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A beta web application or software conveys the promise of things to come. Yes, not everything may work seamlessly, but Twitter too was once just a chirp. The fun for us early birds is to check out the app and the technology behind it (and hope what we like, remains free).

SlateBox is a web application that may seem knotty at first. But grope around a bit and you soon realize its child’s play. Is that why it’s called SlateBox?

Here I am getting ahead of myself – What’s SlateBox after all?

Very simply, SlateBox is a collaborative visualization tool. Visualization tools are apps which help us plot or draw an idea into an image or diagram. The diagrams are meant to represent relationships between the ideas on display. Mindmaps are what can be called visualization aids. We have covered a few awesome Mindmapping applications, both online and offline. SlateBox is a similar but also a bit different at the same time.

SlateBox is a mindmapping application and a bit more

Although it can used as such, SlateBox helps you with the visual ideas and also enables you to collaborate and share those ideas with others in real time. The visual ideas are built on “˜Slates’ which are like a blank canvas. We mentioned mindmaps, but SlateBox can be a collaborative visualization that for a whole lot of things like – designs, organizational charts, flow charts, process diagrams, work planning etc.

Let’s see how SlateBox works

  1. SlateBox requires a simple sign-in and you are ready to roll out your first slate.
  2. The basic building blocks of SlateBox are Nodes which are like droppable symbols standing for a step or stage of your schematic. The interface of SlateBox is three paned with the center pane being the main work area. The left panel is the Template Panel from where we drag and drop Nodes onto the Drop Panel (the central pane). The right placed panel is for setting the properties of the panels and the nodes.Interface
  3. A fresh slate starts from a click on New Slate. Enter a name, description and select a template. The choices seem thin now. You can also use a website as a template by specifying a URL. Templates are boilerplates with some default nodes. You can also start with an empty template and build it up from scratch.CreateNewSlate
  4. Pick a node from the Template Panel and drop it into the Drop Pane. A mouseover on each node shows a small bar on top with some icons. These are for resizing the node, entering text, creating the relationship arrows, creating a duplicate node and deleting the node.
    mainIdea
  5. Click the little pencil icon to define some text for this node. You can use the right panel for setting the visual properties for individual nodes. And yes, you can embed video or an image in the node.
    SetProperties
  6. To add some subordinate ideas, use the Template Panel to add subordinate nodes.
    SubordinateIdea
  7. Now, click the star shaped icon on each Node to bring out the relationship lines. Drag them across the nodes to connect one to the other. The properties of the relationship lines can be changed from the right panel. I had a bit of problem with the connectors — one of them just wouldn’t connect. Probably, a beta glitch.
    Connectors
  8. That’s it! Your first simple mindmap is finished. You don’t have to actively save your work because the Slate is always auto-saved.

Working together on one Slate

Collaborate

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The collaboration engine is still not fully explained and frankly, I couldn’t try it out for lack of “˜collaborators’ in real time. But according to the site, collaboration will – broadcast changes in real time to all users logged under one shared account. The status panel will also reflect the user who initiated the changes. Changes can also be locked by a user so the Slate can be presented to all users simultaneously.

SlateBox also provides a developer API which can be embedded in websites and used as small web applications. But that’s beyond the scope of an average user.

What a normal user would find in SlateBox is an easy to use and easier to setup collaborative visualization tool. An uncomplicated tool like SlateBox is a fit for small teams and tutor-pupil scenarios. Though in beta, SlateBox shows some promise as a fast collaborative visual mapper.

What are your first impressions on SlateBox (Beta)?

Image Credit: LukePDQ

  1. Vasyana
    December 6, 2009 at 1:28 pm

    "I should say" honestly, good impression, but it's all thanks to above given lessons on working with the program, personally, I probably could not understand

  2. r4i karte
    November 16, 2009 at 12:46 am

    SlateBox provides a mashable, embeddable visualization platform for next-generation (web 2.0) applications. It is built to provide any number of users instant collaboration on the same canvas.

  3. Tim
    November 15, 2009 at 7:40 pm

    Thanks for the great coverage of SlateBox. The potential is there, as you've noticed, as well as the rough edges :) The collaboration is going to be worth the price of admission (it's free, afterall). Please stay tuned, and thanks again for the honest and thorough coverage.

    • Saikat
      November 16, 2009 at 12:19 am

      Hi Tim, Thanks.

      Though it's just starting out...it looks good. But what I feel is that a proper 'Help' section is missing. I know about mindmaps and could get around easily, but it might not be so easy for a first comer. Of course, the site is in Beta, but just a thought.

      • Tim
        November 16, 2009 at 9:40 am

        Saikat, very true. I am hoping to roll out a knowledge base section along with a forum. When building the app, it's always a challenge to strike the balance between ease-of-use and capability. I think this new iteration of the UI does that (for pain, just ask users of the previous UI), but you're right: it still requires some poking around, and many users value simplicity as absolute. Stay tuned :)

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