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Easy, Elegant Scapple Brightens Mind Maps

Easy, Elegant Scapple Brightens Mind Maps

Those wanting help in navigating complex ideas often turn to mind mapping software, and Scapple is one of the best on the market. The Mac app brings structure to concepts, but in a user-friendly, drag-and-drop way. The economical design and quick import options also make sure nothing gets between users and their ideas.

By John P. Mello Jr. MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
05/07/13 5:00 AM PT

Scapple is available for US$14.99 at the Mac App Store.

Scapple
(click to enlarge)

Scapple isn't a spelling mistake for that Pennsylvania Dutch concoction made with pork scraps, corn meal, flour and spices.

In fact, scapple is actually a word meaning to work roughly, or shape without finishing.

It's also the name of a dynamite new mind mapping program from Literature and Latte, the folks who brought the Mac world Scrivner.

Mind mapping isn't exactly a new category of software and the folks at L&L aren't me-too types, so you know they wouldn't try their hand at this kind of software if they didn't think they could add value to it.

That they did.

Scapple is not only easy and fun to use, but it's one of best mind mapping programs for creatives in the market.

Blank Canvas for Ideas

Mind mapping is based on the idea that we think visually, not in outlines. When we attack a project, we have ideas swirling around in our heads and can best make the connections to those ideas in a free-form way -- no Roman numerals, letters and numbers.

While mind mapping programs can give you the free-form freedom you're looking for with ideas, they do force you to connect your ideas -- maybe before you are ready to do that.

For example, when you write down one idea, the program will typically automatically connect it to the next idea you write, unless you manually intervene.

Scapple doesn't even make those kinds of minimal impositions on your thought processes. It gives you a true blank canvas for your ideas.

Making Connections

You can type an idea anywhere on that canvas by moving your cursor to wherever you want the idea to appear and double-clicking the spot. Alternatively, you can use the command-control keys to start a new idea.

As you start populating the Scapple canvas with ideas, you might want to move some ideas close to others. All you need to do is click and drag the idea to its new location.

Now you may notice how some ideas relate to others. You want to connect those ideas. No problem. Click one of the ideas you want to connect and drag it to the other idea. The "dragged" idea will bounce back to its original location and a dotted line showing the connection between ideas will appear on the screen.

You can reposition either idea, and the bond between them will stretch and shrink to accommodate the changes.

Don't like the connection anymore? Just drag one idea onto the other and the link will be broken.

Don't like the ideas either? Click on them and tap delete.

Using Arrows to Target Ideas

Dotted lines are OK, but a mind map isn't a mind map without arrows.

Scapple lets you link ideas with arrows on the fly.

To create an arrow from an idea you've dragged to another idea, hold down the option key as you drag and drop the idea.

An arrow in the other direction can be created by holding both the option and command keys while dragging and dropping ideas.

Two-way arrows can be created by holding down the shift and command keys during a drag and drop.

If you see two ideas connected by a link, and suddenly you realize that there should be another idea between the pair, you can double-click on the link and a box will pop up, allowing you to insert the idea between the other two.

Stacking Ideas

While a mind map's horizontal dimensions are its strong suit, sometimes the vertical relationship of a series of ideas can be too obvious to ignore. Scapple lets you group those ideas in "stacks."

For example, let's say you have an idea that you'd like to connect with several URLs. You could connect everything together with dotted lines or arrows, but a stack might be more useful.

You could create your idea, select it and then hit command-enter. A new box will appear immediately below the idea. You can paste your first URL in that box, select it, hit command- enter again to create the next item in the stack, and so on until the stack is finished.

By the way, URLs in Scapple are live, and clicking on them will take you to their location on the Internet.

When you're creating ideas on the fly, you might not see what makes a good stack of ideas. That's not a problem. You can select the ideas you want to stack by using shift- or command-click and choose "stack" from Scapple's menu bar. All the ideas will be neatly stacked under the first idea you selected.

Shining Star

In addition to associating ideas by stacking, you can also place borders around them. That will make them stand out on the page.

You can also lock the ideas inside the border you draw around them by choosing "magnetic" from the Notes pulldown menu. Locking ideas in the shape allows you to move both the shape and ideas around as a single unit.

Scapple not only accepts keyboard input, but you can also drag pictures and document files into it.

When your finished with your mind map, Scapple lets you export it in a number of ways. You can send it out as an image file -- PDF or PNG -- as well as text and opml files. A word of caution -- text files can be chaotic.

With its intuitive interface and economy of design, Scapple is one of the best mind mapping programs we've seen to date. Some mind mapping programs may do more, but none are easier to use.

In the constellation of mind mapping programs, Scapple is one of the brightest stars.


John Mello is a freelance technology writer and former special correspondent for Government Security News.


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