ASCiiFLOW – a cool surprise

I’ve known about ASCiiFLOW for a while – it’s been on my To Do list to share with you, but I had it down as a curiosity, not much more, that I would add to one day.  Then I started playing with it.

It’s a nerd’s delight!

If you’ve been using visualization to understand and help others understand processes for a few decades, I expect you’ll have constructed boxes and arrows with the limited graphics that used to be available before Visio and the like came along.  Things like this:

               |                   +-------------------+ |
               | +--------+        |    Warehouse A    | |
               | |Prepare |        |-------------------| |
               | |manifest+------->|                   | |
               | |document|        | Pack for dispatch | |
               | +--------+        |                   | |
               |                   +-------------------+ |

So when I saw browser-based web app ASCiiFLOW, I though ‘nostalgic fun’ but not much else.  Then I discovered that not only does it help you draw boxes and arrow lines very easily, allow you to select and move parts of the diagram around, and erase mistakes but it will produce a thoroughly tidied up, smart image when you’ve finished (click to see the whole image, full size).

It will also import and export text, and export the smartened-up image. To be more precise, it will pass the character-based drawing to another web app, Ditaa, that will render your finished diagram ready for you to save as an image.

This can even be used for collaboration.  If you fill in the title box and use the Save button, the ASCII text diagram will be saved on their website, and you’ll see a new URL in your browser’s address bar.     It will look something like this:  You can give that address to anyone you want to collaborate with on the diagram, and they will be able to see and edit it.  If you want to give them read-only access, you would drop the digits after the last slash: Your collaborators would then see the diagram but not be able to change it.  But for read-only access, sending the better quality image produced by Ditaa would usually be more appropriate.

Ditaa is worth exploring as well.  In fact, I’ve cheated a little in the example above, because ASCiiFLOW itself doesn’t directly support coloured boxes and curved corners.  But a few minutes at will show you how easy it is to go beyond the immediate capabilities of ASCiiFLOW and call for these other Ditaa capabilities directly in the ASCII diagram.  I just added Ditaa to to as well.

This is what Wikipedia has to say about ASCII.


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