Collaborative Hand-drawn ideas repository?

Hi All,
Where I work, we create some fairly leading edge computer vision and artificial intelligence software, which means a large amount of the work we do is “research”, in the sense that we have to generate, implement and test many ideas in order to find the one or two approaches that work.

This kind of work lends itself to a lot of brief, off-the-cuff discussions with other developers - usually involving doodling and sketching ideas on paper as we talk.

Our problem is that all of these notebooks or scraps of paper eventually end up in a big unsearchable pile, and a lot of the thought that goes into them is eventually lost or wasted. Instead of our ideas spreading to other projects, they tend to remain isolated. And if we return to a project after some time, we don’t have a record of ideas we had tried before.

We would like to find a way to handle this kind of information better. Our requirements are:

  • We need to be able to capture hand-drawn things. Sure we could all buy tablets and scribble into those, but creating our sketches would need to be as fast and easy and efficient as paper, or we just wouldn’t use it.
  • Assuming we use paper, converting our ideas to a digitised form needs to be quick and easy. A slow, bulky scanner with slow, bloated software would not work. We just wouldn’t use it.
  • The end result would need to be searchable. We can tag documents to assist with the searching, but wouldn’t want to do much more. OCR would be ideal, but unlikely.
  • The end result would need to be collaborative. We would want all of the developers to be able to add to, and search within, the one repository.
  • We are a Windows-based organisation. My personal Mac laptop is the only Mac that will appear in the place.

As you can see, I have placed a high emphasis on minimising the effort required. We are busy, and throwing ideas around all the time. Any mechanism that takes too long or gets in the way will just end up abandoned.

If anyone has any suggestions for ways to address any of the issues above - whether the capture component, or the storing/searching component - I would be very interested to hear about them.


Look into Livescribe or the other makers of digital pens. Everything you need in one solution.

Although I would not use livescribe for corporate work as much as I would use it to find the “right” folks.

Yes I am being obtuse. I’m avoiding public conflict of interests. Contact me privately if you need more info.

I’m pretty sure that both Evernote and Microsoft’s Onenote are able to ‘read’ hand drawn notes making them searchable.

So, perhaps you could scribble your notes onto paper or a whiteboard as normal, take a snap with a digital camera then upload those pictures to Evernote where they’d be archived and instantly searchable.

Fairly sure you could collaborate using either method - worth checking I’d say.

If you want to stick with paper and avoid scanning, then LiveScribe and Intellipen (and other equivalents) are worth investigating. The benefit of LiveScribe is also records audio, the downside is it requires special paper. Intellipen, and most similar products that I’ve investigated, works with any paper as it uses a special receiver that clips onto your notepad.

I have tried snapping photos and uploading to EverNote. It works well, but I don’t like being locked into EverNote’s ecosystem. Also, the text “transcription” service only works while a photo or pdf in EverNote, take it back out and it’s just another photo.

There are number of iOS apps that work like paper. Some include audio recording (like LiveScribe) and some include text transcription. Take a look at Notability, NotesPLus, CaptureNotes, 7NotesHD and AudioNote (and many, many more - the ones named take both typed text and diagrams/handwritten notes). Some, like MagicalPad, are designed for idea capture in meetings and rapid brainstorming, notes, lists, etc. Then there are “true” mind mapping apps like the excellent iThoughts.

Probably LiveScribe or its equivalent or camera-capture plus Evernote is the way to go (by the way, I think LiveScribe has a plug-in to work with Evernote) - however…

… not all scanners are slow and bulky with slow and bloated software. The Fujitsu Snapscan 1500 in the Mac version is the second most useful bit of kit I own, after my Mac. It scans quickly (20+ pages a minute in duplex). It comes with good OCR software that can even interpret clearly-highlighted marker-penned text strings as PDF keywords and will file to Evernote, Dropbox, email or your local file system.

The Windows Snapscan 1500 can do all these things, plus it has even better software (I tested an earlier version four or five years ago) with its own Organizer application.