Drawing Inspiration: Collaborative Whiteboard Tools -Part 1

With more and more people working from home, or with colleagues and clients in other cities and countries, online collaboration tools have been gaining momentum for a couple of years now.

While there has been plenty of focus on conferencing, document and calendar sharing and scheduling, the area I think is often overlooked is collaborative sketching/whiteboard tools. If you’ve ever spent quarter of an hour trying to explain a basic layout idea to a client only to get confused silence back down the line, you’ll understand the beauty of this kind of application.

Although it’s been around for over a year now, I think GE’s Imagination Cubed is still the pick of the crop terms of a pure drawing tool. Exactly why GE felt compelled to build and release it is a mystery but they’ve done a really nice job. The soft shadow cast by the pen as it flicks around the work space is a very nice touch.

GE's ImaginationCubed Collaborative Sketch Tool

As you can see, the interface is very low-clutter and they offer small but effective suite of tools including pens, text tools, lines, basic shapes and icons. Each tool has access to a variety of weights, colors and even line treatments (feathered, splatter, etc).

Collaboration is easy. After initiating a new workspace, new users can be invited to join via either email or AIM. Once they’ve joined, they have access to a named pen, and are free to post IM-style messages in the attached message field. It’s all worked flawlessly for me.

Each creation can be saved and/or sent to others as a JPG. And just for a laugh you can even hit the ‘replay’ button to watch your work being re-created.

Add to that the fact that it’s free and doesn’t even require you to log in and there’s not a lot to dislike. In fact, the only problem I’ve ever encountered is the limit they place on your virtual ink — it apparently runs out and must be more expensive than it looks.

Otherwise this is at the very least a nifty toy — and perhaps even a handy solution to a problem for some.

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  • http://www.deronsizemore.com deronsizemore

    That looks pretty cool! Yep the ink actually runs out…I drew circles just to see what would happen. lol.

    Might start to use this tool. Thanks!

  • Me

    Are you serious? You spent an ENTIRE blog post on this? Hah. Which of GE’s subsidiaries do you work for?

  • WarpNacelle

    Neat, but honestly, what the heck is the point of having the pens be able to run out of ink? I hope they designed that feature in their spare time and not on the clock.

  • http://www.sitepoint.com AlexW

    Neat, but honestly, what the heck is the point of having the pens be able to run out of ink? I hope they designed that feature in their spare time and not on the clock.

    Perhaps they had ideas of charging for ink refills?

    Still, I haven’t actually run out of ink so far.

  • asimov

    Its to conserve memory on the server — you can continue drawing, but the ink you drew at the beginning gets erased as you go. More than enough to work with though.

  • Robin Good

    If you are seriously interested in online live whiteboarding and annotation tools check out this nifty mini-guide:
    http://www.kolabora.com/news/2006/11/02/whiteboarding_tools_and_technology_a.htm

  • M.Mahgoub

    Its to conserve memory on the server—you can continue drawing, but the ink you drew at the beginning gets erased as you go. More than enough to work with though.

  • WarpNacelle

    Its to conserve memory on the server

    Ah hah! Thank you. That makes sense.

  • http://www.digitalgreenlight.com busy

    Soon to come – generic virtual whiteboard ink-refill kits?

  • http://www.elated.com elated

    Exactly why GE felt compelled to build and release it is a mystery

    It might have something to do with their terms & conditions:

    5. You acknowledge that the Drawings created on the Site will be the property of GE, and you agree that all copyrights and other intellectual property rights in the Drawings are assigned to GE.

    That certainly put me off using it! :(

  • Lisa Egan

    My thoughts reflect those of ‘me’ above. After I tried out the product, I went back to check the creds of the author and wondered what alliance there is between SitePoint and GE. That really wasn’t impressive, IMHO. Nice blog though, just didn’t concur with your estimation of the product.

  • http://www.sitepoint.com AlexW

    That’s a fair enough call, Lisa. We’ve used this tool a bit to decide on rough Ad layouts between people at different sites — generally with Skype. Skype has a paid sketchpad product called talkandwrite.com, but it’s no more impressive. Do you got a preferred collaborative sketch type tool?