At Content Solutions, we do quite a bit of brainstorming before we dive into our projects. Mind mapping is a great way to add structure to projects. Some of you may recognize it as bubble charts. I think every 10 years or so, we come up with a different term for the the thing teachers began teaching us in the third grade.
No matter what you call the process, mind mapping remains an effective way to approach any kind of project, be it web design, graphic design, writing, blogging, or a myriad of other areas.
Earlier this week, Lifehacker asked its readers for their suggestions of the top mind mapping applications out there. They posted the top five earlier today. As we’re always looking for ways to improve our processes in a way that will allow us to meet our clients’ content needs in the most economical way possible, we’ll be taking a look at the three contenders that are free.
Here’s what Lifehacker had to say about them. (Stay tuned for our opinions.)
MindMeister (Web Application, Free)
MindMeister is by far the most simplistic mind mapping tool in the top five, but its simplicity is definitely an asset. Once you’re logged into the service, you can create a fully functional mind map using little more than the directional arrows and the Insert key to add new nodes to your map. Additional customizations like font size and node colors are available for when you want to go beyond the basics. In the upper right corner is a navigation window, handy for when your mind maps become larger than the display space. Exporting is also a strong point for MindMeister; you can export your files to a text outline, PDF, JPG, PNG, or GIF. MindMeister’s history function lets you view past versions of your mind map and revert to them if you desire. You can share your maps for public collaboration or hand-select collaborators. Upgrading from the free account to the premium account gives you some handy additional features like map searching, offline editing, and the ability to export your maps to popular software like FreeMind and MindManager.
XMind (Windows/Mac/Linux, Free)
XMind is the kind of free application that makes you forget you’re not paying for the privilege of using it. The interface is simple and intuitive to use. You can quickly move through your entire mind map with only a handful of keystrokes or jump over to the outline view for even quicker navigation. In addition to a basic mind map you can also create fishbone, organizational, tree, and logic charts. You can export charts as HTML, images, or text, and XMind comes a free account on XMind.net which allows you to share your charts online and embed them into blogs and web sites. There is a professional version of XMind which expands on the functionality of the base application and allows you to create online charts and collaborate with others. XMind Pro is $49 per year, but most people will find the free version more than robust enough for their mind mapping needs. Portable versions available for all three supported platforms.
FreeMind (Java, Free)
One of FreeMind’s strongest selling points is a Java-based implementation. Whether you use it on Ubuntu or Windows, the features and user interface remain consistent. FreeMind is keyboard friendly with the core functionality well covered by keyboard shortcuts—I made the sample mind map pictured here without ever touching the mouse. The visual elements of your mind maps are highly customizable, including custom icons for flagging nodes on the map, color coding, grouping, and more. Mind maps created with FreeMind can be exported as HTML, PDF, and PNG files, among others.The support wiki for FreeMind is extensive and goes well beyond simply explaining how the application functions, covering things like how to add your own keyboard shortcuts and how to make the application portable.
What are your thoughts? We look forward to hearing your feedback in the comments.