LucidChart Takes Cloud-Based Diagram Collaboration Offline

One of the problems with most cloud collaboration apps is that you need to have an Internet connection in order to do your work. LucidChart, a web-based visual communication and diagramming app that offers real-time collaboration, has announced it’s now providing offline capabilities.

The app is based on HTML5, which means compatibility with the iPad (s aapl) and other tablet computers and mobile devices. But what if you can’t get an Internet connection? No worries. LucidChart detects when you’re offline and shifts mode; any changes you make are stored locally by the browser. The app detects when you come back online, sends any locally-stored changes up to the server, and merges the edits.

How robust is the offline version? You can view your list of documents offline with full functionality, including full-text search across all of your documents. You can work on existing documents, create new documents, tag documents and delete documents, and otherwise edit and manipulate them. When an Internet connection is reestablished, all those changes are then synchronized to the server

Dealing With Collaboration and Conflicts

Offline capabilities overcome one of the major shortcomings of cloud applications. But what about when a diagram is being created collaboratively with other team members? LucidChart online allows an unlimited number of users to edit a document simultaneously in real-time. Each person’s changes are sent to the server and “merged,” in a similar way to how Google Docs (s goog) works.

If you move a flowchart block to one side and edit the text, for example, everyone viewing the chart at the same time will see the block in its new position with the new text. In case of simultaneous edits that could conflict, the server will determine the result that appears while still saving all the other actions in the document history; nothing is lost and you can revert to other edits, if needed. In offline mode, real-time collaboration obviously isn’t possible. When you are back online, LucidChart applies the same algorithms to merge changes you made offline, while also keeping any conflicting changes in the document history.

A Mobile Hiccup

Right now, LucidChart currently functions on the Safari (s aapl) and Chrome browsers; it should be working on Firefox and Internet Explorer (s msft) soon. When I tested it on my PowerBook using Safari, the experience was smooth and seamless. Testing it on my iPad, however, resulted in consistent crashing. Karl Sun, CEO of LucidChart, says performance on the more-powerful iPad 2 is better, and the experience on mobile and tablet devices will only get even better over time as the hardware continues to improve. So while a total mobile experience isn’t yet achieved, if you need to make an edit in a pinch or want to simply show your diagrams in a meeting, you can access them. Just don’t expect to be able to  create complex diagrams on less powerful devices.

LucidChart offers several plans, including a free account offering up to 25 MB storage and two collaborators and team accounts starting at $25 per month for 5 GB storage, unlimited collaborators, wireframing, encryption and other premium features. It fits somewhere between a free offering like Diagramly (see Simon’s review here), which offers sharing, but not collaboration or online storage, and more full-featured collaborative online mind-mapping tools such as MindJet’s Catalyst (see Imran’s interview with CEO Scott Raskin here), coming in closer to the latter, but at a lower price.