Scriblink, Adium, iChat: IM for science students
Yesterday I discovered a neat little website with some potential for science communication. ScribLink is a `virtual whiteboard.’ It combines a rudimentary drawing program with a chat room and some `Web-2.0′ features.
Fig 1. Screen shot using ScribLink, featuring a graph in a previous post.
Ok, so it’s a glorified MS-Paint. If you want you can play pictionary with up to four friends. But, to the best of my knowledge, basic drawing tools haven’t been included in any of the standard `instant messaging‘ (IM) clients.
As an example of an application, I was recently helping a friend of mine with an MCAT physics problem which required a force diagram. Piece of cake, right? The only problem was that she was across the Atlantic in New York and we were communicating over the net. We ended up drawing an MS Paint diagram and e-mailing it back and forth.
That’s not a huge hassle, but if you’re a chronic multitasker, it’s just a lot of effort to have to go through an IM window MS Paint, and then an e-mail client. Scriblink allows you to paste a URL into the IM window and then start working in the Scriblink `virtual whiteboard’ environment. My friend could then save the image (via automatic e-mail to herself) and try to work out the problem again on her own.
IM 2.0: not just for procrastination
Allow me to wander off Scriblink for a bit to talk about the subtle development of `academic’ instant messaging (what I’ll call `IM 2.0′). A few years ago, it would be common for university students to instant message one another to ask homework (among other things). Humanities students were happy, while math\science\engineering students would bang their heads trying to communicate formulae.
Then came Adium. Adium allowed Mac users to include mathematical typesetting into their instant messages. Suddenly students could discuss a derivation at 3 a.m. in the morning without having to trek out to meet each other in the department. (Ok, so Adium is only for Mac users, but that’s another story.)
Scriblink introduces Web-ware that also allows diagrams, albeit of the crude MS-paint variety. The next step? An integrated client with basic drawing tools, chat, and would be a fantastic tool for students.
IM 2.0 for the physicist on the go
There’s another bit of upcoming software that has great promise. Apple’s iChat client has allowed video conference chats for some time now. The upcoming version in OS X 10.5 (`Leopard’) also allows users to share documents as part of the chat client. The example they highlight is giving a presentation to a small audience.
This, I think, is really neat. Imagine giving practice talks with collaborators who are in another country — you can actually work through the timing and the exact points you’ll make with each slide and get real-time feedback.
On top of that, iChat will allow you to save these chats. I know Bee had some [very reasonable] reservations about the role of videos in academia, but seminar talks are usually a way to (1) advertise one’s research and (2) advertise one’s self for postdoc/faculty positions. Having some of these recorded `practice’ presentations on one’s personal homepage may be a decent way to `get the word out.’
(I apologise, by the way, for all the Mac references. I’m not a Mac user, but I plan on switching soon, so I’ve been doing some research on Mac OS X and science.)
This started out as a mini-advertisement for Scriblink, but I think at its current stage Scriblink is still a bit crude as a “Web 2.0 for science” app. The idea however, of being able to communicate multiple types of media via instant message is what’s exciting.
Scriblink is described as a `virtual whiteboard.’ No word yet if they’ll make `virtual chalkboards‘ for theorists. It should include options like “erase with hand” and “accidentally make that annoying screeching sound.” (Now that’s multimedia.)
Filed under: Science 2.0 | 3 Comments