When using Twitter, you might have encountered an obstacle to composing your tweets that has been described as the "blank slate" problem. In short, it's a creative block: You have an infinite amount of things you could broadcast on Twitter, but what in the name of @horse_ebooks are you actually supposed to say?
Tweeters go mute, and feeds stay empty.
But what if the "blank slate" of Twitter was an actual blank slate, a clean white canvas where you could draw or scribble or jot down anything, expressing an emotion or a feeling or an idea with an illustration, rather than with words?
This is the concept of Doodle.ly, a new social network conceived as a "Twitter for artists." It's kind of like a social MS Paint. The two main components of Doodle.ly are: (1) a painting canvas/sketchpad where you can create your own doodle and (2) a feed where you can scan your friends' doodles or explore strangers' doodles (not as dirty as it sounds). Doodle.ly is available as a website, though it's best experienced on the iPad, as a free app (download here), where you are essentially finger painting and sharing with friends and fellow doodlers.
(I feel like Ned Flanders typing all of these doodles and Doodle.lys. Howdy Doodle.ly, neighborinos!)
One of the driving ideas behind Doodle.ly is that doodling or scribbling a simple picture is more natural than composing a tweet; at the very least, a doodle-based social network could attract the more visually-inclined users who Twitter doesn't really accommodate. In that sense, perhaps Instagram is a more apt comparison: Doodle.ly is a kind of companion to Instagram, a social network for visual artists who prefer paintbrushes to Polaroids.
In its early stages, Doodle.ly makes it very easy for users to both create and discover doodles. The Doodle.ly canvas is a simple blank slate, with pens and pencils and markers of varying thickness and color to fill it out. On the iPad, the harder you press your finger (or stylus) against the screen, the darker the your line will be. There are no extra colors or drawing utensils you can buy in the app, which helps maintain a universal experience and "level playing field" amongst doodlers, according to Doodle.ly co-founders Darren Paul and Evan Vogel.
More colors and different drawing utensils are apparently coming in future updates for the three-month old app; for now, I found the lack of a broader color selection somewhat limiting. (But then, I'm a terrible artist, so don't take my artistic complaints too seriously).
The Doodle.ly sketchpad, with illustration. You can choose from five different tools -- pencil, Sharpie, pen, highlighter and magic marker, which combined come in about 25 different colors.
By default, when you publish your doodle, it becomes publicly available and viewable by anyone. (Twitter-esque private accounts, as well as DM-like "Direct Doodles," are coming soon, Vogel and Paul told me). For now, however, everything's out in the open, a wonderland of discoverable doodles.
Doodle.ly offers three separate grids for viewing its artwork. The first, "Latest," simply shows every doodle posted to Doodle.ly in chronological order, with the most recent doodles first; the second, "Popular," ranks recent doodles based on how many "Likes" each one has received; and the third, "Following," is most similar to your Twitter feed, containing only doodles made by Doodle.ly users that you follow within the app.
A few of the most recent doodles from users I'm following on Doodle.ly.
Doodle.ly is, quite obviously, a developing social network, a work-in-progress. Though Vogel and Paul told me that they've received 32,000 doodles in the site's first two months, fresh doodles have been arriving much more slowly than that in the days I've been monitoring it, to a count of about 100 per day. Successful doodling promotions with the New Jersey Devils and the show "Cake Boss" have increased usage, but like any social network, Doodle.ly still needs more sign-ups and active users in order to flourish. Those extra colors and additional instrument thicknesses should also help enhance the experience.
Still, it's difficult to criticize too harshly a startup whose value seems so obvious. Even as a non-artist -- a Vincent van No, if you will -- I found flipping through the pages of illustrations to be delightful, and discovering talented artists from far-flung countries to be gratifying. I can see continuing to use Doodle.ly, though as a lurker, an appreciator of the impressive artwork getting made with only some simple software and a pointer finger.
The well-respected British artist David Hockney recently made headlines with an exhibition of flowers that he painted exclusively on the iPhone and iPad; perhaps the next David Hockney is downloading Doodle.ly as we speak.