pro, and push this part design to and fro, until there is a prototype or a final version. No matter if this is done on the live site, there is a few prototypes and then done to a development site, etc.
The normal approach would be to use e-mail and any kind of document. That would include eg. writing up or putting together a document in LibreOffice, Word or Photoshop, add screenshots, notes, etc. pp., and send it over to the designer and client. Designer adds their notes, back to us and the client. The clients adds notes and replies to specific parts of the mail, and so on.
Now, my thoughts are: Why not improve on this process? Isnt there a solution that skips over this closed document thing, having to send it all around the time, keeping track which version is which, what edits were made to it, or having to redo it altogether, because it became too cluttered? Isnt this online collaboration thing the “new thing” nowadays? Esp. thanks to the pandemia and all the people suddenly having to work from home? There are things like online whiteboards, and other tools like mind mapping, project managing tools, and also stuff for task planning / handling, like Trello and Basecamp.
So, chances are high that there is something pretty decent around already – I just to have to find it 🙂
Turns it: It aint that easy.
Looks like the agile rapid prototyping craze has mostly swallowed up any proper approach for this … pretty common task.
.. But lets not jump ahead 😉
My premises, call them requirements, are rather simple: I want to do some collaborative work on the footer design of the shop system.
Back in the spring day of Responsive Webdesign, footers were mostly used as a main navigation replacement, and maybe optionally, for adding a quick contact option, thats available everywhere. But nowadays, it plays a bit of a different role. Both vital for placing assets like newsletter subscription, all the legal mumbo-jumbo links, but also just sprucing and spicing up your site with eg. all of those fancy payment options, promises like “delivery in x days” and so on.
Hence, elements or features I expect from anything calling itself a “collaborative whiteboard”, are as follows:
- Importing my own images or media – at the least, images (eg. screenshots)
- Links – or at least being able to add text; Hypertext, anyone?
- Notes – are essential, right?
- Sharing options – no matter whether the board is public or its only on invite
- Testing / free plan – I do not pay upfront for something I’ve never seen in action before 😛
So far, I’ve looked at least at 30 or more options. Most of the over-loaded ones, which seem mostly to be a fancy project management suite, never made it into the actual testing at all. But for completeness I’m going to list them as well 🙂
Due to be tested:
- Spacedeck (Open) – needs to be installed on a server, but if the feature set is at least the same as the one shown in this old video from 2013, it should be worth the effort (at least for testing) 🙂
- Conceptboard – gave it a quick glance before, but havent done any serious work yet; looks a bit .. bland, and I have yet to find an option to insert links / URLs, but still better than the rest .. we’ll see 🙂
- Stormboard – giving it a more-thorough testing, because although I don’t like its more “notice” / card-focused approach, it still looks way more simple and less cluttered than the rest of the “competititon”
- Aww / Awwapp – it looks a bit too reduced and simplified; also missing the option to add actual links – are we still in 1995 where nobody heard of hypertext?!?
- Stormboard – feels more like a designers dream of Kanban, for which there are already tools like Trello, so .. whats the point, again?
- Mural – ugh .. visual overload! also, it looks more like a stealth project management suite, than a whiteboard
- Wrike – however that ended up as consideration for a whiteboard AT ALL .. its a project management suite, nothing else!
- Trello – well, its pretty obvious, right? It’s a kanban task handling / project management suite; it CAN be used for online sketching / drafting, and I do use it to some extent, but its really not the best tool for this task; aside of that, I love it 🙂
- Miro – yet another feature creeping “one size fits all” overkill .. *rolls eyes*
Research has been done using a lot of intense nitpicking of the right keywords on several search engines, including DuckDuckGo, but I’ve also been rummaging through the following articles and lists:
- Alternative To: ConceptBoard – one could pick virtually ANY kind of whiteboard software listed there, to look for alternatives for .. but ConceptBoard at least actually IS a whiteboard solution, while eg. Remember The Milk totally is NOT
- Zapier: The 11 best online whiteboards – quite the decent list, but then, its from Zapier – they should know all about their integrations 😉
- List Of Freeware: 23 Best Free Online Whiteboard Websites With Real-Time Collaboration – a slightly outdated article (it doesnt show any date, but my guesstimate is its from 2016), but still a good selection to work my way through, although most of them seem to be mere simple sketch or note pads with “shared user space”