mind map maker

Are you searching for an online mind map maker? Are you overwhelmed by the range of choices and the different lists of what is the “best”?

As someone who has made over 10,000 maps in 25 years of using mind map maker software, I have some good news for you. Only a handful of features truly matter. Every mind map tool does something special, but just a few basics matter the most. They are the foundation for helping you to be better organized, generate ideas, and be better prepared. What is surprising is that even today, some of the mind map makers don’t address all of these basics.

Mind mapping software draws your attention to special features such as mind map templates, using it to plan projects, or using it to brainstorm online with team members. These are all useful, but good quality basic features create the most value. You might have seen galleries of maps online or extensive libraries of mind map templates, showing you what other people have done. These are nice, but not where the real value comes from. It comes from the interaction between you and the map when you create your own maps.

From hundreds of features to five

It was not difficult to pick five features from a list of hundreds. I thought about what creating mind maps would be like without them, or if they were awkward or slow to use. Ergonomics really matter. Ultimately, the “best” mind mapping software is the one that lets you concentrate on what you want to achieve with a map, and not on the technology itself. In each case, the feature symbolizes a better way to work with information.

There is still mind mapping software around that treats a mind map as a static picture, rather than a workspace where you can develop, test, improve and work on ideas visually. Of course, you can draw a mind map with any kind of graphics package, but unless it understands what you are trying to do, it will not grow and change with your growing and changing knowledge.

Making mind maps is about testing and fixing hundreds of small assumptions, incomplete ideas, and fragments of information. You need to be able to fail and fix in real time, at the speed of thought. To meet you halfway, the software needs to be a mind map tool rather than just a graphics package.

So here are the five features that I rely on every day when creating mind maps.

1. Drag and drop

Being able to drag and drop a topic or a tree of topics from one place to another seems too obvious to mention. It is the single most underrated feature of mind mapping software. When you move a topic from one place to another, you change its meaning. This is because its meaning is relative to the central idea.

There are very few other tools that let you work at this conceptual level. Every time you move something to a better place, you are clarifying your thinking and making it easier for your team members to understand your ideas.

Mind map maker feature - drag and drop
Dropping a topic defines its context and meaning

A map is the net result of hundreds of small evolutions, not one big step. Tony Buzan’s original rules for drawing ideas visually did not really explore the power of moving things around on an infinite canvas, because this was not practical on paper. The software has brought us this technique and it unlocks a new level of thinking within the map.

Avoid choosing a mind map maker where moving topics is awkward because you will use it extensively.

2. Expand and collapse

As we discuss here, mind maps are a type of diagram where the currency of thought is context and importance. Less important (more detailed) information is found at the edges of maps, with the most important ideas near the central idea. You can then hide detail while you concentrate on what really matters. This is done by “expanding” or “collapsing” the topics at a certain point in the tree.

Mind map maker feature - expand and colapse
A single topic can be expanded to reveal a rich description

This feature allows you to concentrate on a small area in what could effectively be an almost infinite canvas. This lets you work efficiently with large amounts of information, only seeing the parts that matter at any one time. Like drag and drop, it seems too obvious to mention. The mind mapping software you choose should make it easy to expand and collapse areas within your map without needing to stop and think about it, ideally with a keyboard shortcut.

3. Filter by icon

Most mind map maker software can mark topics on a map with an icon. Some will let you filter the map to show only the topics with a specific icon.

When creating mind maps, some things are easy to put in the “right place”. You can find or create a home on the map and navigate to them again without much trouble. But other ideas are harder to pin down and might apply in multiple places across your map. For example, there might be ten things in a project management map that you know will cause problems later. Trying to design your map around this status could make it hard to organize things clearly. Icons are a perfect solution. You can mark topics on the map with an icon for “trouble ahead”, so that you easily spot them when you view the map.

But if your map has three hundred topics, finding all the ones with a specific icon could be error prone. Filtering a map by icons means that you can change to a different perspective in real time to make decisions or actions.

Unfiltered, it can be hard to find icons on a large map.

Mind map before filtering

Mindomo lets you filter maps in many ways, including icons:

Mindomo feature - filtering by icon

Filtering by icon gives you a new view of the map:

When viewing the map as a whole, you can see the big ideas and their relationship to the detail. Filtering the map by the “trouble ahead” icon changes your perspective to generate ideas about things that need more thought before they become problems, regardless of how deep they are hidden in the detail. This is a powerful technique that mind mapping software is very good at.

Many mind map templates will include icons that will help in specific types of maps. You can also add your own designs to your mind map templates collection to re-use previous approaches that work well.

4. Hyperlinks

Almost every package lets you add a hyperlink to a topic. You can click on the link and go to a place on the Internet or in your network.

While this is a simple feature, there is a more powerful idea behind it. Online resources are potentially infinite. Google indexes over fifty billion web pages. An infinite resource is both incredibly valuable and totally useless at the same time. You will need a strategy for finding a path that leads somewhere useful. As we already mentioned about working with the context in mind maps, you can use an online mind map to compile information around a specific goal by creating maps of links.

Mind map maker feature - add hyperlinks
Organizing linked information to help understand it

Unlike a flat list of “interesting” web sites, the links in a mind map are organized by context and by degree of importance. A web site that might be important and near the center in one map. The same link could have a low ranking in another map, depending on the context and relevance to your objectives. Again, this is a powerful way to work with information. Instead of just collecting information, you are thinking about its relevance and importance in context, which is why it is in the top 5 features I use every day.

5. Tasks

Last, but by no means least, being able to define and track tasks in an online mind map converts them from maps “about” something into maps for doing something.

There are dozens of advanced tools for managing projects, tasks, and to-do lists. There are also hundreds of software applications for creating and sharing information, such as word processors, spreadsheets, presentation tools, web site creators, databases, and more.

Project management and task management tools often have no space for non-task information. Information-based tools don’t usually include the ability to define and track tasks in real time, although this is changing slowly. But mind mapping software has had both for decades, waiting for the others to catch up. You can organize tasks and the information they need right next to each other, in the same document. Tasks and non-task information are equally at home in software mind maps. This is why mind mapping has become a popular way to plan projects, and many of the mind map templates are designed for project managers.

Mind map maker feature - tasks mind maps
Tasks and information can be freely mixed in Mindomo

Even if your map is not a project management map, you are certain to reach a point where something needs to be done before you can continue. Being able to drop a task into the map at the right point turns it into a workspace, not just a static picture. Once you have tasks in your map, Mindomo will keep track of them and send you reminders.

Putting it all together

Whether you are using mind maps online or in a software package, getting to grips with these basic features will help your maps to grow into a thinking space where you can create, test, and improve your ideas and knowledge. The map is the tool for getting something done, not the software.

Keep it smart, simple, and creative!
Author: Nick Duffill

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