New tool unveiled for sharing visual concepts online

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The logo is too far to the left, somehow the colour and fonts on the sample artwork aren’t quite right.

You try telling your designers the corrections you want, but two dozen e-mails and four hours later you’re ready to give up…no one on the other end seems to have a hint of what you’re getting at.

Getting the idea across – a tough one for all of us – can be especially difficult for designers, marketing executives and developers who are engaged in collaborative work online.

It was just such a challenge that confronted Sudbury, Ont.-based marketing professionals Scott Brooks and Bernie Aho, and they decided to address the issue head on.

So they teamed up with programmer Chris D’Aoust to create a system that would enable people to simply and effectively share visual concepts online.

Their efforts bore fruit recently when Brooks, D’Aoust and Aho launched ConceptShare, a new Web-based tool that allows users to create interactive workspaces where they can effectively and visually communicate their concepts, ideas and intentions.

The system eliminates the bottlenecks designers and marketers often experience when sharing design ideas with co-workers, project partners and clients, says Brooks, technical evangelist at ConceptShare Inc. (the company he co-founded with Aho).

“ConceptShare brings everyone, including the client, together in a collaborative space where users can feed off the input of others,” said Brooks.

He said this is significantly more effective than conventional communication and feedback channels.

Traditionally collaborators in a design project use e-mail or schedule meetings to share their thoughts. Such procedures can be very ineffective, said Aho, product manager and co-founder of ConceptShare.

For instance, he said, project teams are forced to wade through layers of e-mail to track the feedback flow in the project development process. “It can be a tedious and cumbersome process that takes hours or days.”

By contrast, said Aho, ConceptShare is designed to handle both synchronous and asynchronous communications.

The asynchronous feature, allows ConceptShare users to communicate in a time delayed mode commonly used in e-mail, online forums, and blogs. The synchronous feature accomplishes the opposite – it enables real-time communication such as instant messaging and text chat.

ConceptShare uses multi-media authoring program Adobe Flash Actionscript 2.0 for delivering visual front-end presentations and scripting layers. It relies on Microsoft ASP.Net 2.0 for handling backend synchronous and asynchronous communication processes. A Microsoft SQL Server’s data management system is employed to store information.

D’Aoust, co-founder of ConceptShare, said they selected a .Net platform because of its high level of performance and compatibility with Flash, which is deployed in nearly all computers hooked to the Internet.

ConceptShare also supports browsers that can be used on Mac systems, such as Firefox 1.5+, Opera, Safari Camino and Flock.

Unlike other Web conferencing and collaborative environments, ConceptShare layers user comments sequentially. The system also has a chat area that works in real-time but allows people to read message strings at a later time if they want to.

Other collaborative applications in the market are not suited for exchanging visual concepts, said Aho.

“Products such as SharePoint or Adobe Acrobat are more focused on file sharing rather than the design process.”

Aho said these collaboration tools serve well as “carriers” of a file but don’t allow users much flexibility for manipulating and managing designs.

By contrast, ConceptShare allows users to create an online workspace where participants can post input on the design itself.

From their computer screens, users can mark up drawings as they would a physical illustration, make notations on the side of an image or text file and even share photos. “The system mimics the physical look of print-outs,” said Aho.

While many technologies on the Internet allow high performance image handling including the ability to draw layers on top of images or files, D’A’oust said there is a significant difference between these and ConceptShare.

ConceptShare “performs more like desktop software than a Web-based application.” He said a user need not leave the workspace environment or refresh a page to use the system’s features

According to Aho and Scott, several firms in the marketing, advertising, fashion and trade show, software and Web builder industries are using ConceptShare.

A free version of the application is available for evaluation through the ConceptShare Web site and the company offers multiple packages based on the number of active workspaces, account managers and file storage.

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