Online whiteboards

August 26, 2020 — February 27, 2023

computers are awful together
photon choreography
Figure 1

Online collaborative drawing, for, e.g. doing mathematics online or general diagrams. Many tools claim to do this, but I have not managed to have a truly satisfactory experience yet, although I have committed not much time to it. I was hoping for a slam-dunk best option. I suspect that most of the options are going to need some kind of stylus input to be any use, at least for the writing-heavy workflows I care about.

Here are some candidates.

1 Excalidraw

An open source option that promises collaboration and end-to-end encryption is Excalidraw (source.)

Virtual whiteboard for sketching hand-drawn like diagrams. Collaborative and end-to-end encrypted.

This has little specific math support, but lots of virtual whiteboard affordances — we can draw freehand lines but also shapes and text and so on. Other people can simultaneously draw stuff on te same board.

I think it is the only open-source option here (node+typescript). Cool feature: it can be embedded in a react component, or in a third party app.

Because this is free, competently done and doesn’t require arsing around with a credit card, Excalidraw is my go-to option.

There is a version with extra work teams features called Excalidraw+ (USD7/person/month).

2 Freeform

If my collaborators are in the apple system, freeform is pretty good. See Apple launches Freeform: a powerful new app designed for creative collaboration.

3 Figjam

FigJam is made by Figma who have a very profitable business based on being pretty good at real-time collaboration, so maybe that is worth trying. Point of differentiation with excalidraw is EVEN MORE STUFF. Virtual stick-it notes, virtual stickers, plugins. USD3/editor/month for the Figjam-only plan (USD12/editor/month for the Figma plan which includes Figjam).

4 Mathcha

Figure 2: Matcha board, looking sexy

Mathcha is not quite a whiteboard but some kind of prototyping-style app which aims to do mathematics online in particular. This is the option that benefits from stylus input least;. It is not a whiteboard in the classic sense, where we draw lines. Equations are entered by markup with smart UI to make it fast. Not particularly realtime collaborative, but more of an old-school share-a-link-to-see-my-work kind of thing. Nonetheless they have worked so hard on that UI that it feels useful.

Online version is free; offline desktop app is USD30/year.

5 Miscellaneous options

There are many others.

Interactive scratchpad Collusion (USD20/user/month), Bitpaper (approx USD1/page) is a collective sketch page. desmos is an online collaborative graphing calculator. Mural (USD20/user/month). Scribble Together seems to have the most powerful free plan of those.

There are other options which are offered only on asinine enterprise pricing (e.g. Blackboard Collaborate) which I will not trouble with here.

6 Point a camera at a physical whiteboard

Not very collaborative, but satisfyingly tactile. What is the apotheosis of whiteboards for video transmission?

Candidate: Cristovao Cordeiro and Elisa Valkyria’s $100 Lightboard.

7 Other deliberation tools

Sometimes we want something that is a little more structured than just a diagram editor, incorporating brainstorming or voting tools.

8 Incoming