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How to go mental with online mind mapping software

Mind mapping is defined is a diagramming process which includes a central key idea, task or words, radially surrounded by child or peer ideas, tasks or words. In the end, you wind up with a octopus-like picture of a mind-dump. Scary huh? Let’s draw one around the idea of podcasting the pastor’s sermons.

What is a Mind Map?

Scenario – your pastor calls a meeting of the web presence committee where he proposed you podcast his sermons. Immediately, the member with the neatest hand writing walks up to the white board and begins to write down all of the issues involved. Soon, what appears on the white board is a tentacled beast of ideas all centrally stemming out of a blob entitled “podcast sermons.”

This process is what is known in the information technology industry as “mind mapping” … the diagram below is an example of what a mind map may look like based on the above scenario:

sample mind map on meme: podcast sermons

As you can see, it follows many of the suggestions established by mind-mapping expert Tony Buzan that include:

  • Select key words and print using upper or lower case letters.
  • Each word/image must be alone and sitting on its own line.
  • The lines must be connected, starting from the central image.
  • Make the lines the same length as the word/image.
  • Use colors – your own code – throughout the Mind Map.

Where can I Mind Map?

You can mind-map anywhere, the trick is, can you collaborate anywhere?

Meaning, just as docs.google.com makes it much easier for many people to modify the same document from a wide variety of computer platforms spread all over the planet – so recently there have been a number of Software as a Service start-ups working diligently to free you and your committee from the constraints of client-based applications such as Visio and PhotoShop.

Put in English – you don’t all have to be in the same room huddled around a single lap top to mind map. Instead, your team can collaborate from anywhere using one of the following Software as a Service applications dedicated to helping you map your mind – listed in reverse alphabetical order:

I’ve seen this one before, so it came to mind first. It provides the curious with a nice, small but free account. First time users are greeted with a tutorial link and project. It seemed a bit slow to me today – not sure if it’s my bandwidth or theirs.
Wasn’t entirely inspired by the “requires Flash 9″ that greeted me after I logged-in … nor was it entirely clear to me as why the latest and greatest iteration of Flash was needed for something this relatively simple.
I actually found this one the easiest of the bunch – perhaps because they keep it really, really, simple. So much so that one finds themselves wanting a bit more … which they gladly charge you for after your first month as part of their unlimited, add-free, $4.16/month ‘premium’ package.
This one drove me nuts. They spend more bandwidth on having to explain the “Douglas Adams 42″ than on fixing a javascript error that ran well past the boundaries of life, the universe and everything …
mind42 javascript error
Wasn’t as pretty up-front as some of the others – and seemed a bit sterile. But looks are deceiving on this one as once I got in, I ‘got it’ right away and got some simple stuff done.
Required Flash up front, the interface was rather klunky and found myself accidentally blowing out the first of only 5 documents a n00b gets on the free account. No warnings I was about to blow my foot clean off.
What the name says – this application is less about mind mapping and more about your classic flow charts. Seemed a bit slow but could have some basic utility where individuals want to move on from the mind map to a data flow solution. Now if only their software provides such a smooth transition.
They lost me at “30 day demo.” Not because I didn’t mind doing it, but because it reflects to me a client-based application mentality trying to play in a Software as a Service arena. Get a clue and take a cue from Google, Zoho, Flickr, etc …
Their intro page needs healing as a first time visitor has absolutely no idea what the application does. A simple picture of a mind-map would help speak the 1000 words they offer to explain their not-so-simple product that requires I remember tiny little visual clues to get the job done:
not-so-memorable Bubbl.us anatomy lesson

Which Mind Map?

Not sure, probably none for now. I think part of the problem here is that some of the above selections are simply out there as venture capital – that is, create enough of a product and buzz until Google or Yahoo buys them out.

Mind Meister LogoIf I had to go mental with a Skype-based multi-location church website committee meeting, I think I’d work with MindMeister, not only because it already has Skype support built-in, but also because honestly, as a software product manager, I’m thinking if a mind mapping app. were to get bought out by a Google or Yahoo, this would be that app.

All that said – me being an ‘Agile’ kinda guy, I think I’ll keep to enumerating ideas using a Google spreadsheet so I can rank and categorize my ideas … and then sort them by as I please, exporting them into a document when it comes time to write-up a specification and/or action plan.

Agile is yet another application design process us geeks use from time to time … that I’ll discuss when I get the time.


  1. Well my personal favorite is actually Comapping because it clearly differentiates itself from the existing mind mapping tools both in terms of layout, mind mapping technique and ease of use. I would really recommend you to give it a try despite the 30 day free trial simply because it is actually very different from the rest of the bunch.

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  5. Take a look at GoalEnforcer http://www.goalenforcer.com/
    it’s not web-based (yet), but it’s great for project management.

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