Video: 2 minute intro; Tutorial: Worked examples; Help: Contents

Oct 22, 2009

Early beta feedback

Being able to interact live is terrific. I have found it saves me trips to our other office. -- Beta user working in IT & communications
Over the last five weeks, around 90 people have got involved in our beta trial of bCisive Online. Valuable comments have been rolling in; here is some of the feedback we've been getting.

Some users struggled with setting up sites and getting started building maps; we're working on a series of tutorial videos to help with this, and of course you can browse our straightforward how-to tips on this blog too.

Some areas of value identified by our beta users:
  • Making and documenting complex decisions
  • Live, remote interaction with colleagues
  • 1:1 and 1:few followups after group planning sessions
I see some potential to encourage its wider use in a digital democracy. -- Beta user working in civic government
Some requested features:
  • Single login that works across multiple sites -- already implemented; read more
  • The workspace should stretch vertically as the browser window is enlarged -- already implemented; read more
  • Keyboard shortcut to exit the text edit box -- already implemented; use Ctrl+S
  • Email notification of site details once you've set one up
  • Clearer Delete function [currently Delete is via a keyboard shortcut only; we plan to add a Delete button soon]
  • A 'Print' function
  • More icons; specific new icons e.g. Reason, Evidence, Claim; co-premise capability
  • More export options, e.g. PDF, image
  • Ability to moderate others' additions before they appear on a map
  • View-only invitations
Some concerns that we'll be addressing:
  • Security of data and uploaded documents
  • The mechanism for passing control between participants could be made clearer
  • Trying to log into a site with the same account on two separate computers at once causes strange behaviour
If you have further feedback for us, please email us or take our short beta feedback survey. If you'd like to be involved in the next stage, our pilot program for small teams, read more here.

Be part of our pilot program

Thanks to everyone who has been involved in our early beta trial for bCisive Online. For the next stage, we are looking for small teams from diverse organizations to partner with us in a more targeted pilot program.

We're aiming to work closely with our pilot teams to put bCisive Online through its paces in a real-life setting, and particularly to test out its collaborative and group features.

If your team is chosen for a pilot, we'll:
  • hold your hand to get bCisive Online set up and working with your team
  • give you and your team close support throughout the pilot in return for your valuable feedback
  • offer you discounted licensing or additional free licenses for the first year, once bCisive Online goes commercial
Interested? Great! Please send us an email and tell us:
  • Who are you?
  • The name of your organization
  • The role of your team
  • The size of your team
  • What are you hoping to use bCisive Online for?
  • What other product or process are you hoping bCisive Online will replace?
If you're interested in the pilot program but feel that bCisive Online as it currently stands isn't ready, please let us know what specific changes you would have to see before you got involved.

Oct 20, 2009

Inserting a box above multiple child boxes

The most obvious way to build a map is by progressively adding new boxes below and next to existing ones (new children and siblings). However, you can also insert boxes into the middle of your map - new parent boxes. There are two ways to do this:
To insert a new box above multiple children, drag the new box until a red horizontal indicator line appears underneath the children's existing parent box.

Release the mouse button and the new box is inserted as a new parent to all child boxes.

Inserting a box above an individual child box

The most obvious way to build a map is by progressively adding new boxes below and next to existing ones (new children and siblings). However, you can also insert boxes into the middle of your map - new parent boxes. There are two ways to do this:
To insert a box above an individual child box, drag the new box until you see a horizontal red indicator line above the appropriate child box.

When you release the mouse button, your new box will be inserted into the map as the new parent box for that single child box.

Detaching and attaching a box or branch

To detach a box or an entire branch from your map, click on the box (or the parent box, for a branch), hold and drag it away to a clear part of your workspace. When you release, the box or branch will drop onto the workspace, detached from your map.

You can use this detach function to turn part of your map into two separate maps, or as an intermediate step while restructuring a map; detached boxes and branches can be reattached later.

To attach a box or a branch to your map, just reverse the detaching process. Click and hold the box (or the parent box, for a branch) you want to attach, drag it to where it should go, look for the red indicator line, and release:

  • Each bCisive Online workspace is infinitely big and can contain as many separate maps as you like.

Reordering sibling boxes

Siblings are boxes that share the same parent box. Swapping them around is a simple matter of drag-and-drop.

Take this example:

To relocate the Challenge after the Pro and Con, just click on it, hold and drag it until you see the red vertical indicator line to the right of the Con box, and then release:

If the box you're moving has child boxes, the entire branch will be moved together, as in this example:

Oct 7, 2009

Compelling presentations: Outline input

In my two previous posts I showed why diagrams make for far better slides than bullet points and suggested adding outline input to supercharge bCisive Online to enable quick and eassy preparation of visually compelling, better thought-out PowerPoint presentations.

How would outline input work in practice?

Simple text input a la markdown:

With a little magic this would converted automatically to:

and then the user could quickly change the box-types by dragging out the appropriate icons from the left panel and dropping them on the boxes.

Even quicker, might be to allow some short-hand on the bullets:

    * = plain Box
    ? = Question
    + = Pro
    - = Con
    ! = Idea
    That way a draft along the lines of

    would convert straight to:

    which is much closer to the final form, with just a Fix and two E.g.s to be dropped onto the lower three boxes.

    As an alternative to raw input, where the user is required to control indentation, another option would be to supply a more polished Outliner interface, similar to LooseStitch, but with inline editing.

    The best of both worlds may well be plain text editing with helpful buttons for indenting, un-indenting, box-types, etc. together with map preview.

    Outline text input would enhance bCisive Online's useability in developing compelling presentations by making it quicker and easier to get an initial map up for editing.

    Various forms of text output -- text outline, executive summary -- would be a nice matching enhancement, allowing the user to concentrate on getting the content right, and then quickly mix and match different forms of output to get the most compelling and understandable result.

    Compelling presentations, faster

    The Problem
    Business people (and others) are increasingly familiar with the phenomenon of Death by Powerpoint:
    "Death by PowerPoint" is a criticism of slide-based presentations refering to a state of boredom and fatigue induced by information overload during presentations such as those created by the Microsoft application. -- Wikipedia
    Much of this can be attributed to two factors:
    1. Poorly thought-out presentations
    2. Over-use of "bullet points"
    A solution
    bCisive Online can help address both points by providing the workspace to help clarify and better structure the content of your presentation, and the "Export to PowerPoint" feature to convey structured information in a more visual and compelling way. The overall process currently looks like this:
    1. Enter your ideas into bCisive Online
    2. Rearrange and play with the map, maybe in collaboration with colleagues
    3. Output maps into PowerPoint form, typically giving a high-level overview, and then drilling into depth where appropriate
    4. Supplement, where appropriate, with bulleted lists, text, charts and other material to create a compelling Presentation
    You can do steps 1-3 in bCisive Online already, and step 4 in PowerPoint.

    How could this process be improved?
    • Outline input: Although I decried the over-use of outlines for presentation, they are an extremely fast and familiar way to "dump your brain". Certainly quicker than using a click-and-drag mouse-based interface. [On the other hand, click-and-drag is fantastic for editing and restructuring.]
    • Additional text-based output forms: Principally bullet points, and text forms, including executive summaries, to be used sparingly and tastefully!
    Various text-based output forms are available in bCisive desktop (text outline, decision summary). They will be added in some form to bCisive Online in due course. Outline input, on the other hand, is new for us, and will be discussed in my next post. Together these features would lead to an even better process:
    1. Enter your ideas, quickly, in outline form
    2. Automatically transform the outline into a bCisive Online map
    3. Rearrange and play with the map (or maps), maybe in collaboration with colleagues
    4. Output to Powerpoint as a mix of diagrams, bullet points, and text
    5. Refine and supplement in PowerPoint.
    Importantly, the first and last steps will be familiar to existing PowerPoint users, and the intermediate steps will deliver better structured and more visually compelling slides amazingly quickly. By keeping all hierarchical data in bCisive Online, you can structure the key content of your presentation in one place, and makes the choice of how best to present -- diagram, text, or bullet point -- a secondary consideration. Try them all; use what works best!

    Compelling presentations

    Unsure about the value of diagrams to presentations?

    this kind of bulleted outline form:
    • What are the Pros and Cons of Outline form?
      • Pro: Good for input: Fast and familiar
      • Pro: Handy for output, sometimes
      • Con: Boring: The reader / audience's eyes glaze over
        • Fix: Mix bullet point output with other more visually interesting and informative styles of presentation.
          • E.g.: Images
          • E.g. bCisive Online diagrams
      • Con: Not great for showing relationships
    with the corresponding bCisive Online map (click on the diagram to enlarge):

    Far more compelling, eh?

    In my next post I make the case for using outline form for quickly jotting down ideas, and diagrammatic form for structuring and especially presenting. And in the final post in this mini-series I show how outline input might work in practice.

    Oct 5, 2009

    Bigger workspace size

    Until now the workspace width expanded with the browser width, but not the height, which was fixed. We've removed this limitation to allow really big workspace sizes:

    A bCisive Online workspace on a big screen: Click for full resolution

    Above a minimum size, the workspace will stretch and squeeze with your browser. So if you have a large screen, you can now make use of all that real-estate.

    Note: Depending on your web browser, you may need to clear your cache and reload a Space page for this upgrade to take effect.