Online Diagramming Apps

Online Diagram apps are bringing full-feature Flowchart and Diagramming to online users. There is almost a surplus of diagramming systems available to users  with tools like Draw.io[no limit free edition],  SmartDraw.com [$10US/month/user, 7day free trial], Lucidchart.com, [$10US/month/user, no time limit free edition],Gliffy.com [$8US/month/user, 14day free trial] and Cacoo.com [$4US/month/user, 14day free trial].

This mark the emergence of another category of apps that largely displace traditional  PC based systems like Visio and  Inkscape. These online flowchart apps join such online tools as Canva.com Figma.com and Gravit.io for Designing and Vector-graphics, Befunky.com and Pixlr.com for advanced photo editing [but many online photo editors are being forced off Flash codebase to meet Google and Firefox blocking of Flash]  and a bakers dozen of online 2D/3D CAD  apps. A flood of online and freemium apps with drag and drop operations are coming to browsers – desktop, laptop and even some mobile devices.

Online Diagramming Feature Sets

There are some consistent features to be found among all UI-oriented online apps. Freemium pricing, drag and drop design and layout, dozens of templates with prebuilt designs and layouts which can be easily imported and customized – these  are common across all  online apps. The Online Flowcharts add to  these features sets. The  foremost feature  is a well designed User Interfaces:

  1. users have a choice from at 2 dozen industry standards templates – UML, Coding, Entitty -Relationship, MindMaps, etc
  2. dragging and dropping components is guided by:
    • users move components  along ‘invisible’ gridlines which act as snap to guides for positioning
    • vertical & horizontal guidelines appearing and disappearing as a new component  moves  relative to other components
    • immediate overlap or slide under feedback on relative layer position while moving a component on a page
  3.  there is a top bar of frequently used commands like color fill,move back, move forward, delete, etc
  4. there is a collapsible left sidebar of shape templates – users can draw cmponents  from multiple different  templates
  5. there is a right sidebar with multiple Option settings instantly available
  6. there is a bottom bar with choice of page tabs or adding a new one

This is the ease of use associated with PC-based Microsoft Excel and Microsoft Visio the latter of which has certainly acted as a design template for the Flowchart app creators. For example, the Flowchart apps have several export options including JPG, SVG, PNG, PDF, XML HTML, etc while also supporting  several storage targets including Dropbox, Google, Drive, local storage, etc.

This online app direction is reflected across the board. For example, look at the Photo-editing apps like  Pixlr or Befunky which have top bar and sidebars mimic what the Flowchart apps offer. Ditto for the 2D/3D CAD apps with multiple save targets and storage choices.  And in Web Deevelopment, PageBuilder tools like Divi and Beaver Builder  have look-alike User Interfaces to the Flowchart apps [or is that vice versa? ]. But each of the top FlowChart apps has some custom features worthy of consideration.

The Top 4 Diagram Apps

Each of the top 4 Flowchart apps has some custom options and features that make its case for use. Some have a  broad selection of flowchart templates featuring diagrams and stylings not supported by the other tools. Another key option is support for connected team operation in which 2 or more team members see the same diagram and edit and customize the diagram together. Other systems allow for shared comments and versioning of diagrams. So lets see what the top 4 Flowchart apps provide users.

Draw.io is a totally free yet robust diagramming tool
Developers will find Draw.io has a remarkably broad set of templates including  Basic Business, Flowcharting, UML, Entity Relationship, BPMN, and 6 categories of ClipArt.. But that is not all a special Shapes Template offers additional 40 mre templates including IBM shapes,Atlassian, DataFlow Diagrams, Engineering Drawing, and Active Directory .
Draw.io has excellent documentation and support over 20 languages. Another bonus, it outputs to  Google Drive, OneBox, DropBox, GitHub, GitLab, Trello as well as to users local computer drive. This range of choices opens up basic collaboration capabilities. 
Trust Rating   – 9.2/10

SmartDraw is a freemium app with 7 day free trial & $10US/month/user  or  $497US for Windows or Mac desktop for one year of support/updates
SmartDraw supports 100s of icons in each of  FlowCharts, OrgChart, Cause & Effects, Building Layout, Decision Trees, Mind Maps, Network Design and Process Chart template groups. In additions, to a full range of export file types[JPG, PNG, SVG, XML, PDF, HTML, etc] SmartDraw also exports/imports Visio files. Better, it also imports Visio stencils and CAD DXF files.
SmartDraw has collaboration features like annotation layers and central user rules which link with file  integration with Microsoft Office, G Suite, Google Drive, DropBox, Box, Trello, Confluence,  and Jira. Finally, SmartDraw has a Enterprise edition with special pricing and features.
Trust Rating   – 8.4/10

Cacoo from Nulab adds team collaboration options to a simplified UI and many Draw.io diagram offerings.
Cacoo offers a free version with all its basic features but limited to 6 sheets/pages The basic edition costs $4US/month/uer and offers Flowchart, Wireframe, UML, Org Chart, MindMap,  ER Diagram,  Network Design, Venn Diagram template groupings. 
For $15US/month/3 user Nulab adds real-time comment and colaboration by shared files [Dropbox, Adobe Central, and Google Drive]  plus folders with shared links to team shared diagrams. Add team role and security control to the collaboration mix.  Icing on the cake for Cacoo – it is able to import Visio drawings for customization.
Trust Rating
   – 8.2  

Lucidchart adds superb help/tutorials to a complete diagram and team share app.
Lucidchart has a  free version which supports 3 active charts or $4.905US/month/user for the  Basic version.  Basic Lucidchart has a very rich set of  over 35 template groups including Electrical Circuits, DataFlow  Diagrams, Entity Relationship,  Flowcharts, Floor Maps, Mind Mappings, Org Charts, Process Engineering, Website Maps, UML, User Interface Mockups, etc.
For $8.95US move up to the Pro version with more Cloud disk space , premium shapes templates, Revision history, and Visio import/export. For $20US/month move up to the Team version with the broadest set of sharing, team collaboration and integration features.

Trust Rating   – 8.8-   /10

As stated at the outset,each of the diagramming apps has a rich set of templates and associated  component shapes with SmartDraw having the most extensive libery of shapes. However, given that the User interfaces and ease of layout are pretty close, it will pay to check which App has the closest match of shape templates to your needs. But if shape templates and ease of use is your primary need , consider using free Draw.io.

As for team collaboration it starts slowly with Draw.io which imports/exports to shared storage like DropBox and Google Drive plus interface to Visio. Recently Draw.io has added special-priced add-ons to Jira, Confluence , and G Suite. SmartDraw follows this path with a wider set of integrations plus special annotation capabilities. But full team collaboration is full embarced by Nulab Cacoo and Lucidcharts with real-time and remote collaboration among users working on the same document with both comments and edits. Each of the vendors has unique special tools and prices – so check for the details. But the bottom line is that online diagramming is a force increating, planning and communicating strategy to  client as well as employees for businesses small to large.

Summary

As we have seen here in Online Diagramming, Web-based apps are now vying with Desktop apps for features and ease of use. Collaboration and integration through the Cloud may give online apps an advantage. But the desktop prevails with computing intensive tasks  where online round-tripping of  network connection and results poses response time challenges. But for ease of use and supple drag and drop interfaces, online apps are delivering  ever more capable apps. Suddenly Google’s ChromeBook looks well stocked with very capable online apps.