Which is the best mindmapping software?
I track discussions about mind mapping on Twitter and in blogs, and I often hear or read the question “Which is the best mindmapping software?” Anyone who gives you a single, immediate answer either knows you and your mindmapping activities very well, or is likely recommending the one that they’ve become familiar with themselves.
- 1 What’s “best”?
- 2 Two drivers for mapping
- 3 One package can’t support all user profiles …
- 4 PC or Mac?
- 5 Mobile mapping
- 6 What have I missed out?
- 7 More about mind mapping
What is “best” depends so much on how you use mind maps. Some people use them for study, some for planning projects, some for organizing information, some to spark ideas and facilitate brainstorming sessions, some while planning the writing of a report or blog post. Some mindmap alone, others mindmap in groups. Most of us probably do all of these from time to time, so we need a quiver full of arrows to choose from. Here you will find recommendations, some free and some not so free.
Myself, I mostly use Xmind, 3D Topicscape Pro (naturally, as much of it is my design), MindManager, MindMeister and CMAP depending on what I’m doing. I have tried many, many others. I played with text2mindmap for a while, because it takes a different approach: Key in a text outline and it produces a mindmap from it. It’s amusing, but it does confine the user to a strict tree hierarchy and that’s something I find very limiting. The map below shows the advantage of being able to go beyond a tree structure.
Two drivers for mapping
I’ve been mapping for more than thirty years but soon after starting, I saw that there are two motivations for using mind maps (and similar visual models): When the process of making it is what’s important; or when the map itself is what you need.
Either because it makes you think
The process of building the map can help you think something through, get new ideas or learn. The map map you make during this process will probably be filed away and forgotten when you’ve finished.
Someone seeing the map you produce may not be able to make much sense of it, but it’s how you got there that matters. You’re not building it to share. Then, ease of use of the software will be important so that it does not get in the way of the process of thinking. You need to look out for keyboard shortcuts, ease of moving round the map and searching, and ways of connecting maps. MindManager, Xmind and Freeplane are good for this and provide quite a lot of freedom in layout to suit your own immediate needs. You may want to turn off auto-layout, though.
Here, your colleagues’ comprehension of the map will be important, so a tool that produces clear and businesslike results is needed. Whether this means it’s appropriate to stick to auto-layout and not too much color will depend on the business culture. Publishers of one on-line web application, Comapping, claim to have researched their left-to-right mindmapping style and found this easier to introduce to mindmap novices, though you may soon want to move on to maps that allow more flexibility. Alternatively, a product that can turn a mindmap into an outline may be useful in winning over people who are not ‘visual thinkers’. MindManager and Inspiration can both do this.
One package can’t support all user profiles …
. . . or even all occasions, so I’ve split this into a few articles. Choose the one(s) that fit your needs, or browse them all. You’ll find a link to the next article at the foot of each:
Where the PROCESS is what matters to you:
|For study, learning and
|For planning projects
and managing projects
|To spark ideas and
|When planning writing,
reports or blogs
|For concept maps (not mind
maps, but useful)
|To design a web site or
|To organize your personal
tasks This really fits into both
Where the MAP ITSELF is important
|When organizing information|
|If you often work in dispersed
teams or groups
|For presentations with
PC or Mac?
Your computer will limit choice to some degree. Mac users have less choice and though some software runs on Windows and Macs, updates to the Windows version will often be released before the Mac. Here’s a quick list of Mac mapping software: Free: Freeplane, FreeMind; Xmind; MindNode; iMindmap Basic. Not free: Novamind; iMindmap (other versions); MindManager; Curio; Mythoughts; ConceptDraw.
I have to mention mind mapping on a mobile phone, pad or tablet. Working on phone screens can be painful (once you’ve got over the ‘Wow!’ factor), but there can be times – when stuck on a train, for example – when you want to whip out your smartphone and start mapping. Of those I’ve tried, iMindMap is the standout on really small screens.
Mapping on an iPad is a different case – it is more practical, and here I’d warmly recommend iThoughtsHD. Not only is it easy to use and able to make attractive maps, it has the ability to import and export maps from a wide range of other mind mapping software. And its developer continually adds to its capability.
Here, then, is a comprehensive list of mobile applications with sample maps and my observations that you can consider for mapping on the run.
What have I missed out?
Many excellent software packages! One I haven’t mentioned and really ought to is NovaMind. This is widely noted for producing very attractive maps, but with what I already have, I can’t justify to myself the extra cost. If you are in the market for a mind mapping software license and haven’t committed yet, you should take a look at Novamind.
You should also look at the long list of free mapping products here: Free mind mapping (and related types) software
And if you’re still unresolved, mind-mapping.org has a tool to help you choose by operating system, type of map produced and many other features. →
More about mind mapping
Help in Twitter
I’m on Twitter as @roygrubb where you’ll often see me answering questions about information mapping and software. I hope I’ll see you there! (Follow me on Twitter.)
If you’re here at WikIT, the mind mapping wiki, for the first time, you may not know that it is a vast store of free information about all types of information mapping. Why not explore now?
The free mapping software – detailed reviews
Think that reviews of the features of free mind mapping and similar software, with examples, might be useful? Then pick up this no-cost eBook with its analysis that shows the capabilities of each package. Grab your copy now!
Libraries of mind maps
One day you might want to scan through other people’s mind maps to help with one of your own. Bookmark this page about the main mind map libraries. You can search through all the libraries with one search.
Roy Grubb is a management consultant who has practised internationally—in the USA, Asia and Europe—for more than 30 years. He has been using a variety of types of mind maps for project management and to organize information for almost as long. One of his consultancy’s assignments is the project management for the development of the family of 3D mapping software called Topicscape. He is at present based in Hong Kong.