Keeping track of thoughts and ideas, whether at home, at work, or even on the go, isn’t always a great exercise if all you have is the edge of a paper napkin or a tattered utility bill. With technology having developed in so many areas of our daily lives, it’s hardly surprising to find that there are many methods of capturing what we’re thinking and planning. One such method is called mind mapping.
Mind mapping is actually a centuries-old concept, though many of us think of it as being a modern development. As far back as the third century, a Greek philosopher named Porphyry was thought to have used mind mapping to form his ideas and, later, during the Renaissance, Leonardo da Vinci is said to have brainstormed using notes.
Modern mind mapping as we know it today probably started in the 1950s when American cognitive scientist Dr. Allan M. Collins did research on human semantic memory and cognition. His ideas and thinking in this area led to what became known as the ‘semantic network’, or a graphical representation of how thoughts connect to each other.
In the 1960s, British psychologist Tony Buzan appeared on a BBC television show where he first used the term ‘mind map,’ and introduced the idea of visually representing information by colour and from the middle of a page, branching out into a tree-like structure of thoughts.
In today’s world, there are plenty of mind mapping tools available in desktop, cloud-based, or mobile software options. If you are a small start-up that needs to work collaboratively with remote staff, a catering company planning a large function, a writer trying to solve a plot dilemma, or a student working on a film project – indeed, whoever you are, there’s a mind mapping tool for you.
Here is a list of 10 mind mapping tools that can help you brainstorm.
With SpiderScribe, elements like text, images, files, calendar events and even geographic locations can be combined using this web-based mapping and brainstorming tool.
Free for individuals, the software allows the user to create public and private maps which can easily be shared and worked on collaboratively. Stencils can be customized according to preferences such as colour, size, and format, and the company suggests more stencil types will soon be available.
Web links are automatically detected and all maps can be embedded, using one click, into any website using SpiderScribe’s Embed Wizard. There are paid subscriptions for businesses who want to brainstorm ideas, plan projects, and research topics.
MindNode (iOS, OSX)
Designed for the iOS and Mac platform and available for iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch, MindNode is an easy to use mind mapping app developed by an Austrian company. An infinite canvas allows you to add as many mind maps as you wish and to cross connect modes from different maps using the drag and drop feature. Important nodes can be highlighted using different colours, fonts, and stroke widths.
Once created, maps can be exported to iCloud or other cloud storage options such as Dropbox, in PDF, OPML, PNG, Freemind or text file formats. On the web, maps can be publicly using the MyMindNode service. The app pricing depends on which version you download.
Scapple (OSX, Windows)
A variation on mind mapping software is Scapple, created by the team at UK-based Literature and Latte whose first foray into software was Scrivener, an application to help authors with their writing. Scapple allows users to enter ideas in a free form way and then connect them without adhering to a hierarchy. It has a drag and drop feature which is also useful for dragging between Scapple and Scrivener, customization of notes by colour, font and border style, and can stack notes in columns of related ideas. Notes can be in any form including pictures, PDF and text.
Lucid Chart (Web, Chrome)
Cloud-based diagramming software Lucid Chart can be used directly from any web browser and most mobile devices. It is also on Google Apps and Drive, and seamlessly integrates with Confluence, Jira and Jive.
Lucid Chart features drag and drop functionality, secure encryption, and allows team members to collaborate in real-time. Whether you are a developer mocking up apps or wireframes, or in an office creating flowcharts, this software can help you. One distinctive option is the Microsoft Visio import/export capability, which allows sharing from that application. All revision history for projects is tracked, and any maps embedded on blogs and websites are automatically updated.
Free for teachers, students and single users, Lucid Chart is also used by companies such as Netflix, Dropbox, Ralph Lauren and Hersheys.
Mindomo (iOS, Android, Windows, Linux)
Created by a small Romanian company, Mindomo is available as both a desktop and cloud-based application, and on all platforms. It also has a desktop widget called Idea Grabber that lets you capture an idea as soon as you have it.
Like most mind mapping tools, it is collaborative, secure, and efficient, allowing for tasks to be created and assigned if teams are working on projects. Maps can be merged and work can be synchronized online and offline. One great feature is its integration with Evernote, which allows any clips there to be integrated into your Mindomo mind map.
Mindomo only offers fee-paid options but is currently looking for Beta testers for its latest iteration, so it might be possible to try it out for free.
Used by everyone from businesses and students, film professionals to food growers and community advocates, Popplet is the brainchild of New York-based Notion Inc., and is both web-based and available on iPad.
Using mind mapping, you can brainstorm, plan projects, create mood and story boards, scrapbooks, presentations and organize school class notes. Features include Pan and Zoom, multi-language support, PDF and JPEG export and real-time collaboration between iPads and iPad to Web.
You can also add YouTube and Vimeo videos to web-based popplets, and track history using the TimeWarp option. There is a free, limited version and a full-feature Pro version on offer.
XMind is both open source and proprietary software and therefore offers both free and paid options. Aside from the usual collaboration and mind mapping options to help you organize ideas and plan presentations, XMind offers a wide array of features, including the ability to export to Microsoft Excel, Word, PowerPoint, and Adobe PDF.
Drill Down is a feature that lets you focus on a specific branch, and there is a map merge option, template library, and the capability of capturing audio notes. XMind also offers support in importing files from other mind mapping programs like MindJet, Freemind and Mind Manager.
Freeplane (OSX, Windows, Linux)
An open source mind mapping tool that runs on any operating system supporting Java, Freeplane can be run as a desktop program or on a portable device such as a USB drive.
Easy to use, with drag and drop functionality and multi-language support, the application offers free style note taking, idea ordering through a hierarchy, tasking with calendars and reminders, and password protection. Nodes can be automatically styled with colour and structured by content type from text to calculation, image to hyperlink.
Support for the software is available through a Wiki and user forum as well as tutorials and a manual comprising mind maps.
Mindmeister (Web, iOS, Android)
Launched in 2007, Mindmeister is another online mind mapping tool that requires only a standard web browser and is used by individuals, businesses and academic institutions alike.
With over 300 million ideas already mapped online, the software enables team collaboration, the development of presentations and stores all work revision history. Maps can be shared using Facebook, Twitter and email.
A basic subscription is free for up to 3 mind maps and thereafter fees are based on different user types. Smaller fee plans are offered to students and educational institutions. Mindmeister is also available for iPhone, iPad and Android.
iMindMap (iOS, Android, Windows)
0-$245, Plus Subscription Fees.
iMindMap is the product that Tony Buzan started, and after 40 years of research, is considered the primary mind mapping tool.
Intuitive and easy to use, iMindMap offers stunning visuals, project management and collaboration options, a 3D View and encourages the user to think more creatively when mapping because it works in the way the brain naturally processes information. There is a range of interchangeable skins for your drawing space, and you can draw straight onto the canvas with iMindMap’s Sketch tool.
The Home and Student Edition software costs around $80 US and iMindMap is also on the iOS and Android mobile platforms.
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