Scapple for Mac (née "TheBoard"/"Vellum") - feedback wanted

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KB
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Thu Mar 31, 2011 8:56 am Post

Hello all,

Update 12/10/12
I'm now locking this topic, as Scapple - as it shall henceforth be called - now has its own Beta-Testing area and subforums. Please test out the new version and submit feedback and bugs on the new beta-testing forum:

viewforum.php?f=42

See this post for further details and to download the beta:

viewtopic.php?f=42&t=20396

Thanks everyone for all the great feedback! A lot of your ideas went into Scapple, and I hope you like it.

All the best,
Keith

----

Update 23/11/11
Earlier this year, I started this thread to get feedback on a proof-of-concept for a simple "brainstorming" app I had been working on in my spare time. I really appreciate all the ideas that have been posted here. I haven't had an awful lot of time to do much more work on this, but what I have done is brush up the code and start over in a new Xcode project, so that I now have the basis for developing this properly. I'm therefore posting an updated build that will not expire until June 2012. Please note that I have not had chance to implement many of the suggestions in this thread yet - many of these, such as better keyboard navigation and suchlike, are on the list. All I'm posting in this update is a slightly more polished version of the original app. The updated download, and the list of alterations, can be found at the bottom of this post.

-- Original Message --

Last year, during a break from the coding hell that was Scrivener 2.0, I put together a small brainstorming app, mainly for my own purposes, but I'm pondering on polishing it up and releasing it as a very cheap commercial program at some point (most likely for a fiver or less, depending on how it ends up). I'm therefore posting a scrappy test version of the app here for people to try out (note that this is Mac-only!), so that I can get some feedback on whether this is the sort of thing that anybody else other than me would use, and to get some ideas on what users might want if it were to become a paid - but very cheap - app.

The Idea
The idea is simple: when I'm "brainstorming" ideas (I hate the word "brainstorming", by the way, so please feel free to suggest a better alternative), especially for writing but to a lesser extent for programming too, I tend to take a piece of A3 paper and just write down ideas all over it, in no particular order, making notes off of one idea and drawing lines between them where necessary. So the concept was to take that process and put it in a really simple application; something that wouldn't be any more difficult to use than paper, but which would save me having to try to decipher my own godawful scrawl and retype everything into another planning format. Obviously, there are a lot of great mind-mapping and concept-mapping tools out there, but that's not what I was really after. I wanted it to be as simple as possible, but to be able to move things around and shrink or grow the text to make it fit.

It's temporarily called "TheBoard" - if this goes any further then that won't be it's final title (UPDATE: it is now called "Vellum") - and this is what it currently looks like:

Image

Feedback Wanted
So far it really only does half of what I wanted it to do: it does all the brainstorming stuff, but I wanted an easy way to then take all those notes and dump them into a text file in some sort of order, and I have yet to implement that, so I'd be grateful for any feedback on how that might best be achieved. (It's therefore currently of limited use for real-world work.)

In particular, I'd really like to hear:

  • Would you use something like this?
  • If so, what else would you like to see in it (without turning it into a fully-fledged mind-mapping app or something complicated)?
  • What refinements do you think need making? (Bear in mind that it has no preferences as yet - you would be able to change the font and background colour in the final version were there ever to be one, of course.)

Some of my own ideas for where this might go:

  • It would be cool to be able to drag image files on there so that you could have images amongst the text.
  • It needs some way of exporting to a text format in a linear manner, but I'm not sure as yet how to take the unformed mess of ideas that is the raison d'etre of this app and turn it into anything with a structure; that needs some thought. I am thinking that it could have a list of the notes that could be visible in a split view, and you could just drag them into order and tick a checkbox to determine whether or not they should be included in the exported file.

Please Note
Two things to note before you make suggestions though:

• This will not be integrated into Scrivener. I know the idea of a mind-mapping view comes up regarding Scrivener from time-to-time, but I stand by all my previous explanations on that - there will be no mind-mapping view in Scrivener as it just doesn't fit. Therefore please let's keep Scrivener out of discussions on Vellum.

• Scrivener will still be my main focus. If this gets released it will be cheap and will remain very much secondary to Scrivener. I therefore have no intention of turning this into something big that will require lots of support and bug-fixing. I want to keep it simple, within reason.

Update 23/11/11
The following changes have been made since the original concept of "TheBoard":

  • The app is now entitled "Vellum". This is not the definitive final name as yet, but - as much as I liked "BoardStorm", I like "Vellum" because it suggests quality paper and fits in nicely with "Scrivener" (thanks to David for suggesting this name!).
  • Vellum has been rebuilt from scratch, and many of its bugs have been fixed.
  • A new XML file format (.vllm) is now used. Please note that you will not be able to open any of your files from TheBoard in Vellum because of this change..
  • Undo now works throughout.
  • You can now drag in images from the Finder.
  • On Lion, autosave, Versions and full screen is supported.
  • And that's about it, for now...

I am hoping to start work on this properly soon, now that Scrivener 2.x is more mature and requires less constant upkeep.

Download (Updated 23/11/11)
So, with that all out of the way, here's a link to the download:

http://www.literatureandlatte.com/dlbeta/Vellum01b.zip

You can find the instructions under the Help menu ("Vellum Help"), but here they are, as they are pretty basic and straightforward:

Instructions for Use

  1. Use regular File menu options to save and load documents: File > New to create a new document, File > Save or Save As to save (as a .vllm file), and File > Open to open existing documents.
  2. Double-click anywhere on a document's virtual paper area to create a new note.
  3. Type away and hit Escape to end editing a note.
  4. When the mouse is over a note, a dotted line border will appear around it. Click and drag the left or right of the border to make the note narrower or wider.
  5. Drag notes anywhere.
  6. Drag one note on top of another to create a connecting line between them; repeat to remove the line.
  7. Use Opt-Cmd-up-arrow and Opt-Cmd-down-arrow to zoom in and out (or use the slider and "Reset" button in the footer bar).
  8. Click on a note to select it, or click and drag outside of a note to create a marquee rectangle that allows you select several notes. Shift-click or cmd-click also allows you to select multiple notes one at a time.
  9. Hit Cmd-plus and Cmd-minus to make the text of selected notes bigger or smaller.
  10. Hit Shift-Cmd-C to bring up the colour palette and change the colour of a note.
  11. Ctrl-click on selected notes for more options: add a border colour or remove it, change the fill colour or remove it, or fade out selected notes.
  12. Use File > Print to print, although this is very basic at the moment and won't give a great result.

Many thanks!

All the best,
Keith
"You can't waltz in here, use my toaster, and start spouting universal truths without qualification."

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xiamenese
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Thu Mar 31, 2011 9:05 am Post

KB wrote:-- Coming soon --

Edited out 'cos no longer appropriate!
Mark
Last edited by xiamenese on Thu Mar 31, 2011 3:35 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Thu Mar 31, 2011 1:22 pm Post

Very nice, Keith. Like it. A lot.

I particularly like the means you've chosen of attaching links; I haven't seen it done this way before, and it saves all the business of finding attachments on the notes.

The ability to export into a text structure is important -- much as I'm a fan of re-typing, often it's good not to. Your idea of a re-orderable, checkable flat-list in a split view would solve the problem of "children with several parents." For me OPML would be ideal as an export format, but of course anything Scrivener's Binder will accept would be good. Will it be possible to drag and drop/re-arrange the flat list into a hierarchy?

"TheBoard"? "TheWall"? (Because it's for the stage "when you throw ideas at the wall to see what sticks".) Except "The Wall" has been sort-of taken...
'Listen, some quiet night, when you've shirked your work that day. Do you hear
that distant, almost inaudible clicking sound? That's one of your
competitors, working away in the night in
Paris or London or Erie, PA.'

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KB
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Thu Mar 31, 2011 1:52 pm Post

Great, thanks Hugh!

I particularly like the means you've chosen of attaching links; I haven't seen it done this way before, and it saves all the business of finding attachments on the notes.


That's what puts me off about most mind-mapping apps - fiddling with links or only being able to create child nodes. The pay off is that at the moment all the lines are straight; I'm not sure my maths is up to the algorithms it would take to have them bend around other notes and so on.

Hugh wrote:but of course anything Scrivener's Binder will accept would be good. Will it be possible to drag and drop the flat list into a hierarchy?


This was my original plan, yes. The only trouble I foresee is one of expectation: people used to regular mind-mapping will expect the outline and "map" to be synonymous, with links in the map determining hierarchy in the outline. But that's not really possible here, or what I was going for. The idea is just to brain storm everything and then to arrange it over in the outline completely separately, so that the two views would be entirely independent apart from containing the same notes. You would be able to drag from one to the other, though. So if you had notes next to each other on the "board" that were nowhere near each other in the outliner, you could just select them in the board and drag them across to the outliner to group them together. It is problematic, though, because I can see users spending time arranging things in the outliner and then wondering why notes they've put next to each other there are still distant on the board. And vice versa - users may group things on the board, or link them, and then wonder why they aren't grouped in the outliner. I haven't thought of a good way around that yet, either a technical solution or a way of circumventing that expectation.

"TheBoard"? "TheWall"? (Because it's for the stage "when you throw ideas at the wall to see what sticks".) Except "The Wall" has been sort-of taken...


It's a tough one... I have no idea what to call it yet. It took me about two years to name Scrivener...

Thanks for looking at it!

All the best,
Keith
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KB
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Thu Mar 31, 2011 1:53 pm Post

P.S. One idea I had too was to have Scrivener-style labels in there instead of colours that you could freely assign - but there are pros and cons to both, and maybe freely-assigned colours work better here.
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Thu Mar 31, 2011 2:27 pm Post

KB wrote: It is problematic, though, because I can see users spending time arranging things in the outliner and then wondering why notes they've put next to each other there are still distant on the board. And vice versa - users may group things on the board, or link them, and then wonder why they aren't grouped in the outliner. I haven't thought of a good way around that yet, either a technical solution or a way of circumventing that expectation.


Hmm... I don't really know the answer to this one, other than getting into the complex realms of classifying some relationships, links or groupings as primary, and therefore to be translated from the map to the outliner or vice-versa, and some as less so, and therefore to be ignored by the software. (A version of part of this debate is currently being run in the forum of one of the more complicated and long-standing Mac "content management systems" and, according to that, it's still the subject of academic study and inquiry...). There may of course be a simple way of doing this, by creating a rule, but that would also require rules, that, for example, prevent the user requiring a note to have two parents of equal weight. Maybe that's possible...

Personally I don't see this as an issue: I'd use this tool for planning "bare bones" (there's another possible name, though also, in a way, taken), so one of its virtues would be its simplicity.

However, one form of reflexivity would be good: if I introduce a new note in the outliner, it would be nice if it appeared on the map, unattached. (Edit: On re-reading your post above, I see you've already planned to provide for this possibility.) And of course, within the limits of price and simplicity, it would be good but not essential if one or more forms of meta-data could be attached to the notes. Labels, as you say? Or colour-chips? Badges?
'Listen, some quiet night, when you've shirked your work that day. Do you hear
that distant, almost inaudible clicking sound? That's one of your
competitors, working away in the night in
Paris or London or Erie, PA.'

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Thu Mar 31, 2011 2:52 pm Post

KB wrote:Great, thanks Hugh!

[
"TheBoard"? "TheWall"? (Because it's for the stage "when you throw ideas at the wall to see what sticks".) Except "The Wall" has been sort-of taken...


It's a tough one... I have no idea what to call it yet. It took me about two years to name Scrivener...


Keith



Hmmmm. How about BrightBoard? It reminds me a bit of a white board, which I often use for planning things so I can get an overall idea of what to do before I actually begin planning in Scrivener.

You could us a light bulb for an Icon, of the kind that appears over Wiley Coyote's head when he spots a new Roadrunner-slaughtering apparatus in the Acme catalog.

Ap
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Thu Mar 31, 2011 3:44 pm Post

This might be more than you want to do, but have you considered shapes? (Simple one, like ovals, triangles, squares and rectangles.)

The reason I ask is that I use color and shapes in my mindmaps/concept maps. I use shapes for hierarchy and colors for other metadata.

Attached is a bogus mind map I use as an example for my students. I did the original in Omnigraffle.

Apollo16
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KB
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Thu Mar 31, 2011 3:51 pm Post

I think that is going a little further than I wanted, although I don't rule it out. I don't want to turn it into something that takes up most of my every day for the rest of my life - y'know, like Scriv. :)

Thanks!
All the best,
Keith
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Sean Coffee
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Thu Mar 31, 2011 4:32 pm Post

As a concept, I freaking LOVE this. A few ideas I jotted down as I used it:

1. BoardStorming. Or, if you want to fit it in with Scrivener gramatically, BoardStormer. Maybe without that capital S if it reads to you.

2. The words and dotted lines on "paper" look is brilliant. Keep it that way (and work on the quality of the type when blowing it up? Looks a little ratty.)

3. Please correct me if I'm misunderstanding your concept, but it seems to me that my hands are coming off the keyboard at the wrong time. The thing I really, really like about boardstorming (see!?! It's already a verb!) is that it's all about writing a bunch of stuff down first, and establishing connections later. It's mindmapping without the fiddling, which is genius. But the way it works now is, I write something down, hit ESC, then have to click on the board again to write something else down.

While that is definitely a "first world problem," it still takes me out of the flow of getting as much down on paper as possible, then mucking with it.

How about this, in principle:

All notes are created equal, just like now. No parents, no children. BUT: Click on the board and it makes a note. Type your note and hit return (or command-N) and it makes another note right under that. It'll keep adding notes under the first until you click somewhere else on the board (or maybe this is what command-N does), and then that starts the listing process all over again.

Keep in mind, you're not creating hierarchy here -- you're just maintaining the flow, allowing the user to make laundry lists as fast as they can think of them, keeping stuff kind of together so they can go back and make connections after. I don't want to have to click until I'm creating a new topic. (And I see no reason for carriage returns in a note, so return should be freed up.)

Oh my God, Keith, resist the urge to make this complicated. Even when I tell you that you could totally just export the whole deal into Scriv as a freeform corkboard and deal with it there.

Seriously, I absolutely love this.

Ah
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Thu Mar 31, 2011 4:34 pm Post

Well, TheBoard ain't what you'd call hard to use. I pecked out a complicated family tree from a WIP in about five minutes flat, and can connect up cousins or divorce them with an effortless drag-and-drop. With pen and paper I spent an hour and then could barely read what I did, never mind understand it, and I gave up on a highly rated Mac genealogy program because each entry involved carefully retracing the path from my pinky to my thumb, via the elbow.

So, TheBoard is wicked useful already.

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Thu Mar 31, 2011 4:37 pm Post

I don't have time to play with it at the moment, but at first glance, I like it, for the same reasons you wrote it: "real" mind-mapping applications are too fiddly.

I know you won't be integrating with Scrivener, but please say you'll export to a Scrivener-readable format? I would actually suggest OPML rather than text.

Katherine
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Thu Mar 31, 2011 4:55 pm Post

I love it already! I use mind mapping software to plan the argument in the introduction and the discussion sections of scientific papers. I use very few words, not even complete sentences, to remind me of how the argument should go. But usually I like to relate a certain point to others, and I think that would be super easy to do in this app. So from my point of view, I don't think I would even need to export the 'map' in some sort of order, I could just import the whole thing into scrivener, and plug it into a quick reference panel, and start writing.
While I like the drag-note-to-another method of linking, I think that if it was possible to select two notes, and then use a keyboard shortcut to link them it would speed up the process.
Re: name, How about tapestry, as in a tapestry of ideas, but maybe that's too flowery.

Ah
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Thu Mar 31, 2011 5:29 pm Post

On further piddling, I second Mr. Coffee's Number 3: When BoardStorming, I'd like to just type a lot of stuff, with enter separating entries. And then move them around and connect the dots at my leisure.

If that's programmatically possible.

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Sean Coffee
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Thu Mar 31, 2011 5:36 pm Post

Ahab wrote:When BoardStorming, I'd like to just type a lot of stuff, with enter separating entries. And then move them around and connect the dots at my leisure.


It's a trend! When boardstorming makes the OED, I want a shout out.

Also, Ahab is right.