The initiative on mind & concept mapping software interoperability

It’s here at last!  The first publication of‘s information for mindmappers who want to interchange information between one mind mapping software package and another.

After several months of (spare-time) work I’ve finished putting all the information I’ve been ferreting out and begging for into a usable form, and in one place.



The hardest part was deciding how to present it.  What I decided on was to show what can talk to the two most widespread packages, FreeMind and MindManager, as the strongest part of the visualization.  I did something similar with the web-based software import / export picture, but this new one has additional information buttons that lead you separate pages all about the specific packages.  contentpage.jpg


Also included is interchange information about software that doesn’t talk to the two top packages, with downloadable files in some cases and links to authoritative information in all cases.  These are the separated boxes out on the right.  All have some useful interchange information available, and that (plus letting me know about it) is the only qualification for a mindmapping or concept mapping package to appear on this list.

The future

If you know of any similar information that I don’t have, if you make an XSLT for a pair not covered here, or if you can report specific problems with interchange routes, please let me know and I’ll publish updates and feedback.

Software authors and publishers – thanks for your help so far.  If you think that interchange between maps is desired by users and will help the mind mapping market to grow, help me keep this reference site up to date.

That “standard mind map file” proposal

In case you’re wondering: Two people I contacted at the start of this mini-project thought I was proposing to develop a standard schema for mind map files.  I could see big problems in getting agreement on this, but volunteered to give it a go if there was enough support.  Having been heavily involved in formal data modelling for 7 years, I’m familiar with the techniques – and with the difficulty of satisfying all parties.  Several people responded with scepticism, and a couple said ‘good’.  I decided I needed much more support if it was to fly, so that’s why I went with the information repository approach.



2 Replies to “The initiative on mind & concept mapping software interoperability”

  1. Vic —

    Are you continuing your efforts to foster interoperability among mind-mapping/concept-mapping tools?

    I’m about to start a big push in this area, with a heavy emphasis on how building personal and organizational knowledge resources contributes to organizational success. A second point of emphasis will be greater integration of these tools with “semantic technologies.”

    I often cite your web site as a resource, and I have used or evaluated many of the tools mentioned in your resource. My interest in PIMs goes back to Lotus Agenda, GrandView and several other legacy systems.

    My recent writings include:

    published in KM World, January, 2010

    And a few th ings in my blog —

    Phil Murray

    Right now I use a combination of PersonalBrain, PMM, Essential PIM, FreeMind, and TreePad. I’m exploring how I can use them in complementary ways. Round-tripping the data would be great, but I will be happy initially if I can develop a strategy for incremental formalization using these tools.

    I would be pleased to work with you and others to develop one or more XML-based specifications to support exchange of data among the various tools. It’s a win-win situation for all the vendors — and very important for users, of course.

  2. Hi Phil,

    “It’s a win-win situation for all the vendors”, you say. Well, that’s what I thought for many years, but in fact, there are very few developers that share our view.

    If you contact the makers of ActionOutline (= a very basic but extremely handy outliner with state-of-the-art GUI tweaks) on the subject of any import facility, you don’t even get an answer.

    The same if you contact Personal Brain staff, in length, about some import facilities beyond just node titles (i.e. for importing a bunch of outliner items, WITH the contents of the text fields (= going into PB’s notes fields), not just the tree without any content) : they don’t even bother to give you an answer. (The interesting thing here being that PB isn’t but the “individual” variety of their “The Brain” corporate software being priced within the 5- and 6-digit ranges as people say – no prices available -, and where seem to be complete import facilities indeed.)

    Those last days, I tried in vain to find a way to make the transition of outliner material (Ultra Recall) into any mind map software, and being willing to use third party software as intermediate formats ; all I got was being able to import the UR (or any other outliner) tree into (and I’m speaking of the “professional” version everywhere, WITH all the given import / export formats, of course) into many mind map software programs indeed, with various reformatting in editors, e.g. replacing two spaces by one tab.

    But as to the contents of the outliner items going into the notes fields of the mind map softwares, no way, and I tried hard with all those XML / OPML / whatever formats.

    As for EXPORTING, it’s even worse; in Visual Mind e.g., I very well im-ported my UR tree, but as for ex-porting the map (= again, just the items’ titles, no content whatsoever) in such a tree format, nada. (cf. below)

    VM being a good example of developers’ possible REAL interests : They offer individualized data transfer services for corporations, similar to PB where there’s a black market, on a 1 to 1 basis, of transposition routines, for (big) money.

    When I would like to have import and export at least for the items’ titles, it’s because heavy duty outliners are the real stuff for extensive data storage – or would you like to store 1 GB of data, or much more, in ONE mind map ? (In ONE mind map because all those in-built features and pricey add-ons that allow for “3-dimensional data access”, e.g. PowerMarkers within Mind Manager, just work on ONE mind map, not on a collection of multiple mind maps, for the time being, to my knowledge.)

    Thus, when it comes to THINKING ENHANCEMENT, for many people, including myself, mind maps work really well, possibly not because of the vectors between the (in a mind map always hierarchical) nodes, but, as I see it, by their graphical de-clustering of all those items : Whilst in an outline, all’s in crumped lists of texts, the mind map stretches those packages out into white space, which for many a people’s a real relief, empowering to “see” things now they don’t saw yet when their considerations were displayed in list form.

    Since I use the expression “mind map” a lot here, I expressively acknowledge Tony Buzan’s (and his various corporations’) trademarks and other rights to that denomination, but I DOUBT Buzan’s the inventor of such graphical representations, he just gave them a name and made his fortune with it. Possibly he might have been the first one to just do an outline in this way, but I myself, and many other people, in the seventies, were doing scribbles on paper where we wrote many different aspects of subjects in various clusters spilled upon a piece of paper, i.e. grouping things belonging together, in the same time differenciating them from others, in other parts of the same sheet of paper, and we even used colors, for some, different font sizes, and even vectors to indicate that any particular aspect we worked upon in one part of the sheet, also belonged in a way or another onto another aspect / groups of details in a part far away.

    So nobody “invented” this ; perhaps it was indeed Buzan’s “work” to SIMPLIFY these un-structed graphical representations into structured, PRIMITIVE ones, just graphically outlined outlines.

    If I, among many others, would like to use a mind map program in order to enhance my thinking, instead of using a graphical program, it’s precisely because I need exporting into an outliner after that, and also because SOME of those mind map programs allow for real smart entering of information : in VM, it’s Enter for a sibling (I asked them for adding the space bar for entering a sibling onto that), and JUST TYPING for adding a child (of course, this supposes that at any given moment, there is at least ONE item that has focus, which is the case in VM) – this is a tremendous way to put your thoughts on paper, almost as quick as by handwriting, BUT with the goodie that afterwards, export will be possible (whereas for people with a secretary, the Montblanc Meisterstück fountain pen probably is the best thinking enhancement tool out there).

    So, why would I need export AND import, then ? Very simple. I’d like to make my first drafts in VM, e.g. Then export to UR, e.g. Then do “information processing work” in the outliner, i.e. integrating contents from various sources into my material.

    And then, with much more info that I’ve had before, I would like to be able to do my visual thinking AGAIN – and since ex- and import of contents into notes fields (be it in the mind map programs, be it in the outliner programs) is almost impossible, I would like to ex- and import at least the trees, freely hence and forth from map to outline, back to map, and back to outline, etc.

    It goes without saying that I’m speaking of SUB-trees, now you need this subtree of your outliner for further exploration back in the map program, another time you’ll need another subtree, or other sub-trees there.

    Thus, we have the additional program that not only that tree im-port, in VM at least, isn’t possible – so that for the time being, in VM you only could do your very first mapping out of your material, before ex-porting it into your outliner, and then any way back will not be possible ; on top of that, a mind map program that would work in the sense described above would need to rely upon an outliner being able to import a tree (= from an intermediate textfile) into an existing tree, just superposing the unchanged items in the tree, shuffling around, in the outliner, those items having been shuffled around in the mind map program, and adding the new ones where they belong, and perhaps even x-out (= but not automatically delete) those deleted in the mind map, and all this without affecting the contents in your outliner !

    And there’s more than that to it : Some items you will possibly have renamed, within the mind map program – the outliner program would need to know ! Which is to say that the intermediate text file would need to have codes like this

    a [b]
    c [e]

    indicating that item a and c are “item a formerly b” and “item c formerly e”, respectively ; of course, the mind map program’s internal processing would need to maintain such internal codes, in order to be able to put them out into its export lists upon request.

    All this is to say, such a “process it as mind map then re-integrate it into the outliner” function would be so difficult in any respect, that finally, for practical reasons, there isn’t but ONE solution to this :

    SOME mind map program developers should get into contact with SOME outliner program developers, in order to develop real TWO-WAY XML integration, together, and including the contents !

    So, Mind Manger will not do this, I suppose, since they try to became sort of an integrated information storage system of their own kind. But there are lighter mind map programs out there, e.g. VM that’s perhaps not as good as an information manager, but that very well suited as a thinking enhancement machine indeed, and that should rely upon a rock stable outliner being able to process information of any size, e.g. UR.

    And to complicate things even further, UR, e.g. allows for clones, i.e. identical items being stored within separate parts of an outline ; if possible, the OPML / XML transposition should insert additional “relationship vectors” then or should translate those vectors into clones, respectively.

    In the corporate environment, VM is not too strong yet (and then, it allows for collaboration work indeed !) whilst Mind Manager is supposed to sell 20 or 25,000 packs a MONTH ; UR isn’t too strong in the corporate world either (and then, in collaboration work, it allows for item-based locking up where competitors allow for file-based locking up if at all) – make it a COMBO, and sales will rocket for both individual components.

    This post in goes to VM and to UR in copy.

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