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Sometimes, the best way to communicate with someone else is to get out a piece of paper, and draw something out in black and white. The web makes collaborative communication easier than ever before, and now you don’t even have to be in the same room as the other person to show them exactly what you mean.
This collection of collaborative drawing tools are useful for educators who wish to introduce an active web element into the classroom, or business people who want to highlight, scribble or draw to get a point across to team members. For the rest of you, they might just be a great fun way for your kids to doodle an afternoon away online with friends.
Concentrating primarily on drawing tools, Scribblar offers a collaborative flash application, which allows you to setup individual ‘rooms’ to which you can invite participants to draw with you. Inside the app, there are a number of clever additional features, such as the ability to ’embed’ the room on a third party website and the ability to import ‘assets’, including images, Powerpoint presentations and PDF’s, all of which can be shared with your room audience. A bonus for you web designers out there is the ability to import a live screenshot of any URL on the web – useful if you want to highlight a new design. Live audio and chat is available through the application so you don’t have to leave the browser to keep in touch.
Flockdraw is a completely free real time application with a social element to it. To get up and running straight away, you can simple create a new session which gives you the option to invite friends from your social networks (Twitter and Facebook), or to just continue and invite folk manually. A custom short URL is provided at the top right of the application, which easily facilitates the invitation process. As for image tools within the app, there are the standard drawing tools that you would expect, however, there is no additional functionality for images / jpegs etc. That hasn’t however hampered the creativity of some of Flockdraw’s users. Check out the gallery for some inspiration. The voting element of the app makes the creation of drawings that bit more rewarding, and competitive folk will have a blast trying to get on the leaderboard.
Netsketch have taken the collaborative drawing concept to the smartphone, and developed the first application which allows you to draw on your iPhone or iPad with other people. The drawing canvas works in true vector, so you don’t get any degradation in quality between platforms and a community element is also present on my.netsketchapp.com where you can share and vote on other artworks. Snapshots of your drawings on your iPhone, can be instantly email to friends right from the application, and for those vector artists, EPS export to illustrator is also an option so you hard work can be continued on the desktop if you so wish.
It’s been around for *years* this one, but is still worthy of a mention. Developed as a viral for General Electric, Imagination Cubed hosts a flash application which simply lets you get up and running without the fuss. Grab your mouse, invite your friends and get scribbling. One of my personal favourite apps as it was ground breaking at the time, its support for image backgrounds, patterns and stamps and the attention to detail shown with the cursor icon changing still makes it a worthy contender for collaborative drawing. The viewport is also big enough to utilise the most of my screen, something some of the other apps here could do with improving.
Although I’m not normally a fan of Java application in the browser, Scriblink provides an image uploader, VOIP and file sending capabilities which are added extras not commonly available through traditional flash applications of this nature. There are also a good selection of mathematical symbols, which may give it the edge in a teaching environment. With the VOIP feature, if you have a mic for your computer, you can automatically connect with your collaborators and talk for free for as long as you like.
If the majority of the other applications featured here seem to concentrate heavily on fun – Cacoo is definitely aimed squarely at business professionals. Designers and developers alike will love its features which cater for wireframing, prototyping and for developing UML diagrams, all in real time and with collaboration features. Best of all? It’s free to use for up to 15 users. Commercial plans are available which provide a number of alternative export formats and removal of any limitations. The collaboration features not only reflect changes to your work in real time, but also allow you to chat back and forth with your colleagues and co-workers to bring together useful and insightful diagrams.
Twiddla is awesome, that’s really all you need to know. If you haven’t used it or seen it before taking a test drive, I’d be pretty sure that you’ll be hooked within five minutes of playing around with their app, it really is that good. Not only can you draw at ease, but there’s no setup involved, so you can get going straight away and start sharing Word documents, web pages, images and collaborative documents. The ability to modify and draw on top of websites alone makes it worth your while checking out, simply input the URL you want to talk about, invite your collaborators, and away you go, you can highlight the parts you like, the bits you need changed, and save your work easily. As with Scriblink, maths formulas are also available, which pretty much ticks all the boxes of a tool that everyone should know about.
Some of these other URL’s are worth checking out as well.
http://webcanvas.com – How could I do a post on online collaboration and drawing without mentioning the WebCanvas project? The web’s largest graffiti project with collaboration from artists all over the globe, this project highlights what is possible when art meets tech.
http://www.drawanywhere.com/ – Draw Anywhere is another application which provides collaborative drawing for network diagramming and server architecture. Might be of use to any server admins out there.
http://www.lucidchart.com/ – Lucid chart is a useful collaborative application for flowcharting, and diagramming. As with Cacoo it also handles UML diagrams.
http://creately.com/ – Collaborative prototyping tool that designers may find useful when starting out a new site.
http://www.queeky.com/ – More of a collaborative art community, Queeky has a built in tool for drawing which is used by members of the community to submit artistic pieces online, and get rated on. Some very impressive pieces created in the browser from collaborators around the globe.
http://flowchart.com/ – Flowchart.com is an online multi-user, real-time collaboration flow charts service, which requires no plugin and has an active developer API for integration with other software.
http://www.raizlabs.com/software/apps/whiteboard – Another collaborative drawing tool for the iPad Whiteboard pro.