MindMup: Browser-based, free, easy and open source

Nov 11th, 2013 | By | Category: Mindmapping software

MindMup is a web-based mind mapper that you can use free, with no limit on the number of maps.  It supports multi-user, simultaneous access and, if you’re using MindMup’s free storage or storing maps locally on you computer, it requires no log in.  This makes it an attractive tool for school use.  That’s not to say that it’s a toy as it can be used for serious mapping.

The user experience

Starting to map with MindMup is easy – their motto of “Zero-friction free online mind mapping” is one that its designers have taken seriously.  You might get the impression that MindMup is less capable than it is, because some quite important functions are somewhat hidden, but there are easily-found web pages for help, hints and shortcuts and I’ve mentioned some here.

The appearance is quite conventional: Bubbles joined by curved hierarchy lines.  There is also an option for straight lines in place of the curves.  The strongly-curved hierarchy lines turn out to be a good shape for making best use of space for your map (see the example here, and the ‘Free Movement’ section, below).

Here’s an example of a MindMup map, built for this review:

click for a larger image

click for a larger image

Relationship lines – the out-of-hierarchy lines connecting nodes in different branches – can only be straight at present.  This means they will often cross other lines and pass behind other nodes … not very clean but not too confusing in practice, as their style and color can be changed.

There are ample keyboard shortcuts for those who like to build maps as much as possible from the keyboard (count me in).  A few of these are a unconventional, but it’s easy to find them from a ‘Hotkeys’ link in the map, and the ‘Help and Hints’ item under the Information button: (i).

Selecting multiple objects: MindMup provides a rich series of controls for multiple object selection: Shift+click to add to objects selected (not the conventional Ctrl+click), buttons for ‘select subtree’, ‘select all children’ and ‘select all siblings’, and an unusual one – key in a number: 1 selects all 1st-level nodes, 2 selects 2nd-level nodes, and so on …

Oh, and a good user experience to mention: MindMup saves your map in local temporary storage as you work, and once while I was reviewing it, my office power tripped out.  It had saved all my work.

Free movement – a good balance

If you have read my earlier reviews, you’ll know that I like the freedom to move nodes where I want them.  I know from forums, groups and social media that there are many other visual thinkers who feel the same way.

  • Some mapping tools, like Coggle, give complete freedom.
  • Some, like Xmind, allow you to move any first level topic around freely and the rest of the branch follows.
  • Some, like MindManager, allow you not much more than a choice of the order of branches and on which side of the map a node appears.  It’s true that you can move first level topics away from the central topic, but you cannot then tuck a small branch into the space that the move opens up.

Complete freedom of node movement can result in partly-crossing branches, and it’s up to the mapper to sort that out.  Allowing just first level topic movement helps, but the mapper still sometimes has to intervene to keep branches separate.

Accommodating users’ desired node positioning without overlaps is quite a hard problem to solve for the software developer, and MindMup has the best balance between freedom of movement and avoiding messy maps that I can recall in any mapping tool.  If you drag topics around, then when released, they snap back where they were.  But select a topic, hold down Shift, and drag, and the topic moves to where you place it.  As soon as you release, its children follow and any conflicting branches move aside neatly to leave space.  You can create spaces and move branches into them. And this is important: You can freely move any node, not just 1st level ones.

The generously curved hierarchy lines make it easy to move topics to one side of the map without crossing other lines or topics.  You can see this in use, in the example above.

Very nice.

Attachments

How mapping software handles attachments is often important in mapping and MindMup has adequate attachment support for most tasks.

Text: Right-click a node, choose ‘Node attachment’ from the context menu, and you will see a panel where you can enter rich text, active hyperlinks and images.  When a node has an attachment, a small paper-clip icon appears, and clicking on that opens the attachment panel.

Images: It handles images nicely – drag an image and drop it on a node, or right click a node and use an item in the context menu.  You can re-scale the image and choose where it appears relative to the text in the node.  Alternatively, you can choose ‘Node attachment’ from the context menu, and have the image accessible in the attachment panel, but not directly visible in the map.

If you select a node and then drop an image on the canvas (not directly on the node), the image will appear in a node by itself as a child of the selected node.

Large images will be scaled automatically to a reasonable size, but you can adjust that scaling immediately.

Hyperlinks: There are two ways of including hyperlinks. You can have as many as you like in a node’s attachment panel (as mentioned under ‘Text’ above), or you can include the full URL in the node text.  In the second case, MindMup will convert the URL into an active hyperlink, remove the URL from the node text and add a small link icon to the node.  A single-click on the icon will open the hyperlink in a new tab of your browser.  Mindmup also recognizes the links in text attachments and makes them active hyperlinks.

Formatting

Formatting of the map itself is limited.  You can choose the color for the background of each node – either from a color picker of 36 colors, or by pressing Shift+space and entering a color name or a web color code like #FFDAEA.

But you cannot change the hierarchy line colors (the edges, which are always black), or thicknesses, or specify organic, tapered lines.  The node borders are also of fixed thickness, and always black.  Nodes are always the same shape.

The node text is always black, of the same font and size, and line-breaks for longer text is automatically controlled and not variable.

Formatting for task-progress

There is a formatting capability that I can’t recall having seen built into mapping software before.  In place of the usual icons indicating progress and priority, a sequence of colors can be associated with a status.   This is configurable so you can change the colors to suit your own needs, for example, red as ‘urgent’, white as ‘complete’ and so on.   A status is inheritable, so if an item at the end of a branch is marked ‘urgent’, then the parent, grandparent, etc. all the way to the central topic are all marked urgent.

A problem that I see with this is that the use of color is overloaded.  If you color a map, as many people like to, to make colors highlight and separate the branches visually, these colors may conflict with the status colors.  The usual icons for progress inhabit a separate layer, so do not cause this problem.

Where you can use MindMup

Being browser based, it works on Windows, Mac and Ubuntu.  I tried it on Windows (Chrome, Firefox and IE 11) and Ubuntu (Firefox).  I gave it a spin on an iPad as well, and it can just about be used, but with great difficulty.  I’m told a version designed for mobile use is coming, and in today’s world that will be a significant boost to MindMup.  For browsers, they recommend Chrome, Safari and Firefox.  If you use Internet Explorer it brings up a warning, and this inhibits map sharing.

Many map storage options

It offers three ways of storing your maps: Locally on your computer, in one of the popular Cloud services and on MindMup’s own servers.

click for full-size image

click for full-size image

You can save maps on MindMup’s servers for free, up to 100KB.  This is a reasonable-sized map if there are no images, but adding images can easily take the map over the limit.  A subscription service, MindMup Gold allows a total of 1GB, but until the end of the year it is under beta testing, price to be announced.  With all the other options for storage, there is only one reason I can see for subscribing to Gold: If you want to embed a MindMup map in a web page.

So there is no need to log in, if you are storing your map locally.  If you are storing it in one of the supported Cloud services, you will have to log in to that and authorize access to MindMup.

If you store in MindMup’s free service, make a note of the URL to ensure that you can find it again.  With all other storage methods, you will either log into your cloud service, and find it that way, or with MindMup Gold, you will have loaded a license on your computer and Mindmup will recognize that.

Import / Export

MindMup can import and export FreeMind/Freeplane files (.mm), which is useful as this is common currency among many mind mapping tools.  It’s mainly the hierarchical structure that survives the transition either way, as most of the formatting is lost.

It can export image files (in .png format), HTML with images and indented text where the background color of text follows node colors, tab-indented plain text, and MindMup files (.mup) to your own machine.

Absent functions

This is a fast-moving subject as new functions are implemented, but in summary the following are not present in MindMup:  Searching in a map; built-in icons;  drag and drop hyperlinks on topics; floating topics or free text on the map canvas; branch boundaries.

Icons can be added as an image, but you’ll have to find the images yourself.   Topics can have hyperlinks, but not by drag and drop.

There’s more detail about this in a footnote* to this post if these concern you.

Multi-maps

Although there is no explicit multi-maps function, it is easy to link maps together.  As all maps have a URL, hyperlink attachments to a node in one map can link to a second map, and so on.  If you are sharing maps using this technique, you will need to keep in mind that all sharers need access rights to linked maps.

Embedding maps in web pages

If you have stored a map on MindMup’s own servers (Free or Gold), you can embed it in a web page.  Using the share option (File | Share map | </> Embed this map), you can copy the code MindMup provides.  Then paste this into the HTML of the page where you want to display it, and users can view it, zoom in and out, close branches and so on, but not edit it.

The code to embed the map that appears first in this review looks like this:

<a href="http://www.mindmup.com/map/b/rgrub/Mindmup.mup" data-role="mindmup-embed" 
title="Mindmup" data-width="90%" data-height="500" data-style="border:1px solid black;
margin-bottom:5px;">Mindmup on MindMup</a>
<script async src="http://www.mindmup.com/external-embed.js"></script>

I haven’t embedded a map directly in this post for two reasons:

  1. It calls a Javascript script and WordPress strips these out of posts; (there is a plug-in to overcome this, but I don’t want to override WordPress security)
  2. the fixed width of posts here is relatively narrow and you would see only a very small window into a quite large map.

Instead I have embedded it into three stand alone pages to cater for a variety of screen sizes, in case, like me, you don’t like to see mind maps through a tiny window.  Small screen, 1024×768.  Medium, 1440×900; Large, 1920×1200.  Expect a short pause while the page trots off to MindMup’s server to fetch the map.

If you look at the code above, you’ll see that “data-width” is set to 90%, and this makes the embedded map adjust its width according to the size of your browser window. Unfortunately, “data-height” is set to a fixed value (500 pixels) and neither percentages nor “auto” work.  That’s why I decided to give links to three page sizes, each with an appropriate height to the screen size.

Open source

MindMup (javascript and server code) is open source under the very open MIT license.  The source code is on GitHub.

This mind mapper is now in the Master List here. Give it a try!

Roy
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* A footnote on absent functions in detail

There is a UserVoice page devoted to MindMup, so over time these items may well be implemented, but this is what I miss at present:

  • You cannot search in a map.  Even the browser’s own search box will not find text in topics or attached rich text.
  • There are no symbols, progress proportion icons, smileys, ticks, crosses and so on available as built-in icons.  You will need to find your own, drag them in, and possibly resize them as I did in my map.
  • Progress and other topic statuses are indicated by color, and this may conflict with the color scheme you would like to choose to make related topics in a branch immediately visible as grouped together.
  • Hyperlinks cannot be dragged from another browser tab and dropped on a topic.  URLs must be keyed in or pasted to a topic’s text.
  • There is no provision for floating topics, free text on the map canvas or a user’s own legend.  The built in legend can be made to float on the map but this defines only what colors mean, and does not appear in any exported images.
  • There is no provision for a branch boundary.
  • Connecting edges, node outlines and node text cannot be formatted, as mentioned in the review.
  • FreeMind imports lose text decoration, multi-line node text, line and border colors, images, icons, relationship lines, and attachments.  Links and node background color are retained.  Multi-line node text becomes a text attachment to an empty node.
  • FreeMind exports lose colors, images, icons, relationship lines, attachments and active hyperlinks.  The links are present, but appear as plain text.
  • There is no ‘rubber band’ method (drag round objects with mouse) for selecting multiple nodes.

As I say, many of these may be coming.  There were several other functions that I missed, and the MindMup developers had implemented them within a day of my mentioning them, so they are responsive and are likely to remain so.

 

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5 Comments to “MindMup: Browser-based, free, easy and open source”

  1. […] Roy Grubb’s detailed review of MindMup. […]

  2. Merilyn says:

    I wanted to use a collaborative mind mapping tool and found mind mup to be too slow. Students had to continually save and refresh to see what changes had been made and stuff got lost in the process!

    • Roy Grubb says:

      This is the classic “simultaneous users” problem. Thanks for the feedback – I was only able to test with one user, when it’s fine. It’s an important point when MindMup is pushing itself as a tool for schools.

  3. […] is not a web-based mapper like MindMeister, Coggle or MindMup.  Instead it  is a Freeplane extension using a versioning […]

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