Online Collaborative Modeling; Still Sketchy

sample uml activity diagram
Working with a team this week, we have a need to collaboratively model some things. It turns out this is not an easy thing to do.

First, our specifications. We want something we can share with a link, that everybody can edit simultaneously. Since we don’t want to get into discussion around what various shapes mean, we need to use UML notation. We’d like to be able to sketch freeform as well, but that’s not critical. Finally, since there actually exists something called “modeling” that is different from playing around with Visio. Visio is fun for doing org charts and whatnot, but in technology development we are actually making a model, where pieces are reused and meaning refined by re-use in other areas, we need a model tree that has components that we can then annotate and reuse.

This product does not exist.

Sure, there are plenty of heavyweight modeling tools that do all sorts of things — for a really expensive price tag. There’s also a hoard of online Visio clones, some of which offer real time collaboration. But nobody has real time collaborative UML modeling.

Here’s the breakdown in features:

Public link to diagram Real time collaboration Freeform sketching Visio-like sketching UML Notation Real structural diagrams Real behavior diagrams Actually having a UML model Deep/rich comment fields Export Code Gen
Google Docs Drawing  YES YES YES YES  NO  NO NO NO NO NO
Gliffy  YES NO NO YES YES NO NO NO NO NO
LucidChart  YES YES YES YES YES YES YES NO NO NO
GenMyModel  NO YES NO  NO YES YES YES YES YES YES
yUML.me  YES NO NO NO NO  NO NO NO NO NO
jsUML  YES NO NO NO YES NO NO NO NO NO
Creative.ly  YES YES YES YES YES NO NO NO NO NO

You can assign your own rating to these to figure out what’s best for you. For us, it looks like LucidChart is the winner, but I can’t say I’m happy with that conclusion, because it’s a completely different tool from the one we’re looking for. After all, it’s just a really cool online Visio. The product I really like is GenMyModel, but it lacks enough features to make it a deal-breaker. Such is life. It’s still in early beta, however. Here’s hoping the product evolves well over the next year or so.

All-in-all, I was really surprised that it was 2013 and nobody had mastered online UML modeling. With as much enterprise money as there is on the table, you’d think this would be an attractive area for startups to pursue. Lots of online sketch tools support UML patterns. Perhaps that’s enough for most developers? If so, there are a lot of people missing out on the real value that UML brings.


Follow the author on Twitter

November 21, 2013

One response to Online Collaborative Modeling; Still Sketchy

  1. Tom said:

    Thank you for this interesting post!
    We’re just at the beginning of collaborative web-based modeling.
    There are links for public diagrams in GenMyModel (ex: https://app.genmymodel.com/class-diagram/examples/Online-Shopping-Cart) . A searchable repository made of public projects will be available soon. Tom

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

* Copy this password:

* Type or paste password here:

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>