How I built a collaboration tool used by millions of people worldwide.
Today, an increasing number of people work and collaborate remotely, over the Internet. This means new tools are needed that help remote teams take advantage of online communication and minimize the negative effects of not having everyone in the same room.
One of such tools is a whiteboard — a tool so ubiquotous that basically every classroom, meeting room or engineering office in the world seems to have one. Yet up until a few years ago, there weren’t any good whiteboarding tools for remote teams.
This is why I started A Web Whiteboard, a simple interactive whiteboard that anyone can use just by visiting a link with their web browser. The initial focus of the project, that remains a key to this day, was to have an easy to use tool that “just works” — nothing to install, no need to log in, just share a link and off you go.
People loved it, shared it and offered suggestions and feedback. This allowed me to grow it steadily and implement only the features that were strongly in demand — an extreme case of customer-driven, agile, process.
One of the biggest users of Web Whiteboard are teachers: both in classroom and online. The ability to explain things visually has always been critical, but AWW combines it with a simple piece of software that’s easy to use and doesn’t have a big learning curve. This combination lead to adoption of AWW as the leading shared whiteboard tool for education.
Under the hood, Web Whiteboard uses WebSockets to achieve real-time interaction. Whenever a participant draws something on the board, everyone else sees it immediately (within 200ms-500ms). Combined with the built-in WebRTC-based audio conferencing, it allows everyone in the meeting to literally be on the same page.
The shared whiteboard technology itself is built as a standalone component, allowing its use in other web pages and apps. Today, AWW is not only used directly by the users, but also as an integrated part of other web services, for example teaching platforms and meeting-room software.
Due to the fact that the core technology doesn’t use 3rd-party services, AWW can also be used in a secure, on-premise environment that’s firewalled from the Internet. This has lead to adoption of AWW in enterprises who need such software due to regulatory, policy or compliance reasons.
AWW is now a bootstrapped startup employing several people and still growing. In 2017 it successfully graduated from Y Combinator Startup School.
Since it was launched, AWW has been used by millions of people worldwide. In 2017 alone, users spent more than 500,000 hours using it for fun, business and education. It has improved their lives, made them more productive, and, on occasion, made them laugh.