Saturday, November 04, 2006

Selecting Mind Mapping Software……

Ok, now we get into the really interesting side of this little exercise: trying to select just one program in this category to satisfy my selection criteria. All the software, except one, adhere to Buzan’s basic mind map design principles, although it may not be very obvious in some cases.

Variety of options is extensive and leads to a wide range of capabilities with this software. Some software is designed for basic personal uses, others are designed with business in mind. Some offer extensive export capabilities to word processors, spreadsheets, and presentation packages; others have built-in presentation capabilities and can stand alone. Others offer a collaboration option. And if it’s glitz and pizazz that is of interest, there’s a least one package in this mix that would be suitable.

Most of the software in this category will meet the demands of the criteria I laid out; however, the degree to which they meet the criteria varies considerably. If I just wanted some software to do some simple mind mapping, then I think any of these packages would suit me. But I was looking for software that would meet my criteria to the greatest degree possible. I ranked each criterion per program on a scale of 0 to 5, zero meanng the option or feature wasn’t available and 5 meaning the software offered exactly what I was looking for and often more. The ranking was subjective and qualitative. Despite the selection available, however, I did not find one software package that fully met all my demands; so I had to compromise.

When it came to trial testing software, I was able to select several packages that I thought might be satisfactory. Of those rejected, quite a number in the list were similar to Freemind, others were similar to MindMapper, and still others just did not have a very impressive website.

Freemind was the first mind mapping software that I found, so all other freeware was compared to it. I didn’t see significant differences and certainly not enough to warrant changing my selection.

As for Mind Mapper, it was the first trial software that I downloaded. Whenever, I looked at new software, I was comparing it to Mind Mapper and often found too many similarities to warrant changing my selection.

I eventually added three other, more expensive, packages: ConceptDraw MindMap Pro, MindManager Pro, and MindGenius Business.

Freemind really didn’t meet all my needs, but this didn’t surprise me. It’s quirky and has a certain simplicity to it. But it just doesn’t measure up to the quality of commercial software output. But if the software has only to provide brainstorming, party planning and to-do lists, then I think this software is more than adequate…..and let’s face it, it’s free.

I initially thought Mind Mapper would suit me, but it too lost some ground to the remaining three packages, once I started into a detailed comparison. Mind Mapper, on the other hand, had some features that I wanted but didn’t find on more expensive software.

While reading program reviews, either in the journals or on the internet, reviewers tend to give a feature by feature analysis of one specific software package at a time. It’s not often that one sees programs going head-to-head; and when this does happen, the comparisons are usually again based on feature availability, rather than performance.

Feature comparisons are necessary, but I also wanted to see how the software would perform in completing a typical map that I might want to create. This would not only give me an idea of how well each program could produce an expected map, but would also give me an idea of how the program performed in actually producing the map.

From my notes on the history of knowledge mapping, I constructed a mind map, using the five selected software packages. The objective was to produce the same map, as much as practically possible, using the basic formatting features of the software and not resorting to any convoluted manipulations. I wanted to be able to intuitively construct the maps, with minimal manual referencing. I moved back and forth between the five programs, tweaking the layouts, until the maps all had the same basic layout and format.

The five figures that follow depict the maps that I generated with each program. All the maps have the same basic format and the same tree-branch-twig structure. Differences lay in the additional features possible with some software, the look of the display, the feel of working with the software, the print and output capabilities, and the ease of map creation and manipulation.

I didn’t notice until after my software trial periods had run out that I had some minor detail discrepancies between the maps. However, these did not enter into the evaluation in any way.

Freemind
Freemind ranked lowest on my list with a score of 151. The end product was correct but it’s a basic map with a few icons. In terms of added features, however, the software can’t compete with the other programs. If it was basic maps that were of interest, then this program would have provided what I wanted at no cost. No scaling or local layout control were available, so one can’t tinker with the map layout.

There is no image capability; according to the literature, this is a noted weakness of the program. Controlling mouseovers and subsequent changes of focus was a little irritating; it took a combination of keyboard and mouse movements to maintain the focus so it didn’t keep hopping about. I’m not sure how this software would handle large maps that need to be split multiple times; I didn’t find an option for this.

Mind Mapper
SimTech Systems' Mind Mapper 4.5 Pro came in fourth at a score of 277. Based on the score, alone, I would have passed on the software; however, seeing the map it produced changed my mind. It was a surprisingly very good map on the first attempt. The program auto-adjusted as I added branches, twigs, images, re-formats, etc., always maintaining a clean display. Re-scaling was very easy. Local branch-twig layouts were possible, without using the ‘focus’ feature, something that only Mind Manager and MindGenius, could also do. I tend to produce very large maps, however, and as with Freemind, the ability to produce sub-maps did not appear to be possible with the software. As can be seen in the image, I also had a little difficulty sizing pictures that were imbedded in a branch.

One feature that was lacking in all the software tested was the ability to have more than one main topic with inter-linkages. However, version 5 of Mind Mapper has apparently added this option, which will make it more versatile.

ConceptDraw MindMap
CS Odessa's ConceptDraw MindMap 4 Pro came in third at 320. When I first started working with this program, I found it was the most flexible of all the programs in terms of layout control. It was the one program that allowed independent movement of all branches and levels. However, I couldn’t find the control optioin in the program to force auto-adjust as branch information was added, resulting in branch and text overlaps until the map was refreshed. Consequently, the map needed a lot of tweaking in order to arrange the image to match that of the other programs.

Local layout control was also lacking. Maybe this can be adjusted through options, but I didn’t find the solution. Graphics control, however, was excellent.

One feature that I really liked about this program was its ability to isolate separate branches or even whole maps, yet keep them within the same instance of the program. For large maps, this becomes very useful because the map can be broken down into independent sub-maps, but maintained within the same file, and one mouse-click takes you to any sub-map.

One drawback I found, however, was that only one attachment could be applied to each branch. This presented a problem when I tried to attach several web links and some files to a branch. I ended up creating multiple dummy branches, each containing one link, where one should have sufficed.

For branch variety, this program offered the most options for layout, colour and independent control. Consequently, it offers the greatest variety of map variations, far more than any other program reviewed.

On top of these features, this program was the only one reviewed that has a built in drawing program and an extensive option file of template adjustable symbols. Using this option, it’s possible to construct a concept map without actually using the mind mapping control within the program. But it also means that any mind map can be embellished internally much more so than maps generated by other programs.

Mind Manager
Mindjet’s MindManager Pro 6 came in at 321, which is essentially the same score as ConceptDraw Mindmap. This appears to be a nice, tight program that produces very clean, organized maps. It is so organized, in fact, that I had difficulty diverging from the basic pre-determined structure. I found this rigidity to be a drawback of the program; all map examples that I have seen on the internet also tend to look the same. Whether that is a characteristic of the program or the lack of imagination on the part of the user, I didn’t spend time investigating.

I’m surprised that, for a program as sophisticated and business-oriented as Mind Manager is, better control of map segregation wasn’t available. While a ‘focus’ feature may allow temporary isolation of a map segment, maps are often so large that linkages to a separate map would be preferable, without actually creating separate maps.

MindGenius
Gael’s MindGenius Business 2005 came in first at 354. MindGenius offered just about everything the other programs offered and more. It constantly auto-adjusted for additions. It allowed local branch layout control. Scaling and tweaking were easy. Image manipulation were easy and images maintained their proportions.

The program offered the widest variety of templates; and plenty of branch layout control was available, although not near to the degree that ConceptDraw MindMap offers.

The variety of import/export and I/O options available was probably the greatest with this program, although I didn’t test every option.

For large maps, page breaks could be inserted within the map to indicate where a branch segment would be printed on a new page. For very large maps, it was easier t link to another map, which would be brought up in a second instance of the program.

The ability of this software to produce several options for presentation material was an added feature that I had not initially considered. But MindGenius also came out near the top in satisfying this criterion; only Mind Manager might surpass it.

Priority setting, category selection, and associated sorting were big features of Mind Manager and MindGenius, as I’m sure resource allocation was also. From a business perspective, these would likely be of major interest, if the software were to be used for project management.

All the software in this category came with on-line documentation; however, MindGenius’ documentation was the most extensive and provided detailed examples of each major optional use for the software.


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18 Comments:

Blogger Argey said...

You might want to take a look at the 3D mind mapping software 3D Topicscape at http://www.topicscape.com/

Good for really large projects, or for information management using a mindmapping approach.

November 08, 2006 4:02 AM  
Blogger sjanes71 said...

Very nice summary of the commercially available mind mapping software-- I occasionally use just plain text for my mind maps and convert them into diagrams with Graphviz which is free (at the cost of a learning curve). It may not be as fun to fiddle with and decorate, but I'll know that I control the "file format" forever.

November 12, 2006 11:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very comprehensive review.

I did, however, wonder about your appraisal methodology. Surely, it would have been more accurate to think about a single goal and stress-test each software as you tried to construct the mind map; rather than tweaking the layouts on each program until the maps looked the same

Nevertheless, this type of review is a good demonstration of what the web is all about: enthusiasts sharing their knowledge and passion and educating others as they go.

Regards,

David Ward

November 14, 2006 8:01 AM  
Blogger Staz said...

Argey,
Actually, I was about to download this software a little while ago. There was a time-limited offer ($49) available. Then I tested my computer and found my built-in graphics card on the motherboard wasn't powerful enough...first time I've ever run into this problem.
I've now got a new card, so maybe I'll give it a try. The website certainly presents a unique concept.

November 15, 2006 8:48 PM  
Blogger Staz said...

SJ,
Thanks. I've not seen this software before, although some of the example graphs look familiar. I'd place this software in that 'unique' category; it certainly isn't run-of-the-mill in design, but it can produce both generic concept and mind maps.
I suspect that the learning curve is fairly high, given that it requires textural programming, while thinking graphically??

November 16, 2006 8:51 PM  
Blogger Staz said...

Thanks David,
Maybe I didn't describe my procedure adequately, or perhaps I misunderstand your comment. My evaluation was multi-step: literature and forum reviews, website propaganda reviews, documentation analysis, individual program feature testing, and finally the single map comparison. The feature testing took a long time to complete, during which I produced numerous bits and pieces of maps and map types to see how well the the individual components worked. I plan to summarize the feature analysis in a follow-up; maybe I'll include the Excel sheet, if it will load properly.
I didn't want to give the impression that I found any of the 5 chosen packages inadequate; they all work well, but they also each have their own set of peculiarities.
The single map comparison was done sequentially. By taking my notes on knowledge mapping, I created a map completely from scratch, using each software package. My back-and-forth tweaking at the end was to ensure that each map had the same information (I missed the occasional branch) and each could be produced on a single 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper.
It had not occurred to me at the time to post my raw drafts. Part of the tweaking exercise was necessary to get some maps to align properly for display and printing on a single page. I found that the more flexible the software, the more tweaking was necessary. But that also was part of the exercise: to determine how much effort was required to produce an acceptable map.
If you compare the five final figures, you will see that I could not produce the same map identically; some features were absent or worked differently depending on the software being used.
Finally, compromise was necessary and that's where personal preferences and intended use come in. The scoring doesn't tell the whole story. Criteria categories were not weighted, therefore skewing could possibly distort the meaning of an overall score. And although I tried to eliminate bias, I'm sure there is some reflected in the individual scores. And as Hobie Swan has pointed out in comments on my selection criteria, I did not consider one important subject area, which could have significant impact on a final analysis. Despite an overall score as given here, however, I still think one or two software packages would be preferred over the others for a business environment; and for strictly personal use, another software package would likely be preferable.

November 16, 2006 10:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good review, but one very important criteria is integration possibilities. Maybe you want to make a word-document, website, powerpoint-presentation, projectplan i MS project etc directly from your Mindmap. You should never have to do the same work again in another software.

November 17, 2006 4:57 AM  
Blogger Denham said...

Staz,

I'm learning from your exploration of mind and concept mapping software but think we have a very different concept of knowledge mapping!.

Knowledge mapping to me is a practice that seeks to identify, stores, sinks, flows, opportunities, threats, gaps and potentials in the use and application of knowledge within a firm or group.

Concept (and to a lesser extent mind mapping) would then be knowledge mapping tools along with ethnography, questionnaires, videography, interviews......which could be used to capture, visualize, portray and analyze the data.

Thoughts?

November 26, 2006 8:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Did you ever run across the list of mind mapping software at http://www.mind-mapping.org ?

They claim to have them all but I imagine it's hard to keep up!

Tim

November 28, 2006 9:36 AM  
Blogger Linda Fulkerson said...

I've been researching Mind Mapping software so I appreciate your in-depth review. I went to the Mind Genius site to check it out after reading your review but I was disappointed that they haven't developed it for Mac. I have downloaded the trial versions of NovaMind, which has a screenwriter's module included, and ConceptDraw.

December 01, 2006 10:57 PM  
Blogger Wes said...

Staz,

Thanks very much for this review. Your methodology is impressive; I much appreciate you sharing your results with the public.

I've been evaluating visual mind mapping software for a while now.

I've actually been using FreeMind to publish simple maps to my company intranet for a few years now. I agree completely with your analysis of it; it is good for simple, non-graphical things.

I'm also a long-time user of Brainstorm.

I started my evaluation of commercial software options with NovaMind and VisiMap, and eliminated them both quickly. I just didn't like their interfaces, and they both felt underpowered.

I then moved on to evaluating MindGenius Business and MindManager Pro. I was very impressed with both, but had a difficult time making a decision during the evaluation period - the 21 days just went by too quickly.

Both applications are quite impressive. I prefer MindManager's UI for smaller maps and MindGenius for larger maps.

I've been leaning toward MindGenius partly because it's less expensive. Your evaluation has confirmed my suspicions: MindGenius seems to be a better value. I think I'll be buying it later this week.

December 04, 2006 1:12 AM  
Blogger Staz said...

True, the integration capabilities are important. I covered them in general in my evaluation, although I didn't mentioned each option specifically.

December 04, 2006 11:36 PM  
Blogger Staz said...

Hi Denham,
I may be incorrect in my assumption, but I think your description refers to knowledge management, which I don’t understand to be the same as knowledge mapping.

On my illustrations, I inadvertently used an abbreviation for Knowledge Mapping that has generally been applied to Knowledge Management, that is, KM.

However, in deciding to use the term, “Knowledge Mapping”, I had a feeling that someone would eventually ask me to explain myself. The simple explanation is that I view this term as representing a very generic collective. I’ll explain a bit better, I hope, in my next blog entry. At the moment, I've got too many things on the go and haven't had a chance to put my thoughts on this subject to paper.
In the meantime, you might be interested in a article by K.M. Fisher et al. at http://www.sci.sdsu.edu/CRMSE/Fisher_aaas2000.html

December 05, 2006 12:35 AM  
Blogger Staz said...

Hi Tim,
Yes, I have visited the site, http://www.mind-mapping.org, numerous times. However, I began this assessment almost a year ago and a lot has changed since then, especially in regard to new software. I can't keep up with it all, but I try to check out anything that appears unique.

December 05, 2006 12:52 AM  
Blogger Staz said...

Hi Linda,
When I started out looking at software, NovaMind did not have a Windows version. But based on the website, the software appeared to be the most capable of replicating hand-drawn maps, if that is important. I have not had an opportunity to try out the new Windows version, yet. I'm not sure what the Screenwriter's version offers, but it's an intriguing concept.
ConceptDraw is available for both platforms and it's a very good product. If it's colour and uniqueness that's needed, I'd say that either of these software packages offer more than most of the Windows-only packages.

December 05, 2006 1:09 AM  
Blogger Staz said...

Hi Wes,
I'm not familiar with Brainstorm, but if its name is meaningful, then it's easy to guess what it's strength is.
I think, in trying to choose between MindGenius and Mind Manager, it really comes down to personal appeal and applicable uses. However, it will also depend on corporate acceptance, if the software is intended for use in this area.

December 05, 2006 1:24 AM  
Blogger sjanes71 said...

Staz, Dot requires textual editing and thinking in graphs-- this is "connected" to "that." For an undirected graph, I write just "symbol--symbol;" or for a directed connection "symbol->symbol". If I want to decorate the symbols a little bit, I will write a line that says "symbol [label="The Label",shape=box,...];". It doesn't matter what order you write these thoughts in--the programs take it all in and process them. After I brainstorm my graph, I spend a little bit of time churning it out with different options or command lines to find a result that I find pleasing. There are some different versions of the same command, "dot", "neato", "circo", "twopi" and "fdp." If I need to add/remove I just edit the text version of the graph and regenerate. I think of it like the difference between WYSIWYG editing and information capture. I model the relationships first before I worry about how it looks. I can then keep this graph (in its text form) in a revision control system that can show me the differences between revisions (because it is text, not a graphic). Plus I know that its not held hostage by any application's data format. I used dot graphs for another blog I have for organizational relationships between large numbers of people in an electorate.

December 08, 2006 11:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just have a look at the MindMaps on www.knowledgemaps.info. I think they are just better than the ones created with MindGenius and MindManager.
Regards
Ingo
PS: An English version will be available during the next month

January 11, 2007 3:51 PM  

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