RealtimeBoard: an app with an unusually non-cryptic name. It’s an online board where you can collaborate with your colleagues in real-time. Not a new idea, by any means, but RealtimeBoard has a new take on it, making it actually nice to use. It provides you with is what amounts to an essentially infinitely large whiteboard which you can use to brainstorm ideas, share notes and documents, work on designs with colleagues, and much more.
Let’s take a look.
Keeping It Real
There is a great deal to like about RealtimeBoard, and this includes the ease of set up. Unlike some other similar tools, this can be used without having to install any software; all that you need is an account.
With the ability to sign up with an existing Facebook or Google account, new users can join up in a matter of moments and get straight to work. As soon as a new account is created, the basic concepts and controls are introduced in a small tutorial before you are given the opportunity to try out the app using some sample data.
The simplicity and clarity of the interface, coupled with the user-friendly controls, mean that you’ll soon be jumping in and creating a board of your own so you can start working for real.
Working With Boards
As soon as you decide to create a board of your own, you have a couple of choices to make. Firstly, you need to choose between a board that is publically accessible and one that can only be viewed by the people you explicitly invite.
There are a few – admittedly a fairly small number – templates that you can work with. These cover typical scenarios such as creating a schedule and setting up a platform for brainstorming, but you can opt to start with a blank canvas if you prefer.
The first time you see a canvas, whether it is blank or a pre-populated template, it can be a little overwhelming. This is not due to a complex interface – far from it – but the realization that you have an endlessly large workspace to play with.
It almost feels as though the site was designed for use with touch screen devices, but standard mouse and keyboard controls are still the primary means of interaction – you need to remember to hit the spacebar when you want to move around the canvas to avoid accidentally moving objects you have placed.
In terms of tools to work with, you have everything you would expect to find from a combination of a design utility and mind mapping tool. There are basic drawing and text tools, sticky notes, links, and more.
One of the most useful components is the comment object. These can be added anywhere on the canvas and act as miniature chat boards where you can discuss idea with your co-workers. There’s also a separate chat window that is useful when several people are online at the same time and want to discuss something in realtime.
When working on a design, it is likely that there are some elements, such as logos, that are going to be used time and time again; the same is true of text, links and other objects.
To save having to keep constantly adding the same things and duplicating content there is a useful library where you can house all of those elements you may want to use time and time again so they can just be dragged into place when needed. There’s even support for Google Drive so you can make use of files that have already been stored online.
It doesn’t end there – there is also a browser extension available for Chrome. This can be used to simplify the process of working with screenshots and uploading files. While it is not exactly difficult to upload files though the RealtimeBoard interface, the extension reduces this to a simple exercise in drag and drop.
In addition to this, the appropriately named RealtimeBoard Extension allows for two different methods of screen grabbing. If you need to grab your desktop in its entirety, this is an option, but you can also capture just a selection.
The well-rounded nature of RealtimeBoard belies the fact that it is still in beta. Overall, everything feels very polished, although there are issues with a few typos here and there.
The cloud approach to collaborative work helps to overcome a couple of problems that can seriously hinder progress. It means that you do not need to worry about the physical location of people working on a project, or even what platform they’re using.
Participants can be scattered across the country, or even the world, and it’s liberating to find a tool that works so well on OS X, Windows and Linux.
The benefits of having work and discussion taking place in one centralized location is something that just makes sense. It wipes about a massive proportion of email traffic that might otherwise be involved in sharing an idea with a team.
RealtimeBoard is not perfect, but it is still only a beta version. Things are sure to improve as development continues, but it’s already a more than serviceable collaboration tool that will perfectly serve smaller teams.