Mind mapping software is hot.
From freeware like FreeMind to elaborate corporate planning tools like MindManager to Web 2.0 offerings like Bubbl.us, Mindomo, Kayuda and MindMeister, software developers are busily introducing new mind mapping variations or updating old ones.
Mind mapping, for the uninitiated, is a visual method for organizing ideas — a sort of project management tool for the mind. It often involves lots of thoughts in “bubbles” connected by lines.
The language used to describe the elements of a mind map — root idea, children, siblings, etc. — parallels that used by software outliners, except mind maps don’t have the rigid vertical form outlines have. Mind maps have an air of horizontal chaos about them.
That chaos can make mind maps hard to follow sometimes, but a map offering from TheBrain Technologies addresses that challenge by adding a third dimension to its mental cartography.
Called “Personal Brain,” recently released in its fourth edition, the software is amazingly easy to use, especially considering the complexity of the tasks that it’s handling.
When you create a map, you’re immediately prompted for your central thought. After you name it, it appears on your display framed in “bullets.” The bullets are called “gates.”
To associate one thought with another, you click on the gate, hold your mouse button down, move your mouse arrow to a blank area on your map (a line will appear on your screen as you move the arrow) and release your mouse button. You will be prompted for a new thought.
This method for creating thoughts is fast and easy to learn, which is important when ideas come rushing into your head. It’s also more consistent with the visual metaphor of mind mapping than programs that require keystrokes to birth new brain gems.
Begone Flat Maps
What’s nice about Personal Brain is that it’s designed to work in three dimensions.
Let’s say we create a map called “Super Heroes.” To that we associate a number of “children” — Spider-man, Superman, Batman, Flash and Green Lantern.
Our map looks like a wheel now, with Super Heroes at the hub and Spider-man and so forth located at the end of the spokes.
Now to each child, we associate a number of super-powers. Spider-man, for example, would include super strength, web spinning and spider sense.
When we focus on Super Heroes, we will see the names of the super heroes, but their powers will be hidden from view. When we change the focus, though, by clicking on a super hero’s name, the powers associated with that hero will be displayed.
That property gives the map, or in Personal Brain terminology, the Plex, a 3-D quality that makes working with diagrams, especially complex ones, much easier than with a typical flat map.
New Features Galore
The new version of Personal Brain has more than 60 new features, including an advanced search function and integration with Microsoft Outlook.
With advanced search, you can fish through more than 200 document types.
Outlook integration adds yet another dimension to your maps. You can drag and drop contacts and tasks into thoughts on your map and later open them immediately with a click.
Superlative Mind Mapper
Personal Brain is offered in three flavors: free, core (US$149.95) and pro ($249.95) and will operate on computers running Windows, OS X and Linux.
The free version allows you to create maps with an unlimited number of thoughts, attach Web pages to thoughts and search for words throughout the thoughts in a map.
The core release has all the features of the free offering as well as the ability to attach documents to thoughts, search those documents and print your maps.
The pro edition has all the features of the core program plus the power to export maps as Web pages, a calendar with reminders, poster printing, spell checking and Outlook integration.
I’ve experimented with more than a few mind managers — both offline and online — and Personal Brain is one of the best I’ve seen so far. Its elegant design and savvy interface make it a pleasure to use and a productive tool for the creative process.
John Mello is a freelance business and technology writer who can be reached at email@example.com.