Old-school Mac users might remember a little application called HyperCard. Originally a database application, it doubled as a casual animation tool--letting users create fairly basic cartoons, frame by frame. This morning I've been playing around with AniBOOM's ShapeShifter, a Web-based animation creation tool that brings back those old feelings of black-and-white computing, with a new social bookmarking twist.
ShapeShifter is pretty simple to use. There are four shapes to choose from, and you can place them wherever you want on the canvas. Each shape can be rotated, resized and grouped together to make new forms. When you're done moving things around you just add another frame. Every time you do this, all your shapes come with you from the frame before. To see the last few frames at once, there's an "Onion" button which displays three of each shape's previous movements in layers. This is incredibly helpful if you want to figure out what you were doing.
To spice up your creation, there are four basic sound effects. You can also upload your own files, to replace them, although the file size is capped at 50KB, so they must be kept small.
When you have finished your masterpiece, it can be shared with other AniBOOM members or friends (via URL), who can rate and comment on it. It's a little bit like YouTube, but the content is made entirely on the site. Unfortunately you can't embed your work on other sites--something I think would do well on social networking profiles.
ShapeShifter isn't a replacement to professional animation tools, but it's really easy to pick up and surprisingly fun to use. I'm holding back on calling it a time waster, as it's more of an art tool.