For this interview, Tiro who is one of our designers at Nota spoke with two of Calystral's lead developers. They covered challenges and solutions from culture to code when developing a digital card game as a small team.
What challenges did your team have before using scrapbox?
Marcel: The general problem is that we don’t have one office where everyone is collaborating. So it was really difficult to organize and distribute all of the information we have. And with all these pieces of knowledge, to collaborate and have a brainstorming session we needed a canvas where we can put everything. Thing just went missing.
Julian: Yeah I agree that the hardest part about being a distributed team is that even if you use tools like Dropbox or whatever you can keep your stuff together but its not well visualized and it’s not really social. And for whatever information you are working on continuously there was no one space to put it and share it.
Marcel: Especially the making it searchable part was difficult because if you think about having a Dropbox or Google Drive folder with a lot of docs its difficult to find a file in there that you created a year ago or even two months ago. The knowledge is simply lost in such a system.
Julian: I think actually we have to put the annotation that we were not actually aware of this problem until we started using Scrapbox. We started using it out of curiosity and in the beginning we said “we don’t really need it” but the more we tried it out the more we noticed these problems.
Marcel: In the beginning it was just us two and at this time we were in the same place but as we onboarded more and more people that were not in the same place at the same time, then all the difficulties came up and we noticed we have this great tool Scrapbox that can solve this problem.
Julian: At the same time we were growing.
So you discovered that you need it after you started using it?
Julian: Kind of, at the same time we were growing so for two people maybe you don’t really need it? Even though at the moment we also have two people on Scrapbox (Laughs). But the more people you have the more you notice that you are getting into these problems, the more you notice that Scrapbox is a really good tool.
How difficult was it to onboard people to Scrapbox?
How did you introduce Scrapbox into your team?
Marcel: This strongly depends on the person, how open this person is to learning a new tool and how familiar the person is with writing Markdown. Just recently I used this tool with my family and it was a mess, in particular my mother who is not familiar with writing in the browser, adding markdown, and having everything editable. In contrast with my brothers it’s no problem because they are used to working on the browser so I think it depends strongly on the person that tries to use it.
Julian: Yeah I agree I think it has different levels of complexity. I think its really easy to onboard people because its really easy to use but at the same time its more powerful, and there are more features you can learn about in the long term. So for example if we introduce someone to the tool I think we would just explain the basics, how to create a page, here is how you see all pages, whatever…pretty much only the basics. But then maybe hey lets say "here is how you create your own page about yourself, put this information, here is the shortcut ( Cmd/Ctrl + i ) to add your icon," so that already is enough to get an understanding.
Then the next level would be "here is how you can create your own emojis, here is how you can do markdown hashtags" whatever, but I think the very basics are easy to understand and then we can build onto of that. And also what I noticed is whenever, the worst part about whoever you onboard, what will happen, at least on our team is that they will be like “hey I’m in the tool now” but they are 95% just reading and need to get used to actually creating.
I think its not about the tool but about psychology in general. It takes more effort to create rather than just read.
Marcel: Another thing that we noticed is that people are really reluctant to create a page themselves but when they get into the mindset that a page is just a page then they just create alot of them which is great.
Julian: And maybe, at least the image that I had in mind in the beginning is that it would just be like Wikipedia where it needs to be perfect but as soon as we understand its just for our team so it does not need to be correct, we can improve it over time, people can even help you out, but I think its a process you need to get used to.
Marcel: It’s also great when you can click on every line in a page and see how it’s made, because this is how people can learn how to create more markdown. People can learn how to create good looking and well structured pages. They can learn how to do headings, how to do bold, how to cross things out.
Who is Scrapbox best for?
Marcel: We had a problem with people not knowing boundaries since in Scrapbox everything is open to edit. For some of us in the team is was common sense that you don’t edit something else that someone in the team created, but others in the team felt like since they can change anything they will change anything. That can lead to problems so it's best when you have a group of people who are like minded, collaborating in one Scrapbox.
You can have two different Scrapboxes with two completely different styles of working. Basically on one team you need one consistent style of working or it will be a mess.
Julian: I think it really depends on what your purpose is for using scrapbox. We have one purpose for Scrapbox but other teams can have a completely different purpose.
There could be teams where only one or two people actually create content and the others are just there to read. And others where everyone creates and everyone reads and this could be chaotic. Other teams could just use it for one time brainstorming. So it really depends on the use case.
Theoretically it could be useful for everybody. If you can use Word you can use Scrapbox but it really depends on the purpose. We have a purpose were we want everyone to collaborate and create content in the tool so this makes is really difficult to say that anyone can use it because maybe then you get chaos.
Marcel: It’s also a really powerful onboarding tool, having everyone collaborate in one page, brainstorming in one page, and playing around with it,. It allows people that are new to have more experience in Scrapbox. For example we have brainstorming sessions where I just looked up how to do all the markdown stuff and Julian said “hey this is cool how do I do that?”.
Marcel: We use Scrapbox in a way that is not intended maybe? Because I am a really structured, organized person so Scrapbox itself without rules and guidelines has too much chaos for my taste. And we ran into the issue that some people in our team did not have the same common sense as us. So this was a little fight against each other. So we introduce headers for pages. So people that came into the page know how to behave on that page.
So for example some pages are to be used as a wiki, containing information that need to be shared for a long time and on the other side some pages were to be used for collaboration, like a playground so everyone can draw in there and change stuff. So we introduced headers to say what kind of page this is and what can I do in this page, which helped us a lot.
And another thing was hashtags so we use hashtags really heavily and make pages a lot for findability. These are things we introduced on a rule basis.
Tiro: We haven't heard this kind of feedback about confilcting edits from other teams using Scrapbox so this could be a cultural difference (laughs).
Julian: I would say we have three main purposes. One as a wiki/knowledge base this would be where we don’t want other people to edit.
Then second would be the playground/brainstorming, since we are remote we cannot get into a room and pull out a big piece of paper and draw out ideas, instead we have Scrapbox so as we brainstorm everyone can dump in words, ideas, pictures, videos etc to support the brainstorming, and at the same time we have the entire process of how we go to the new idea documented in Scrapbox, that would be the second purpose I would say.
Third one is maybe just as like notepad, so as my personal notes, before Scrapbox I would have just put the info in a notepad or a word doc. Now these go into Scrapbox because what’s useful for me could also be useful for the team.
Marcel: So think about the case where someone gets ill or drops out of the team. Now all this information that person created is saved in Scrapbox instead of being lost. Its great to have all your notes in Scrapbox in case you can't be there for a time, all the information is still there available for the team.
Sometimes we just put the rectangular brackets on text so that it turns red (laughs). Which is not the point right but color would really help.
Marcel: More markdown options or full markdown would be great. So we can have more layout options. Making pages more readable would be helpful, because if you revisit a page after a year its easier to find information if the page is properly laid out.
For myself, as Julian mentioned earlier we have a Scrapbox for the two of us and I also have a personal Scrapbox for other stuff, it would be great to have a permission system where we could just share single pages to different users or other Scrapboxes so I don’t need to copy them over and have duplicates. So I can simply set the permissions in one page dictating which other Scrapboxes it would appear in.
Julian: On the left side of the screen where you can see what was edited at what time, I would also like to see who was editing it. That would be great. Maybe it would be nice to have it as an optional option that could be turned on or off because it could be annoying or lead to finger pointing “why did you add this?“ or whatever, but for me it would be useful and think it could be easy to add.
Marcel: Because this feature is missing when we have chat pages every time someone adds a comment they need to add the date, icon, then the text they wanted to share. This makes a really messy page so if you could see which line was edited by which person we would not need this messy thing.
Julian: We always put our icon next to the text that we write so we can show “hey this is my feedback." Also it would be great to have support for different formats, I would really like to be able to add .pdf files to Scrapbox or other file types.
Marcel: Highlights for email addresses, emails are not highlighted as links.
Julian: Integrations with external tools for example allowing drawings and diagrams from draw.io to be embedded in Scrapbox. Currently everything needs to be turned into a JPEG or PNG and if the data is refreshed we need to update theJ PEGs. Just in general if there were more tools we could connect to Scrapbox that would be really cool. Not a priority but just something I had in mind for long term.
For example if you write a medium article you can use a direct link to a GitHub repository or code and then it has a full integration into it already, and it creates a web hook where it already has the code formatted and if you update the GitHub code it would automatically update in the article. This kind of feature would also be helpful in Scrapbox.
Thanks to Marcel and Julian!
Scrapbox lets you instantly capture and find knowhow at any scale, both solo and with a team.
You can rapidly capture things like notes, manuals, tasks, code, meeting minutes, and research results. All pages are automatically connected with bi-directional links, allowing you to seamlessly work across even tens of thousands of pages.