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While designing my Practical Appreciative Inquiry online course pilot (now concluded, but email me if you are interested in the full-featured course that I’ll be launching soon), I auditioned various virtual whiteboard tools for online collaboration.

These can be very useful for a virtual team or distributed group to quickly knock together a presentation, a high-level plan, or collaborative vision boards for the ‘Dream’ stage of an Appreciative Inquiry process.

This doesn’t pretend to be a comprehensive evaluation of every whiteboard tool and app out there (there are loads of them), but a quick comparison of the ones I tried out, with pros and cons.

I’ve also included the one I found after the course had finished, that actually would have worked much better for my needs than the ones I used.

I tested the free entry-level versions only, so this is what the pros and cons apply to.

1. Twiddla

Pros:

  • No signup needed
  • Up to 10 users free
  • Various text options (standalone, ‘sticky note’, box, speech bubble)
  • Participants can upload their own images
  • Eraser tool so you can erase part of an object

Cons:

  • Free session limited to 20 minutes!
  • Limited palette of shapes (line, rectangle, round-cornered box, circle/oval)
  • No arrows
  • Ugly (to the eye of this Mac user) old-fashioned Windows-looking user interface. Rather ‘skeuomorphic’ design with drop shadows.

2. Sketchboard

Tool aimed at software design teams

Pros:

  • Some pre-made images (aimed at software designers, but you do get smiley faces, ‘people’, lightbulbs, clouds, speech bubbles)

Cons:

  • Still not that many pre-made images
  • ‘Undo’ button seems to be the only way to erase mistakes
  • Boards on the free plan can have only up to 5 collaborators

3. Google Drawings

Pros:

  • Very similar to the ‘draw’ tools in Microsoft Office, so no learning curve for most users

Cons:

  • You have to be signed in to Google (e.g. with a Gmail account) to be able to draw on the board
  • Still quite a limited library of built-in shapes

4. ‘Whiteboard’ tool in Zoom

Even many people who use Zoom.us as their course delivery or call platform (I prefer it to Skype as a) call quality seems to be a bit better and b) you can record the calls very easily without additional plugins) don’t seem to know that it has a whiteboard feature inside it. You can share the whiteboard with your call or course participants and allow them to draw on it.

Pros:

  • Right there in Zoom
  • Eraser tool
  • So limited that there’s not much of a learning curve

Cons:

  • Free version of Zoom only allows 40 minute calls if more than two participants
  • Very limited library of shapes (rectangle, oval, diamond, arrow, heart, star, tick)

5. Miro

Pros:

  • Lots of templates (e.g. Kanban, customer journey, mind map, fishbone, Venn diagram, 6 Thinking Hats, and more!)
  • Includes ‘Icon Finder’ app so lots of images immediately available – I found many choices for cars, dogs, even zombies!
  • You can change transparency of objects
  • Lots of export options
  • Unlimited team members

Cons:

  • None that I could find

So Miro is the clear winner for what I needed (conducting the Dream stage of Appreciative Inquiry online)! I was actually amazed at how many features even the free version has.

If you liked this post, you will probably find this one by Greg Digneo useful too: 53 Online Collaboration Tools to Help Your Team Be More Productive (plus even more tools mentioned in the comments)

Bonus entry! Milanote

(added later – I wasn’t aware of it when I wrote the original article. I should also let me know that the nice people at Milanote offered me a lifetime Pro subscription if I wrote a review)

Milanote is slightly different from the other platforms in this review, in that it’s intended as “The Evernote for creatives”. It excels at things like moodboarding and storyboarding.

You can invite other people to the board to be able to edit it, or just comment on it, or just view it, as you choose.

Pros:

  • Access to thousands of beautiful photos and images on unsplash.com
  • It gives you a quick tutorial at the beginning and it’s very intuitive to use
  • You can invite collaborators in the free version
  • Great for design/creative applications.
  • Lots of templates for Kanban, storyboarding, worldbuilding, customer journey maps etc
  • You can upload your own images
  • You can add links that preview websites
  • You can add videos
  • Easy to export as pdf, png, or even a linear Word document

Cons:

  • No basic shapes (squares, circles etc) built in – apart from arrows
  • No clip art for quick and easy visualising – although you could put in some hours and upload images from your own computer
  • Free version is pretty limited – although you can share unlimited boards, you can only use 100 notes, images, or links, and upload 10 files. (The Pro version gives you unlimited images, notes, links and files, and is searchable – and it’s only $9.99 pm)

Do you have a favourite online collaboration whiteboard tool that you think beats Miro – or Milanote for creative professionals? Post it in the comments!

Free Online Collaboration Tools Compared
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