I stumbled onto this recently and got really excited. Mohionote is a prototype from a group of students at The University of Auckland, New Zealand. It builds a graph visualization of notes and tags from an Evernote notebook. I’ve been looking for something like it and even considered building one myself.
I think this type of visualization for emergent taxonomies has a lot of potential, particularly for finding patterns and relationships in a pile of digital assets like text snippets, photos and websites. That should get your attention if you’re a design researcher or ethnographer.
Pulling the lens back a bit, however, graph UIs like this have typically failed to grab mainstream users as hard as they grab their inventors. But that got me thinking… People regularly use whiteboards to map out big hairy ideas, so why haven’t these apps made it into the mainstream collaborative toolbox? What’s different?
Then it hit me: it’s a difference of intent. These types of interfaces are just a new flavor of documentation, visualizing the complexity of things already known. Most importantly, they are fully decoupled from whatever conversation shaped their content, and will need to be lovingly maintained for all time to keep pace with reality. The SaaS biz app marketplace is peppered with services that decouple communication from their artifacts. They masquerade as “team collaboration” apps, but in reality they offer little more than static documentation, and punt the messy communication stuff (read: the magic stuff) back to your inbox.
On the other hand, the collaborative whiteboard experience usually goes something like this:
- Start with a single point
- Conversation ensues about the relationship(s) between the first point and the next point(s)
- Conversation goes on and on an on, recursively chewing through points and ideas, explanations, demonstrations and scenarios, occasionally detouring, diverging and converging again
- The board is full and/or the participants have reached their final destination (or are just plain exhausted!)
Outsiders see a messy board, but for participants the outcome is (hopefully) reaching a higher level of clarity and opportunity around whatever they just hashed out. The whiteboard allowed them to visualize their points and add greater bandwidth to their conversation. If a simple chat in the elevator were a dial-up connection, this is 4G LTE. The destination is what matters, not the means of getting there.
The difference? Whiteboards become complex, and are then erased; their content is as fleeting as the conversation that shaped it. It’s a combination of communication and impermanence. Can that metaphor transfer fully into a virtual world, so thoroughly shot through with “document everything, measure everything” dogma of big data?
Mural.ly says surewhynot:
<trolling> No mention of actual communication.. but it looks like the real thing! </trolling>
Ok, to be fair, I took the photo of the whiteboard above just in case I ever needed to pull it back up; a practice I’ve perpetrated or witnessed thousands of times. I have hundreds more in a folder. I rarely return to them.
I’m dreaming of a tool that seamlessly blends real-time communication with automagically emerging visuals and ideas; a conduit for rich, vivid ideation among teammates who cannot stand together against a whiteboard. Patterns and relationships among the things discussed are easily articulated, bound together with story or illustration, and feed back into a more creative, insightful conversation. I don’t know what this tool is called, what it looks like or how it will work, but I know why.
This post was originally published at VoltaCollaborative.com