Do you remember the cork board of old with Post it notes/ recipes/ photos and telephone messages all pinned onto the board? I do, very well, and I miss it. You know what I mean: whilst it seemed disorganised to others, to you it was perfect, everything had its place and you could find things instantly.
It’s been one of those things that I keep on thinking about, and trying to find a modern analog to. Let me tell you about the closest I have come to finding this level of utility in an app. It’s called Spaaze, and it’s marketed as an infinite cork board. That sounds like just the ticket to me. Read on to see how new-fashioned, digital cork compares to old-fashioned, tree cork.
Editor’s Note: Spaaze’s interface is obviously very skeuomorphic, something many app developers steer away from these days, especially on the web. It seemed to be a useful enough app to still be worth trying, so keep reading and don’t count it off immediately based on the slightly gaudy interface.
Getting Into Spaaze
Getting started is simple, thanks to a modern signup process. You can manually create a Spaaze account, or just use your Google, Yahoo! or OpenID account. When you log in you will see that you are given links to a getting started tutorial page, and also to the blog to keep abreast of changes and news. You will be pleased to see that the background is true to the marketing, and reflects a cork notice board.
The Emptiness of Spaaze
The idea behind the cork board is that it is a blank space that you can do with as you please. Want to put rows of hyperlinks around a notepad on top of a background image? Go for it. Want to put a picture on one side and relevant links next to it with a video in the corner? No worries, you can make it happen. Want to draw a picture with your hyperlinks? Well, you can, but that’s for another time! Basically, Spaaze is an entirely flexible the way in which you use it is unrestricted, and it allows you to do with it as you please.
What you Want, Where you Want it
You can save a vast array of different types of information or media onto your cork board, generally in the form of what I like to refer to as widgets. Clicking the plus icon at the far left of the top tool bar opens the add item drop down menu, which lists the types of items that you can add to the board. Each type of widget is better suited to a different type of information.
First up is the label. This is a simple tag that you can add to your board to remind you what an area is for, or to separate areas. Next is the bookmark, this is a straight-up hyperlink that you can set to any URL and also add a description to. Right from the start you can use Spaaze as a bookmarking tool to keep, organise and browse your bookmarks.
You can save notes, which can be restyled to look like a yellow sticky note, an index card or a ring-bound notepad. Pictures come in two varieties: uploaded images hosted by Spaaze, or a linked image that is shown as an image on the board. This lets you link pictures hosted on other sites, and these linked images are free to add whereas uploaded images cost points.
Most of the widgets can be manually resized to suit what it is that you want to do with them, or put in them. Videos are the exception; they have a small, medium and large size. Notes can be long enough to write an article or short enough for a quick note to remember the sun cream.
Is it Just me or is it Hot in Here?
You will find pretty quickly that the size of your board makes it very hard to navigate by scrolling to where you think you put that research on your holiday to Italy. Thankfully the authors of the app have included the ability to set hotspots.
A hotspot is like a bookmark on the cork. Once you have set your hotspot to your current screen by clicking the star icon and choosing a name for the hotspot, picking it from the Jump to… dropdown menu whisks you over to where it was set. This is one of my favourite features as you can use it to visually and physically separate projects into different parts of the board very easily.
The arrows you can see at the right of the screenshot point to the direction of other hotspots or items on your board. It helps give you a feeling of where you are on the board and allows you to scroll in the right direction to find your other collections.
The infinity of Spaaze
The cork board is virtually infinite, unlike the cork board you might have at the office. It keeps on adding more space to any edge that you head towards. As well as the drop down menu to jump between hotspots you can add a wiki link to a hotspot into any note, which also allows you to link to hotspots from the note itself. You can link separate but related areas of the board in this way. What’s more is that you can create more boards, which are also infinite in size.
The top bar has icons that jump you back to the centre of the board where you first started (the icon with the arrows pointing inwards) and a button that zooms you out, letting you see the whole board from a distance (the 9 dots in a square).
When I visited the site on an iPad it worked very well. However, when I navigated to it on an Android phone it displayed a message saying that Spaaze is currently only optimised for desktop browsers and the iPad, and as I am using a touch device the iPad version will be served to me. It will probably work, but the interface might be too large. This is about the size of it, it did work, but wasn’t as functional as the desktop app on the smaller phone.
What do I use it for?
Personally, I find it the best tool for brainstorming and research; the space that you get is so much more versatile than some other web applications. Note taking apps or image collection apps are very good at what they do, but less good at allowing a certain freedom in the way in which you use them. The hotspots that I assign to different research topics tend to grow organically, taking on a life of their own as sub-areas slowly move outwards from the main hotspot. I really enjoy being able to add more information however best suits the media.
To aid you in adding bookmarks and notes to Spaaze there is a bookmarklet that you can add to your bookmarks bar. When clicked this pops up a small windows that is populated with the URL and title of the page. When you hit save it drops the bookmark into the starting area of your board, so you can easily drag and drop it somewhere else later. It would be nice if you could set the hotspot to add it to here but that’s not an option. You can also add a note, which will also be saved to the starting location
Unfortunately you can’t clip articles or parts of pages as you can with Evernote. This is a feature that I feel that Spaaze would greatly benefit from.
Not necessarily, you can share your space with other users and friends by inviting them to view your board. Not only can you share the board but you can also collaborate with others and edit the same board, which is pretty nifty for brainstorming with a few people. The site actually tells you that you can give out links to hotspots and use them as a basic homepage. Now that’s an interesting idea.
The app has a free package, which allows you to access all of the features of the paid version, but a limited number of times. Some features are always free: labels, links, notes, html widgets and YouTube/ Vimeo video. Others use up points, since adding an image or file costs 4 points per megabyte, and adding a new board costs 50 points. However, linking to a web-based image is also possible, and will cost you no points as Spaaze doesn’t host the image.
You start with 99 points, so depending on your usage scenario, you might never need more. If you do, your options are just as flexible as the board itself, you can either choose to buy points at the cost of €1.49 for 100, or take up a subscription for unlimited everything for €2.99 per month.
Should you try it out? That depends upon the state of your cork board! But seriously, it is worth the minimal effort to signup and see if it’s for you. You will likely find that it excels in some areas and falls short in others. I think it works best as part of a collection of tools for planning and organisation. Due to its less than universal device support and online-only nature it is perhaps not the place to store the critical information that you have to have at your finger tips, but for the planning, information gathering and brainstorming side of things it is very suitable indeed.
The digital alternative to the good old cork notice board. A unique idea, which has been well implemented. A great tool for research and planning, allowing visual display of different types of media you’ve gathered in one place. Definitely worth a look8