Web-based Mindmapping

Until now, mind-mapping has been one of the key aspects of information-management that has not been well-supported on the web.

Granted, Freemind has been platform-neutral since the beginning (through its use of Java), and somewhat-integrated with WikkaWiki, but this still very much relies on an individual providing their own server-based architecture. Other tools such as word-processing, calendaring and spreadsheets have had web-based incarnations for a while, but my frustration has been the lack of a truly web-enabled mind-mapping tool: on the desktop I now use MindManager as my core tool for organising and creating information, dropping out to other applications only when a specific treatment of information is required.

At last, companies are rising to the opportunity of this gap in the market – the two best known being Mindomo and MindMeister (still in private beta – subscribe to newsletter to get invitation). Chuck Frey has just published a first feature-comparison of these plus Bubbl.us and Thinkature (although as Chuck points out, the latter two are not really mind-mapping in the traditional sense).

Chuck’s initial conclusions show that the two main products are taking different approaches to development – Mindomo seems to be focusing on UI features whereas MindMeister is providing a basic feature set coupled with good ability to import and export from/to other applications and websites. The collaboration model seems to be different too, with MindMeister offering real–time shared editing.

It will be interesting to see what happens to these products – my guess at the moment is that they will appeal to slightly different groups for whom the differing feature sets create a value distinction. Extrapolating from the sorts of things that people do already, both on- and off-line, I think there are two main sorts of workflows for which these online maps wil be suited:

  1. Long-term collaboration and knowledge sharing amongst a group, where the Mindmap becomes the primary repository; and
  2. Dynamic brainstorming, possibly primed with information prepared offline, and where the results of the collaboration are taken away for further work.

On the face of it, although both tools could do either, Mindomo seems to be heading in a direction best-suited to approach 1, whilst MindMeister looks to be a good fit for approach 2 as well. Obviously these workflows are not decoupled, rather they are places on a continuum, but it will be interesting to see which gains most traction first.

One of my main concerns about using an online service such as these is the stability and security of the offering – none of us wants to invest time in creating information only to find that the platform we have used for storing and sharing it has evaporated overnight. (Nick Duffill makes a related point) For that reason I suspect that workflows nearer to (2) will be the better initial match for these online mindmapping tools, which in theory should give MindMeister an advantage. Let’s see!

Update

Eric Blue has issued a call for action for a common mind-mapping file format, and Kayuda is another online product that looks worthy of investigation…

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Julian Elve
Proactive application of technology to business

My interests include technology, personal knowledge management, social change

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