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Hey everyone,

We've been talking quite a bit about the negatives, competitors & best ways of using specific products - Slack, Zoom & Gmail.

This week I wanted to discuss an entire category of products instead - online whiteboards. Now, whiteboards are extremely common in an in-office setting but aren't adopted much in a remote setting.

The reasons are fairly obvious -

1. Virtual whiteboarding isn't as intuitive or simple as using a physical whiteboard.

2. If you want to actually whiteboard productively, you need the right setup in place - a tablet, stylus and of course, the right app/ product.

3. On top of this, you may not be able to mimic the real-life brainstorming that is synchronous with using a whiteboard. For e.g. you would usually pace towards & away from the whiteboard, someone from your team might quickly grab a marker & scribble something that strikes him/ her etc.

So more often, people like me, try to minimise real-time virtual whiteboarding. But of course, it can't be entirely avoided, so I end up using Milanote or sometimes Notion/ Slite and my iPad, during these brainstorming sessions. More about my setup & experience in this post.

What's your experience with virtual whiteboards? Do you use any online whiteboard regularly?


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    Mostly we use Jamboard from the g-suite, as this is the easiest UX, but of course, a bit more limited when it comes to features. Miro Boards are more sophisticated, more features, but then onboarding users with lower digital savviness is more difficult and perhaps you lose them. It's always a trade-off between different gains and losses. For the beginning, I would simply start off with jamboard and if you need more features check out miro-boards. 

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      Wow, I never chanced upon Jamboard before. I've even used Whiteboard Fox but not Jamboard, due to my ignorance :( Thanks for sharing this Martin!

      I am curious to know more about your typical use-case for Miro and what are the features you swear by.

      Also, any tips around whiteboarding effectively?

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        Let's say you have a group zoom call, then it's great to invite them to miro or jamboard in order to discuss slide by slide or interact collectively. So the facilitator opens up several slides and explains them and invites everybody to participate with ideas and thought on sticky notes. so you see the boards growing while having the call together. you can immediately react on it and vote, if you like. we sometimes combine the sessions also with mentimeter - it's always a mix of tools, and sometimes, when we see there are unexpected feature limitation we also simply change the tool

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          Absolutely, makes sense. It's great that you also mentioned a tool like Mentimeter. I wrote about how you can effectively leverage polling tools in your virtual meetings and whiteboarding seems a perfect use case.

          Just curious, have you tried Zoom's in-built whiteboard and polling features? 

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            not yet, is it good? most of the time we are doing google-meet as I find the login in zoom inconvenient - when the participants are more than 25 then google-meet has sometimes capacity limitations but it's easier to get everybody in the call with google-meet. 

            But when we have more than 25 participants it's always difficult to listen to everybody, then it's more like a lecture, less a real group discussion. We also had already miro-board brainstorming with 30 or more people, but then it becomes really slow with the real-time updates as you see everybody interacting in realtime (but then you could call it delay-time instead of real-time). 

            The problem with making people talk instead of only listening is a major issue in collecting collective wisdom. If only the teachers talk, the wisdom of the pupils disappears - the old 20th century problem of schooling. 

            That is exactly what we try to solve with timz.flowers - to harvest everybody's perspective - we call it dialectics (harvesting knowledge and truth from different perspectives). 

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              Haha, not at all. I have only heard poor reviews of all add-on features Zoom provides. Tbh, I haven't tried it myself.

              Great point. I usually have a hard time making people talk even in a much smaller group, say 7-8 people :/

              Timz looks very cool - I love async updates & meetings :) I am going to try it out myself soon.

              Quick question - I am guessing Timz stands for 'time independent meetings' but does naming your interface 'flower' have any backstory? 🧐

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                hey, great guessing  - yes timz = Time-Independent MeetingZ and the flower-idea comes, because the discussions look like a flower. 

                But there's a deeper thought behind it. timz.flowers is a derivative of diversus.me - a german non-profit association for Accelerating Knowledge Building. There we have a superb group of thinkers who are doing research and groundwork how to accelerate knowledge building for all kinds of organizations, also for humanity in its entirety, with dialectics. Target: to overcome the risks of climate change for the species and the planet.

                In this context, we found out that the human brain is not optimized for decrypting text and numbers, mostly organized in lists, as lists are the predominant paradigm of the current internet (take a look at facebook, youtube, google...) - all is organized in lists. Whereas our brains are optimized for decrypting the patterns of nature, which are logarithmic patterns (coils, curves) and faces. 

                As the GPU power is exponentially growing for some years we came to the conclusion, that we could find now new ways, how to come back to more natural patterns in order to address the older and faster brain regions for memorizing and trigger intuitions of the users. 

                The timz.flower is one first derivative of these studies. 

                So a flower is perhaps a good start for coming back to more natural patterns for representation of information.

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                  That sounds very exciting! I was also reading your post on the remote readiness diamond and it is quite insightful.

                  I am even more curious now to see this in action. So I will try this out first and experience for myself how it looks :-)

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                    We are in early open beta... it will improve... and give me your feedback!

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                      Absolutely :-)

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                        thank you!

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        Jamboard would be a great tool for beginners but is mostly intended for G-Suite's enterprise customers. The only disappointing part is the lack of a free plan :(

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          Oh, I was always invited, so did not know that - thanks for the info

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        @brookssime-501, @brkcmd, @sascha-at-acework, @martin-529: I saw that you've mentioned Miro in your primary tool stack and I've read & heard really good things about the product. Could you share your experience around this?

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          I've really liked Miro for structured whiteboarding sessions - I've used it in particular for planning out a roadmap. I could see also it being very helpful for something like Google's Design Sprint. That said, I do love a physical whiteboard over everything 😁

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            Haha, true. Nothing beats a physical whiteboard.

            But do you think something like Notion would be a good alternative given there are templates & features for practically every use-case? Or even AirTable since you spoke about roadmaps.

            I am starting to think if Miro actually solves a specific problem neatly. Because if not, I would rather want to restrict my tool stack and use an existing tool for the use-case 🤷‍♂️

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          Somehow I have not gotten in the habit of using whiteboards - virtual or physical ones. I prefer a clean note - either a piece of paper or even a doc - and just like to start penning my thoughts. Simple bullets and sub-bullets always seem to do the trick for me.

          The simplicity of it allows ideas to flow more easily while reserving my focus to content rather than the beauty of it all. Been doing this for over 4 years now and can't complain.

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            Ah, interesting point. I think a mighty number of people will resonate with this thinking but I am also curious to see what the advocates/ power users of whiteboards have to say :-)

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            @kenmawbey-505, @ionelamarineata-527, @nikolauswest-464, @sophia, @dimitry-16: You're building a fantastic product yourself to tackle the problem of virtual whiteboarding/ brainstorming albeit with different approaches and know much better about this than me :-)

            Would love to hear your thoughts on this & have 2 specific questions from my side - 

            1. What is the biggest problem you know users are facing in this regard?

            2. What specific problem are you trying to solve with your product?

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              Organisations are facing challenges to make meetings, workshops and education more productive and engaging with many, if not all participants, attending remotely rather than in-person. 

              People are essentially tribal social animals and we need human interaction. Although we can get things done online, collaborative brainstorming and creativity is challenging without being in the company of others and being able to stand up to ‘chalk and talk’ on walls, communicating visually.
               
              Whizwall app users can draw, write, type and collaborate on large, shared Augmented Reality whiteboards, using their mobile as an air mouse, replicating the experience of a shared physical whiteboard, irrespective of whether participating in-person or remotely. Multiple users can be invited to collaborate on whiteboards, with everyone’s input updated live. Whiteboards can also be viewed via secure web links and shared live to screens or via video conferencing.
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                Thanks for sharing this Ken :-)

                I've already said this that I think Whizwall's approach to solving the brainstorming problem is fascinating!

                I am curious to know more about what Whizwall's early users have to say after using the app. Do people feel the AR experience closer towards the in-person 'chalk & talk'? 

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                  Thanks Hrishikesh - the response on the MVP has been very positive and encouraging. There a couple of key features based on the feedback which we've now developed and will be release in the next week or so. The first enables switching between the Augmented Reality and new 2D whiteboard view, supporting zoom and pan, making even small handwriting with your finger really easy. The second is the ability to place and re-arrange typed text on the whitebaord, not to mention emoticons :) - here's an updated demo video including these features https://vimeo.com/whizwall/livedemo We're really excited to release these features as they really make whizwall a viable tool for 'chalk and talk' 

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                    Great to see the new additions to Whizwall, Ken. I've been meaning to ask - do you see people using their fingers to draw out or you expect them to use a stylus?

                    Also, I think typed text is going to be very useful. When I tried out Whizwall (without a stylus), I found it hard to draw text.

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                      Agree re writing text currently, but with 2D view with zoom, the new version makes writing much easier just with your finger. Although some will prefer to use a stylus, a key design principle is to be able to use your finger as it makes it much more accessible to all as a mobile-first product that you can  use anywhere and anytime. 

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                        Hmm, that's a nice goal to have and you're right, being able to use your fingers to draw easily while making sense is ideal. But I've personally not come across any app that could provide that experience. Maybe Whizwall's going to change that :-)

                        I am hooked onto the updates.

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                Hi there! And thanks @hrishikesh for the ping! I should definitely come more often to join your discussions here :)

                I definitely agree with you on the low adoption of whiteboards in a remote setting. Even in an on-site setting, it can feel strange to some people that are uncomfortable with drawing or writing on a board in front of other people (somehow I feel it's even more true for younger generations). On a free-hand online whiteboard, this "awkwardness" tend to be much bigger, especially if you don't have the appropriate material as a tablet and a stylus (which are tools that you rarely get when employed, unless for designers). 

                In our office, we only use the whiteboard to explain abstract concepts such as IT architectures. Even in this case, it's rarely 100% collaborative and all hands.

                Mostly, one person is sketching on the board to explain a concept and she can be challenged by others that can take the pen, but only to point out certain elements and rarely to redesign something else.

                For that use case, in a remote setting, we use whatever tool is easier to draw arrows and lines, and write text. Google Slides is perfectly fine and does the job.  

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                  Now, to me, brainstorming is a totally different use case. It emphasizes the simultaneous production of ideas, which is a less visual process, meaning that you're less likely to need to draw (of course, this differs if you're a designer or an architect and still, I can hardly imagine people drawing simultaneously but rather commenting on something already made and making changes). The essence of brainstorming is made out of this divergent/convergent dynamic.

                  1) Ideas on a topic come from everyone --> we diverge in order to get a set of different views/opinions/ideas...

                  2) then we find structure, common traits between the inputs or/and we vote to prioritise them --> we converge in order to have one clear and collective view of the solution

                  This dynamic, to gather input and make decisions as a group, can come quite naturally and you don't necessarily need to be in a highly creative setting. 

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                    The remote brainstorming exercise is where we, Excelway, stand. 

                    To answer your question: the biggest challenges our users have faced were to have something extremely easy to use for participants in order to be inclusive with the less digital savvy ones, but at the same time, have something rich enough to help them during the "convergent" phase. 

                    Building common traits between sets of ideas and representing visually those "clusters" is hard. One input can be part of so many clusters and still, you want to represent this in the simplest possible way. 

                    And that's where we come in: we offer advanced features for labeling, clustering, voting, filtering and moving in bulk sticky notes, and at the same time, a smooth and easy experience for participants. 

                     

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                      Wow, that's a fabulous way of explaining what you're solving for & building at Excelway 🙌 Sorry about the premature first comment, it disturbed the hierarchy of conversation here 😐

                      Absolutely accurate observation 👇

                      ...brainstorming is a totally different use case. It emphasizes the simultaneous production of ideas, which is a less visual process...

                      The points you've made here would actually make for a perfect script for an explainer video for Excelway. I saw you have a demo on the website but are you also planning to have a more detailed video with a narrative on these lines? I feel it would add great value.

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                        No, I'm sorry for my very long and anachronic threads 😅but you're getting me started on my favorite topic 😉

                        Thanks 🙏 for the idea of the explainer. This could definitely be a way to present it! 

                        Now I'm curious: what's your favorite explainer video (for our inspiration)? 

                        PS: this might be another whole thread and topic so we can move the discussion elsewhere if you'd like 😇

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                          I remember liking so many explainer videos but can't recollect most of them now :/ I surely like all Wistia videos, so their explainers are also really good. For e.g. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hYyolVIrGBs.

                          There's one video that I distinctly remember though - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-TotL5y9TCc. I saw it ~3-4 yrs back and really liked it but this would be more like a concept video. 

                          We should absolutely start a new thread on this - might turn out to be an extremely interesting conversation. Would love if you start off a thread on inspiration for explainer videos :) I will also get hold of more practical/ doable inspirations.

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                            Done ✅

                            And thanks for sharing the videos. I love their style and they are very relevant to my topic 😍

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                    Great set of points Sophia! You've almost made a fool-proof case for not using an online whiteboarding tool 😉

                    Perfect practical suggestion here 👇

                    For that use case, in a remote setting, we use whatever tool is easier to draw arrows and lines, and write text. Google Slides is perfectly fine and does the job.  

                    I also quite align with not relying on free-hand whiteboarding but instead using something that allows me to add stickies, comments, drop files and the like. That's why I prefer something like Milanote which is not your typical whiteboarding tool.

                    Also curious to know more about Excelway in this context. I know Excelway is aimed at making brainstorming simpler & easier and with the stickies interface, it seems to tackle the problem very well. But want to understand from you on whether you're to solve the remote brainstorming problem in particular or is there a different goal for Excelway?

                    P.S: Absolutely 👇😎

                    I should definitely come more often to join your discussions here :)

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                      I definitely agree with you about Milanote! It's an amazing product for structuring all kinds of ideas and projects! However, I don't find it quite fitting for brainstorming, is it? To me, voting is an essential feature for prioritizing thoughts and I don't think they include it... (do they?). 

                      Now about Excelway: our goal is to help teams transform ideas into actions

                      It goes from making brainstorming easier, to following-up (or at least having the ability to follow-up) on the numerous ideas that a team produces. One day, they might need to get back to them. With Excelway, they know where they are :). 

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                        Ah, very valid point. Nope, I don't think Milanote has a voting feature. I have sadly just used comments to indicate approval/ disapproval so far :/ It is fine as a workaround in smaller groups of 3-4 people but I can clearly see it becoming a problem in larger meetings.

                        It goes from making brainstorming easier, to following-up (or at least having the ability to follow-up) on the numerous ideas that a team produces. One day, they might need to get back to them. With Excelway, they know where they are :). 

                        Sounds amazing!

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                  I actually develop one with Draft.io! 😃 It's basically an online blackboard.

                  More precisely, Draft is a visual and living document with the power of a flexible and collaborative blackboard. Our ambition is to develop an ideal digital environment to investigate, solve problems creatively, manage projects visually, and, finally, document just what it takes to move forward.

                  Today, Draft is mainly used for Agile Project Management (visual management, PI Planning, story mapping, retrospectives, etc.), Product Management (product discovery, user flow, etc.), and any other visual problem-solving and creative thinking work.

                  I couldn't work anymore without an online whiteboard like Draft (or else). It's so convenient and efficient. 

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                    Just sharing our experience. We've been using Miro for more than a year and even took it into or Sprint Planning and Product Management process. Quite a great tool, but still something missing there and that's the ability of the tool on online meeting sessions and collaboration together. 

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                      I would love to know more about your experience, Pouya. I am also considering using a dedicated for a whiteboard and Miro seems to be the leader in this space. But I am not able to convince myself about the pricing (team plan).

                      Do you use a paid plan? And what's been the the most impressive features of Miro?

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                        Yes, as I develop an alternative to Miro (Draft.io), I'll also be happy to know more about you're experience and the things you think that miss on Miro.