Share Designs And Visuals Online For Commenting And Group Review: ConceptShare - Video
Online collaboration moved from strength to strength in 2006 with a host of free and paid services that allowed for rapid web-based sharing of ideas, documents and even desktops. Until now, though, web-based collaboration has tended towards emulating the function of office applications, at the expense of powerful tools for those more interested in fulfilling visual communication needs.
If you want to share and edit your spreadsheets or documents over the web, there are a host of options available. Online presentation applications have grown to the extent that they are challenging their desktop counterparts. Furthermore, it has never been easier to take part in screen-sharing online meetings. But then, it isn't always convenient to convene online at the same time, especially as people increasingly work across timezones on the same project.
A new service aimed at those working in visual communication - be they graphic designers, photographers, web designers or educators - aims to bring the power of online collaboration to the sharing, annotating and review of visual materials. In addition, the service is geared up to function whether those working on the project are all online simultaneously, or they log in to the project at entirely different times.
Fusing the spontaneity of the web conference with the the flexibility of the wiki, while focusing on the specific needs of visual communicators, ConceptShare manages to bring something entirely new to the table.
In this video review, I talk you through ConceptShare's ambitious project, focusing on:
- The creation of workspaces, which you can use to share and review work from the earliest point of a project onwards
- Adding visual 'concepts' to your workspace for collaborative review
- Navigating the workspace, adding comments and visually annotating works in progress
- Adding collaborators to the group, whether as fully fledged authors, participants, or simply as guests
- Tapping into the expertise of design professionals available to collaborate on your work
Your visual workspace
ConceptShare sets itself apart in its focus on visual communication and design, rather than office productivity. This is very much a tool for those looking to quickly share visual communication projects with colleagues or clients, whether synchronously - discussing changes in real time through the chat function - or asynchronously, leaving annotated messages for other group members to respond to.
In this first video I walk you through the simple process of setting up a workspace. Workspaces - which can be tagged and grouped by category - can contain a number of images - or 'concepts'. This makes for the easy setting up of comparisons between two or more images up for review.
Putting the concept in ConceptShare
Once you have a workspace the next thing you go about doing is populating it with 'concepts', the compositions you are going to annotate, discuss or compare. As I demonstrate in the following video, there are two ways of going about this. You can either:
- Import image files in the JPG, GIF, PNG or PDF formats (the latter allowing for the inclusion of vector graphics).
- Or import a URL, in which case ConceptShare will take a snapshot of the URL specified and import it right into the workspace.
Concepts can either be added from the dashboard / control panel you are met with upon entry to the service, or else directly from the workspace in a matter of seconds. Adding files is painless and efficient.
Navigating the workspace
The flash interface makes for a visually pleasing, intuitive means of online collaboration. Layout is simple and easy to navigate, and the addition of comments and visual annotations, drawn freehand or with a line tool, give the entire procedure an organic, natural feel.
In the following video, I explore the ease with which images can be zoomed, annotated and shifted around the workspace, which itself can be switched between a full-screen and console mode. This latter option provides a message center of sorts, informing users of any and all changes that have taken place in the workspace in addition to serving as a text-chat box for those collaborators working on the project simultaneously.
Inviting others to collaborate on your project has also been made easy and intuitive. As I demonstrate in the following video, you can do this either from your administrative control panel, or directly from within the workspace. The application makes it very easy, and automates the process of sending an email out to your contact / s.
Users can be assigned varying degrees of control, from the ability to create and manage workspaces (author), the ability to take part in the annotation of projects (participant) or else simply visiting the projects as an outside interest (guest). The level of engagement can be easily changed at any time, should circumstances change midway through a project.
Ask the experts
While you will most likely gather your own friends, colleagues and clients to collaborate online, ConceptShare has a final feature that makes collaborating with other industry professionals easy. It is possible, from within the main ConceptShare control panel, to access a vast database of experts, tagged and categorized by their areas of expertise.
In addition to being able to browse their details and examples of their work, these experts can be invited into your workspace with the click of a single button. This adds a pleasing social dimension to the proceedings, in addition to supplying a very real need for appropriate, timely contacts in the field you are working within.
Room for improvement
While ConceptShare is certainly a unique and well thought through service, there are - in these early days - some things I would like to add to and alter slightly. Two small issues concern me, although not enough to suppress my enthusiasm for what is a timely and much needed service.
First of all, while I found the simplicity of the interface an absolute pleasure to use, I found myself wondering if it would not better serve its client base of professional designers with a slightly more rounded set of tools to hand. Those working in the visual communication industries are likely to expect a little more control than they are given at present.
To my mind, the ability to measure in pixels or mm, or to grab colour values from images would be a welcome step in the right direction. If it were also possible to add basic image editing - in terms of adjusting colour and hue values, that would be even better. While not strictly necessary in a tool that is primarily set up to foster spontaneous, intuitive collaboration I nevertheless think that features like this would have further appeal to the service's target audience.
Secondly, I have some reservations about the current file sizes alloted in the various accounts. While it is unlikely that highest quality images are going to be used for the purposes of annotation and review, images can nevertheless take up considerable space. If we discount the free account, whose 5MB allowance is barely enough for a single medium to high quality image, this is still an area that ConceptShare could afford to be a little more generous with.
For $49 a month, I would hope to be allowed more than 500MB of drive space in the age of sizable free online storage services. This is a small point, but one that may prove off-putting to smaller businesses and freelancers otherwise drawn to the service.
These are small points, and I was otherwise very impressed with the service. Furthermore, it seems that the ConceptShare people have already planned some of the features currently lacking, which is good to know.
ConceptShare fills a very real need for those looking to collaborate synchronously or asynchronously on visually rich projects. I can see it being very useful not only to the professional designers that it is primarily targeted at, but also for those working in visual arts education and even as a refreshingly hands on substitute to the less visually pleasing office-based collaboration tools out there.
Looking ahead, the ConceptShare team are planning to incorporate audio and video into the mix, which will certainly make for an even broader range of applications. With the addition of extra tools - such as a colour dropper - on the way ConceptShare looks set to build on its early promise as an excellent way to collaborate on design projects regardless of location or time zone.
From Free (for a single workspace, 5 MB account) to Unlimited (upon arrangement with ConceptShare). In between are a range of price points, with further particulars as listed in the matrix below:
PC: IE 6 or later, Firefox 1.5 or later, Flock
Mac: Firefox 1.5, Opera, Safari, Camino, Flock
Required: Adobe Flash Player 8
Sign up for ConceptShare or watch their own video tour of the service.
This short clip is a simple credits roll with details of the music used and licensing of the videos used in this review.
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