The initiative on mind & concept mapping software interoperability

In mid-September I emailed publishers of mind and concept mapping software about an initiative to make public either the main map-file format, or the format of any import/export file files that mind and concept mapping software supports.  I blogged about it here, as well.

This project is gaining traction and has the potential to remove at least one of the barriers to more widespread use of information mapping – the interchange of map files.

Below is where we are now and my thoughts on next steps.  I’m also seeking opinions about an alternative (or additional) approach.


So far, publishers of 27 programs [correction 28 – my fault I overlooked one]  have responded — or in two cases did not  need to respond as their formats were already public.  One was a new entry in the mind mapping software field who responded to my blog entry.  I would like to thank those who did get back to me, especially those who offered help, which I shall probably take up later.  I’m not including detailed, named responses here in case that would reveal state of development or information that publishers might consider commercially sensitive.

For those who declined – thanks for responding, I understand the problems that may arise from an exercise like this especially with limited resources or fast-moving development.  I’ll keep you informed anyway, through progress emails, unless you ask me to stop sending them.

Analysis of responses to date

Nine [correction ten] publishers have already made their file formats available – they either sent/offered them to me, gave me links, or in the case of MindManager and FreeMind, I had the links already, as they’re public.

Twelve are supportive of the initiative and either state or imply that they will be able to provide the formats within a period ranging from weeks to a few months.

Four said ‘in principle, yes’, but their reply was worded to make it seem unlikely that they would participate in the near future.

Two publishers declined, on the basis of the file format being proprietary, or not documented and time/resources not allowing development of file descriptions in a form that could be published.

Request for comment

My original proposal was to provide one point where mind mapping software users could go to find how to convert to another format, and over time, to download XSLT files to facilitate these conversions.

Four of those who responded took this as a proposal to specify a standard format that all developers could use either for their map file format, or as an interchange file.  My view was that this is a very hard task to undertake, as mindmaps can vary enormously from one piece of software to another and getting the software developers to agree on a common format would probably require reconciling conflicting needs.  Also, Eric Blue had suggested this on his blog and AFAIK no one responded.

On further thought, I decided that it might be possible using an approach more or less like the following:

  1. I produce an abstract data model of the elements of a mind map based on the limited number of info mapping programs I’ve used ( may list hundreds but I certainly haven’t use them all).  I have done a fair bit of data modelling.  I would probably use ERwin, but might use Visual Paradigm.
  2. I would publish this as a png file and an Excel spreadsheet giving attribute and entity descriptions.
  3. All interested would comment.  We might set up a Google Group or similar for this.
  4. I would amend accordingly.  These steps would iterate.
  5. Of course, we could easily hit deadlock while looping above, but I would propose to worry about that if it happens and throw it open to discussion.
  6. When/if we have an agreed model, we would need to find people with enough knowledge to build an XML schema from it.  My knowledge of XML is lightweight and not based on XML experience.

If you think this is a good idea or would like to suggest variations, go ahead.  If enough people feel it’s worth doing (substantially more than the original four) I’d be willing to give it a try.  No promise on timescales as this is hobby / for-the-common-good stuff, but a few months would probably be realistic.

If this does garner enough interest, I would still see the original proposal as worthwhile and would try to do that.

Please let me have your comments – whether positive or negative.


[Updated Oct. 12th 2007]


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