April 14th, 2016 by Bart

Behind the Scenes: the origins of collaboration and EE Discover

Explain Everything Collaboration Feature

Most of you have already learned about our newest app — Explain Everything Collaborative Whiteboard. It includes real-time, multi-user collaboration and is integrated with our new Explain Everything Discover portal. Some of you may wonder why we directed our effort into developing a brand new app. A simple answer would be: we don’t like to rest on our laurels. However, we don’t like to give easy answers either! Here’s a behind-the-scenes perspective on what drove us to introduce some new possibilities to our products.


From interactive to collaborative app experience

We believe that real-time collaboration can mean more than simply sharing your screen. Collaboration, by definition, entails participation and engagement beyond the one-directional viewing experience between a host and observer. In our thinking, each and every collaborator — whether host or invited participant — should have the option to act freely with the same tools, choices, and boundaries. We aim to promote collaboration while not settling for cooperation.

There was no existing framework that would allow us to set up a real-time collaborative environment […]. There were no existing products on the market which we could use as an example.

A real challenge for us was to build a product around such a mode of thinking. This was not an easy task. There was no existing framework that would allow us to set up a real-time collaborative environment using the object types and interactions our users have been familiar with. There were no existing products on the market which we could use as an example. We first decided to build a networking engine around the existing toolset from Explain Everything Interactive Whiteboard, but we realized that the existing animation engine behind our software could not be enhanced to accommodate the type of collaboration we wanted to provide. So instead, we began creating a new engine — re-building the code for our entire software engine from scratch. It took us nearly 3 years. The process started in early 2013 when several bright new thinkers in the hunt for some ambitious projects joined our team.

We initially called the project ‘Animate!’, always thinking that we would be creating a completely separate app from Interactive Whiteboard. We eventually skipped the idea of a spin-off app after we learned from our users that the tools in Interactive Whiteboard were helping people to visualize their thinking. We started thinking about how we could create a platform to share and exchange ideas. This concept — exchange — fuelled all of our thinking behind the Collaborative Whiteboard and Explain Everything Discover!

Get inspired, share, and collaborate

The exchange of ideas can take place on three levels. First, exchange of ideas can take place in the form of inspiration (for example, when one learns by viewing or using projects shared by others). Second, it can take place as an act of sharing and publishing one’s own work (for example, when uploading a project to the cloud to make it available for the world to see). Third, exchange of ideas can take place in a real-time collaborative setting, starting with a blank slate or using existing materials.

Explain Everything has always been designed with the intentions of being a limitless, boundless tool. Therefore, in our minds, we needed to include the ability to support these three levels of exchanging ideas.

Explain Everything Collaboration Diagram

Making this addition required our reaching beyond native app development and into cloud and web-based technologies. When building a native app, your main concern is deploying it bug-free with an excellent experience on the operating system(s) and device(s) it was designed for. The tension (and excitement!) comes in waves with each new update and release. However, with web-based technologies the tension (and excitement!) never ends. It begins when you launch the services and continues 24/7 post-launch as you need to ensure uptime, availability, and reliability around the clock. We have been able to meet this challenge because we found partners – investors, team members, and enthusiastic users who align with our vision and dedicate the resources to help us continuing moving forward.

To sum up, we believe that the real-time collaboration was the next step for Explain Everything. What enabling this feature meant for us was creating an entirely new engine and reaching into cloud and web-based technologies. Over the last three years, the concept of how the app would look like has evolved from an idea into what you now know as Explain Everything Collaborative Whiteboard.