Online collaborative whiteboard (OWB) review
Online WhiteBoards (OWB) aka collaborative whiteboards are a new class of web tool, which let remote users interact over the web in real-time using a shared virtual whiteboard. I have reviewed 5 of them and believe, that whilst they are not yet fully mature, OWBs could become valuable support tools for virtual brainstorming or open innovation activities.
The 5 OWB products I reviewed were:
Don't take this as a comprehensive list - there are at least half a dozen other OWBs out there which I did not review - I just picked the most prominent ones.
First lets understand what online whiteboards are they are and are not
OWBs are not Wikis!
Whiteboards are more geared to drawing and noting ideas - rather than working on a document in a web page. Also with a wiki you generally don't want allow two users to be editing in the same document exactly the same time. Or if they are they are taking turns to do it.
OWBs are not interactive whiteboards (IWBs)
According to wikipedia, an interactive whiteboard, or IWB, is a large interactive display that connects to a computer and projector. A projector projects the computer's desktop onto the board's surface, where users control the computer using a pen, finger or other device. The board is typically mounted to a wall or on a floor stand.
To me the basic requirements for online whiteboards are fairly simple:
1. support a shared concurrent real-time online workspace for posting of text, pictures and drawings across any number of whiteboards
2. automatically save the whiteboards online or allow offline copies to be made
3. have a dedicated URL associated with each whiteboard which can be used to invite others to join - don't require people to be invited by email
4. the whiteboard owner should register but the system should not require people to login or register to access a whiteboard - it must be instant access
5. allow users to put in their names so that you can see who is contributing (obviously not authenticated)
6. allow an optional password to be associated with a whiteboard to allow open and private access
OWB Product Reviews
The 5 OWB products I looked at are all relatively new and listed below with my comments
Rather surprisingly although they are all (excessively) feature heavy (aside from webnotes) none of the OWBs meet all of my 6 simple requirements listed above!
I have used Twiddla the most. Loads of features but user interface is a bit complicated and non-intuitive. Does not handle text or documents very intuitively. Has a nice API facility for embedding in other products and white-labelling.
From GE. Very cute tool and the most fun OWB by a long way. Could not find a dedicated URL to associate with each whiteboard.
Comprehensive tool - unclear to me how to share the whiteboard with others.
Possibly too much functionality. Found the chat box distracting.
A different type of tool altogether - a shared workspace for posting virtual sticky notes. Not really a whiteboard but might meet many peoples requirements. Beautifully simple. Does one thing really well. My favourite tool out of the 5!
About Ken Thompson
Ken Thompson is an expert practitioner in the area of bioteaming, swarming, virtual enterprise networks, virtual professional communities and virtual teams and has published two landmark books:
Bioteams: High Performance Teams Based on Nature's Best Designs
The Networked Enterprise: Competing for the future through Virtual Enterprise Networks
Ken writes the highly popular bioteams blog which has over 500 articles on all aspects of bioteams (aka organizational biomimicry) - in other words how human groups can learn from nature's best teams.
Ken is also founder of an exciting European technology company Swarmteams which provides unique patent-pending bioteaming technologies for all shapes and sizes of groups, social networks, business clusters, virtual/mobile communities and enterprises. Swarmteams enables groups to be more responsive and agile by fully integrating their mobile phones and the web with bioteam working techniques.
The latest Swarmteams implementation is SwarmTribes which helps social object owners (e.g. musicians/bands, sports teams, film-makers) and good cause sponsors (e.g. Volunteering, Environmental, Public Health) to form unique collaborations with their fans/supporters for mutual benefit.
Bioteams Books Reviews
Knowledge-based SMEs and SMBs (small fish) need to read "The Networked Enterprise (TNE) - competing for the future through Virtual Enterprise Networks (VENs)" with its numerous real examples and proven techniques to find out how to use VENs to develop strategic partnerships with BIG FISH (large enterprises) to propel them to the next level of competitive success. BIG FISH must also use TNE to gain enhanced access to innovation, agility and alternative risk/reward and cost models by partnering with small fish via VENs.