ThinkComposer from Instrumind – a comprehensive visual tool

Phew! This has been a looong task, working through ThinkComposer, a tool with many blades, compartments, pockets, drawers and attachments.  At last, after helpful exchanges with its designer at Instrumind, it’s up on Mind-Mapping.Org.

This is an interesting product in many ways.  It can produce a wide range of diagram types and visual models immediately after installation, it allows users to specify new diagram types, and it even has the capability to generate code when that is appropriate and specified by the user.

Let’s start with the out-of-the-box capabilities.  Ask this software to make a new diagram and you’ll see this choice of types:

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click for full-size image

The visual models included with the software are: Business model, class diagram, concept map, data model, fast-food cuisine, flowchart, genealogy tree, mind map, organization chart, sequence diagram, timeline, use-case diagram, web environment and an ‘all-purpose’ diagram.

An impressive list.  I haven’t tried all of them … I wanted to post this review before Christmas! But I have tried the business plan, mind map, flowchart and the concept map.  I’ve also included some examples of finished diagrams contained in the installer.

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click for larger image

ThinkComposer refers to each of the diagram types as ‘domains’.  Each pre-defined domain provides access to a set of diagram elements, but you can add to the set, and you can define new domains using the very many additional diagram elements and shapes shown on the right:

Each node (mostly referred to in ThinkComposer as an ‘object’) can contain a whole diagram, allowing users to drill down through multiple levels,  or by moving through successive tabs. Objects in the diagram can include text, images, attached files, links, custom-fields or tables.

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click for full-size image

The user interface is unusual, and doesn’t follow a typical Windows program’s style.   There is the diagram canvas in the middle, and around it is a frame of control panels, shown here:

At the top, is a ribbon-style set of controls and, though it is not a Microsoft-style ribbon, it is easy to understand.

On the left is a linear list of the objects in the diagram, and below it a panel showing, if an object is selected, how that is related to other objects.

On the right, is a pallet of objects available, and below it panels of markers and other items that can be added to embelish the diagram.

It’s worth keeping an eye an eye on the hints panel near the bottom-right corner of the window.  This often indicates controls that are available to you at any one time.

When you hover the cursor over an object, icons appear, indicating how the object can be manipulated. Objects have a layer of additional information that can be added, including structured data to record such data as field properties in a data model.  These are not constrained and can be defined to suit the user’s needs.

So, a few examples, then – some I made myself to judge the usability of the software, and some that come installed with ThinkComposer:

Initial business model outline

It makes this type of business model easily.  I just took it to the initial stages, but you would go on to fill out the details when planning or analyzing a business.  Source: Roy.

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click for full-size image

Class diagram

I prefer to use a purpose built UML tool like Visual Paradigm – the one I use for software design – but this looks capable of producing a decent and useful class diagram.  Source: ThinkComposer web site.

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click for full-size image

Concept map

ThinkComposer makes a good job of concept maps, as good as CMAP, the leader in the field.  I made a small one myself and found it easy and usable.  Here’s a more complex one.  Source: ThinkComposer web site.

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click for full-size image

Data model

Again, it is capable of making a data model.  Being familiar with ERwin, I prefer that, but we all prefer the tools we know and ThinkComposer is workable.  It includes the various cardinality connection types that data models need.  Source: ThinkComposer web site.

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click for full-size image

Fast food cuisine

This is a good example of how a specialist diagram can be developed using ThinkComposer for specific purposes that may have no existing visual tool.  Source: ThinkComposer web site.

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click for full-size image

Flowchart

Flowcharts are possible without much difficulty, though I found some things I’d like to do – like keeping all lines rectilinear – not so easy as you can see, but this may be down to my inexperience with the many controls.  Source: Roy.

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click for full-size image

Genealogy tree

Source: ThinkComposer web site.

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click for full-size image

Mind map

After the smooth experience with ThinkComposer’s concept map it turned out that making a mindmap with this software was something of a struggle.  I have reported the issues to the developer, who is working on them.  Nevertheless I was able to make the map below.  Source: Roy.

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click for full-size image

Organization chart

Source: ThinkComposer web site.

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click for full-size image

Sequence diagram

If you don’t have integrated UML software, you could use ThinkComposer to make sequence diagrams.  Source: ThinkComposer web site.

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click for full-size image

Timeline

Being able to build timelines is a handy addition to all the other tools here.  Source: ThinkComposer web site.

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click for full-size image

Use-case diagram

Again integrated UML software is one way of visualizing use cases, but you can use ThinkComposer to make them as well.  Source: ThinkComposer web site.

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click for full-size image

Web environment

Source: Conceptmodeler.wordpress.com

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click for full-size image

‘All-purpose’ diagram

Source: ThinkComposer web site.

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click for full-size image

Define your own diagram type (‘Domain’)

So, we’ve looked at all of the built-in diagrams.  But ThinkComposer’s designer doesn’t see these as the main motive for using the software.

The fact that you can assemble your own diagram elements, describe how they interact and what they contain, means that for many cases where no existing visual tool fits your needs, you can build a Domain from the ground up with the components provided by ThinkComposer.  You can use your own template from then on, to work visually in a way that suits you.

File generation

Some software that helps us produce diagrams can also generate code.  One I’ve mentioned above, ERwin, can generate SQL that will create a database as described in an ERwin data model diagram.  Some UML diagrammers can generate program code.  But these are specific to a purpose.

ThinkComposer offers a general-purpose file generation capability and that is unusual.  To use this, you’ll need to use Liquid template markup language, which is fairly straightforward, in conjunction with the Composition Information Model, as defined in the ThinkComposer manual.  Which brings me to…

The Manual

This is written in a rather abstract style with extensive specialist vocabulary. I suggest that if you just want to use the wide range of diagrams built in, it would be good to start with the User Interface section (p.40 in the current edition of the manual).  You will need the other reference material to use the full capabilities of ThinkComposer.

Other forms of output

ThinkComposer offers HTML output, and this is neat, clear and quick.

It can also make a PDF or XPS file from a diagram.  This is fast and to an advanced level of detail that you won’t always need, but for technical work is likely to prove useful.

Conclusion

This may not be a tool for casual use, but don’t let that put you off trying its many capabilities.  It is in active development … a new version was released just as I was finishing this post.  The release fixes a few issues that I reported to the developer, who is very responsive.

Where to find it, and the various price options are set out in the Master List.

Roy
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New installers for Freeplane and FreeMind [update]

A new build of Freeplane was released in late August 2013, and a new release of FreeMind arrived soon after, in early September.  Freeplane is a fork of FreeMind – it forked in 2009.

[Update: Big news. FreeMind released its first 1.0 version on 16 October 2013, after years in beta and multiple Release Candidates.]

I took a brief look at both of the latest versions.

Freeplane remains my preferred tool of the two.  I find the interface more usable, and I like the fact that the file format does not appear to have changed, and there is a 64-bit version for those running 64-bit Windows.

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click for full-size image

I have many old .mm files and when I try to open them with FreeMind, it tells me it will convert them (with no going back), but then presents a map with a single central topic stating that there’s a parsing error. Freeplane opens the map without problem.

The original FreeMind format became an industry standard with many mapping tools being able to import and export .mm files, so it is a shame this change has not been handled with full backward compatibility.

One advantage of both FreeMind and Freeplane is that mapping from the keyboard is fast and easy.  Good for quick note taking or catching ideas without interupting the flow when brainstorming.

What’s next

I’m working on a review of ThinkComposer.   This is a tool with capabilities for making visual models and diagrams of many types and is taking a while to work through.

Roy
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What’s dead? What’s moved?

I’ve done some more tidying on Mind-Mapping.Org.

Wallace Tait (@visualmapper of visualmapper.org fame) put out a question on Twitter about the fate of one of the earliest tools for mind mapping on a computer: VisiMap.  I replied with what the Master List showed and it gave me the idea that I should go through to see which mapping products had turned to dust since Vic last checked. Turns out there are quite a few.

After clicking through links to 302 entries that were not marked as ‘historical’, I found that 36 visual thinking tools have gone from the web so I’ve marked them as defunct.  And I found 19 that had moved or changed their name so I updated their records.

Vic’s approach, which I’m going to run with, was to mark as ‘historical’ any software that was still available (through one of the miriad software download sites, for example) but was no longer supported. Software that was no longer traceable for download or on-line use are marked as ‘historical (defunct)’. These are kept just as a matter of interest, and for the record.

Breakdown

By default, both historical types don’t appear in the Master List, but you can elect to have them included by a checkbox in the ‘Refine software list’ tab (top right on Master List pages). And if you search for a product by name, it will show up whether it’s current or historical.

I’ll have to check the historical ones to see which have gone defunct, as well.  Ah well, another day!

Oh, and I also went through WikIT’s list of free mapping software and took out the dead ones.  I have many to add as well, but I’m focusing more on the Master List at present.

Roy
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InfoRapid KnowledgeBase Builder has special powers

A few posts back, I blogged about InfoRapid Knowledge Portal and I promised I’d soon write about a related product. This builds very similar maps, but has many more functions and is not read-only as ‘Portal’ is.

So … I have just added InfoRapid KnowledgeBase Builder 2.0 (“Builder”) to Mind-Mapping.Org.  The maps it makes are in almost the same visual form as my recent post about the browser-based ‘Portal’ but with this software, you’re in charge.  This is a Windows desktop application, and you can choose the source or build a map from scratch … you can edit the map freely. Unlike Portal, Builder does not show the extracted text below the map, but like Portal, text extracted from the source appears as a pop-up when you hover the cursor over a node as you can see here:

KB Builder-WikIT-2-600
click for full-size version

Clicking on one of the small white arrows in the top left corner of each topic node opens a built-in browser window and loads that topic’s web page, if it is connected to one.

Maps from wikis

If you’ve ever tried to produce a mind map of an existing web site you’ll know that it is only easy for the very simplest of sites.  And even for simple sites, concept map topology (see Concept maps or mind maps? the choice) is better than a tree-oriented mind map, because it allows any node to connect to any other node, just as any web page of a site can connect to any other on the site.  An example of the kind of problem that turns up is the repetition resulting from navigation, terms and conditions, and privacy notice links on every page.

I’ll discuss its ability to crawl* a website later, but first the example above.  It represents part of WikIT, the mind map wiki.  That is built with MediaWiki software that includes a tool to make an XML dump of the wiki database.  KB Builder can import this, and you can see (part of) the result.

Maps from data files

Other data formats that it can import are CSV (Comma-Separated Values), RDF (Resource Description Framework), OWL (Web Ontology Language [A A Milne – geddit?]), XMI (XML Metadata Interchange), XSD (XML Schema Definition) and GED (Gedcom File for Family Trees).

The User Interface

The four panels on each side of the map list the topics, the relationships, properties and an archive.  The archive is an intermediate area that allows you to make attachments to topics.  The line items in the panels allow the map to be manipulated in a way that Knowledge Portal does not – topics can be removed, added and modified. These panels can be folded into a small tab, if you wish, so that the map can use almost the whole window.

Website crawling

I tried its sitemap capability on my site topicscape.com, a mature and complex site that at first seems to result in a fairly confusing map with a lot of details off-screen (you’ll see I’ve folded the side panels away to make this image):

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click for full-size image

I felt that a zoom control was needed, but couldn’t find one on screen or in the menus, but it turned out that if you hold the Ctrl key down, the mouse wheel zooms the map.  Then the overall shape of the site became clear with its several centers-of-connection.

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click for full-size image

The Ctrl+mousewheel trick works, because the map part of the window is rendered in a browser – Internet Explorer (it needs IE8 or later).

As I said, it’s challenging to produce a graphic sitemap with software, and I find this result impressive and useful.

Cross-connections: Too much information!

Attempting to show all the connections in a website gets out of hand very quickly for reasons that I mentioned.  If you’re doing it manually, you can use your judgement about what to exclude, but it’s more of a challenge with software.  KnowledgeBase Builder makes the best fist of this that I’ve seen so far.  It can follow and map the links on a website directly or it can import from one of a variety of data file types to build a map.

One clue to how it does this so well is a control in the View menu: “Show Cross-Connections”.  Allow Builder to map out a good-sized web site, then select Show Cross-Connections.  The center of a clear map, may well turn to something like the picture on the right.  Plenty of connections are good in a web site, but such repetitions get confusing on a map of the site.

When starting to crawl a site, you get to specify number of web pages, number of link levels, links per page, timeout and other controls typical of web-crawling programs.

Builder places a thumbnail image of the web page under each node.  Click on that, and you’ll be taken to a larger image.  This can be useful if the page later disappears and you would like to refer to it.  The size of thumbnail and image can also be specified before you initiate crawling.  Builder adds a description on each connecting line, derived from the anchor text of the link it followed.

Building maps from scratch

So far I’ve talked mostly about Builder making maps automatically from a variety of data sources.  You can modify these maps as you wish once they’re made but you can also start with a blank map, as with most mapping software.

For each topic that you add manually, you provide a name and can add a description.  The name appears on the node, and the description appears when you hover over it.  The description is similar to ‘Notes’ attachments in other mapping software, but is more closely integrated because it’s there by default, it is not necessary to click on the topic to see it, and it appears in a pop-up by the node, rather than in a window away from the node.  The map adjusts dynamically to an elegant layout as you build it.

It also allows you to select any topic to make the central focus: Click a topic and everything rearranges around it, much like 3D Topicscape, Personal Brain or Cayra.

In true concept mapping style, you can add descriptive ‘linking phrases’ on relationship lines.  You can also select colors, dotted or solid lines, and style of the ends, with or without arrows by selecting  a relationship line and amending the items in the Properties pane.

You can connect two existing nodes by dragging one onto another in the diagram.  If one is not in the visible area of the map, you can click on one of the nodes to be connected (to center it), find the other node to be connected in the Items pane, and drag it to the Relations pane, which at that point will be showing details of the selected, centered node.

Files, images and web pages can be attached to nodes.  This is the first point at which I found a downside: The steps for doing this are, for example, select a file in Windows Explorer; Copy it (by Ctrl+C, say) … it appears in the ‘Archive’ pane, top right; then drag it from there to the Items pane top left, the Relations pane, bottom left or a node label in the map.  Dragging directly from Explorer to the map would be so much easier and more in line with most other mapping software.

Making a map from scratch with Builder involves frequent movement between mouse and keyboard – it is not possible to move around the map with the keyboard alone – so this may not be the ideal brainstorming tool for fast idea capture.

There is a neat presentation mode, accessed from the view menu or toolbar.  This hides the four side panels, and even the small tabs used to re-open them, so that the whole window is used for the map, menu bar and toolbar.  A button appears in the toolbar for when you’re ready to revert to the editing view.

There is also a free read-only viewer so that people other than the originator of the map can explore it without being able to make changes.

Everything I’ve described so far is free for private, (i.e. non-commercial) use.  There is a professional version for 99 Euros, and this permits multi-user editing of a map.  There is also an Enterprise version allowing for unlimited users within the enterprise and embedding maps on a web site.  For this you must request a quote, which I suppose will be based on the company size.

I feel this is a tool that has received too little attention and is well worth a look.  Here it is in the Master List.

Roy
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* A Web crawler is software that systematically browses the World Wide Web or a specified site, typically for the purpose of Web indexing or downloading a site.  A Web crawler starts with a list of URLs to visit. As the crawler visits these URLs, it identifies all the hyperlinks in the page and adds them to the list of URLs to visit. URLs are recursively visited according to parameters that you specify to Builder.  This process is also known as spidering. [Adapted from Wikipedia].

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Visual content delivery from Context Discovery

The folks at Context Discovery have long been developing products that use their Summarizer engine to analyze text syntactically, pull out keywords and present related sentences under each keyword.  Their different products vary by source and output form. Three of these are the latest addition to Mind-Mapping.Org, and the last in the series I’ve been doing on products that use mind maps to deliver fixed content derived from analysis of web pages or other documents.

The output of Context Discovery products can be text oriented, a word cloud or laid out graphically as mind maps.  I’m reviewing just the product variations that make mapped presentations because the others fall outside the scope of Mind-Mapping.Org.

WebSummarizer

The first is WebSummarizer, which works in a browser.  Here’s an example of its output, using one of its modules called Wikipedia Visual Knowledge Map:

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click for full-size image

You view the map initially in the browser, but you can export the analysis it produces to HTML, Rich Text Format (tree view only), MindManager, XMind, iThoughts and MindGenius formats.  You need an account to use most export options.  WebSummarizer has several choices of input source and four modules, accessed by tabs along the top of the working area.  All those source and output options are a bit much to take in, so let’s go visual* for a clearer view:

WebSummarizer-parts

So for input, you can have a web page URL, a block of your own text that you paste in, a file (PDF, Word, TXT and others) and a chosen topic from Wikipedia.

The example map shown earlier was from the Wikipedia Visual Knowledge Map module.  This draws on a database of 3 million summarized Wikipedia pages. The other two Wikipedia modules let you see a summaries map focused on a single Wikipedia page for your chosen topic – Summarize Wikipedia article – or a map to show summaries from the most relevant Wikipedia articles related to  your topic – Wikipedia Knowledge Base.

XmindSummarizer

The second product with mapped output is XmindSummarizer – an add-in for Xmind.   This is actually produced by a partner organization of Context Discovery, specializing in Xmind add-ons.

With this, you select a topic in an Xmind mind map, and click on the ‘Summarize by topic’ button.  Then it will either map the keywords determined from the Wikipedia entry if there is one, or if the topic includes a full URL, it will visit that page and summarize that by keywords.  Summaries can be created from web pages in English, German, French and Spanish with the language being detected automatically.  There are hints that the languages covered may be extended to Japanese, Korean and Chinese.

Within Xmind, under Edit > Preferences there is a new entry: Smart Extensions > Summarizer that sets out the customization options.  The most important of these is to specify the language for word definitions from Wikipedia.  At present you can choose from the same four mentioned above.

My experience suggests that XmindSummarizer is product that has not yet reached maturity.  For example, ‘Undo’ does not work; and I have used this with about ten topics, of which two failed to produce results.  The first caused a hang but was fixed when I reported it and now works. I just found and reported the second, for the topic ‘Water’ which produced no results.  WebSummarizer pulls in a comprehensive summary for ‘Water’ as you can see from the example at the beginning of this post. As both draw on the same Wikipedia database, I was surprised that ‘Water’ came up blank in XmindSummarizer.

Context Organizer

There is another product: Context Organizer Personal, but I understand this to be a legacy product for the desktop.  For this, you choose at installation time whether to configure the Web, Office or MindManager option.  Only the last of these produces graphic output and this option only works up to MindManager v.9 and it is being phased out, though still supported for existing users. I’ll pass over this, but felt it was worth letting you know where it fits in Context Discovery’s product list.

Conclusion

You need to try these to see if they fit your needs.  Myself, I find that I get more out of the task of reading a document and mapping it out, than I do when passing it to software to do the job for me.  You may get a different result.  You can try WebSummarizer on a 14-day free trial basis or go to the demo pages to try fixed topics.

There’s a more about these in the Master List here (WS)here (XS) and here (CO).

Roy
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* In case anyone asks about the tool I used to make the inputs and outputs diagram, I’ll anticipate the question: It was made with ASCiiFLOW and Ditaa – I came across Vic’s review of these while browsing his old posts, and thought this would be a good opportunity to use it for real.

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Mindmap your notebooks in Evernote with Mohiomap

Next in the series of posts about visual content delivery tools reviews Mohiomap.  I have just added that to Mind-Mapping.Org.

Mohiomap

If you use Evernote, I think you’ll like this.  It can take your on-line Evernote database and quickly build a mind map of the notebooks, reflecting the way you’ve organized them. Then you can penetrate to the individual items.

Myself, I’m frustrated that Evernote doggedly sticks to the two-level folders way of organizing notebooks.  Until that improves, I guess many mind mappers will be similarly frustrated.  But at least Mohiomap can take the structure of the notebooks within notebooks and set it out visually in a map.

MohioMap
click for full-size image

This is another force-directed map where you can drag nodes around and it will adjust, but it allows you to pin nodes in place to take control of the layout.  Using an option that appears when you hover the cursor over a node, you can choose to explode the node to see the individual notes contained in the notebook it represents.  Again these are mapped, this time against nodes indicating the month when you saved the item.  For individual notes, you can preview them down the left side of the screen, or open the link in a new browser window.

At-Notes-level

There’s an on-screen zoom control – the mouse wheel does this as well – and a control to center the map on a chosen topic (notebook), and expand it to show its notes, with or without related topics showing.  There’s also a control to filter by age of note – you can filter out the old topics, if looking for something you added recently, say.

If you keep confidential material in Evernote (and I wouldn’t – it’s in the Cloud and not encrypted with a password known only to you), you wouldn’t want to give Mohiomap access to your Evernote database.  But if like me you use it as a place to keep odds and ends you’ve found on the Web, this won’t be a problem.

Mohiomap does not work in Internet Explorer 8 or earlier.

This is an attractive and practical way of navigating your Evernote database . . . visually.  See it here in the Master List.

Roy
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Instagrok and Graph Words – two more visual content delivery tools

Continuing on the theme of visual content delivery tools from my previous post, I have just added Instagrok and Graph Words to Mind-Mapping.Org.

Instagrok

This is a browser-based tool for exploring subjects visually, with information culled from right across the web.  It presents a visual breakdown of the chosen topic in a bubble diagram and includes small images and video icons that when clicked, enlarge and where appropriate, play.

click for full-size image
click for full-size image

Hovering over each bubble displays text from the source (and a direct link to the source).

Slide-out-panel

On the left of the window, is a tab marked “More…” – click on that and you’ll find a trove of additional material related to the chosen topic: Key facts, web sites, videos, images, quizzes and a glossary.

The bubble diagram is force-directed, so you can drag the bubbles around at it will and it adjusts accordingly.  Click on a bubble and the map is re-centered around that node.  Click on an image and it enlarges and gives details – similarly for a video, which will play.

Instagrok draws its information from multiple sources – Wikipedia, as you would expect, but many others like Answers.com,  YouTube, Britannica.com, BusinessInsider, Foursquare and many more.  Importantly, it lists its sources for each item displayed.

Intriguingly, there is a 3-position ‘Difficulty slider’ which adjusts material presented according to the depth of knowledge required to understand it.

This is a free web service, with Amazon advertisements down the right-hand side, or for use without adverts, you can pay US$35 p.a.

This web service is an interesting contrast with InfoRapid Knowledge Portal, covered in my previous post.  That, in my opinion makes much more attractive, usable and appealing maps but is limited to delivering whatever it can find in Wikipedia.  That is a substantial source, if used carefully and backed up with an examination of primary sources, but InstaGrok draws on a far greater universe of reference.

Here is its entry in the Master List.

Graph Words

Graph Words is an online word mapper, similar to VisuWords and VisualThesaurus, and like those, it runs in your browser: Type a word into the “Draw thesaurus” box at the top of the page, and you’ll see connected words from WordNet, a free and publicly available database of English words from Princeton University. Here’s one for the word ‘map’.

click for full-size image
click for full-size image
When you hover the cursor over one of the small dots, Graph Words provides a definition.

I find that VisuWords gives more comprehensive and useful results. But if you need a thesaurus and like mapped-out results, it’s good to have a second tool to fall back on when one doesn’t provide the word you’re looking for.  Because VisualThesaurus is not free once you’ve exhausted the short trial period, and the results it gives almost match those from Graph Words, there seems no reason not to use the free one.

See more detail here in the Master List.

Roy
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InfoRapid Knowledge Portal, a visual content delivery tool

There is a certain class of visual thinking product that takes some textual content that’s on the web, and organizes it as a map, and it’s these we’ll look at today and over the next few posts.  These are categorized as ‘visual content delivery’ in the Master List.

Examples

I’ll start with two examples that have appeared in the blog before so you’ll know what I have in mind: WikiMindMap and VisuWords.

WMMVW

WikiMindMap takes a Wikipedia page (in any of 13 languages) and builds a mind map from it.  Vic first blogged about this in 2007, but it’s still up and running and can be useful, especially as you can download a FreeMind file of the map it produces and take it on from there.  VisuWords takes an English word that you specify and, using its own internal dictionary, maps out associated words and how they are connected.  Vic wrote about that in 2008.

New visual content delivery tools

I’m adding seven of these visual content delivery tools to Mind-Mapping.Org and will be blogging about them in the next few posts.  InfoRapid Knowledge Portal is the first.

InfoRapid Knowledge Portal

This pulls information from Wikipedia and presents it in a visually-appealing way, as well as giving extensive textual and image backup to the topics it maps.  It also provides links to related images from Google.  This is a free-to-use, online tool.

Click for full-size image
Click for full-size image

with text

As well as the mind map, Knowledge Portal pulls in supporting text. That often greatly exceeds the space taken by the map, as the example on the right shows. As you can probably guess from that image even though the text is too small to read, keywords appearing in the map are highlighted in the same color in the text.

Unlike WikiMindMap, you cannot download the map produced to develop it further yourself.

You can make your own maps of this type, and they can be based on text you choose or provide, instead of Wikipedia, but that needs a related product: InfoRapid KnowledgeBase Builder 2.0, and I’ll be writing about that in a later post.

Get more of the details about InfoRapid Knowledge Portal from its entry in the Master List.

Roy
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MindMaple review

MindMaple is a good-looking lines-and-boxes style mindmapper and has now been added to Mind-Mapping.Org.  It has Windows and iOS versions and (currently in beta) one for the Mac.  There is an on-line sharing facility via Google Drive

There are Lite and Pro editions on Windows and iOS, with the Lite version being free and a capable mapper.  I haven’t tried the Mac-based beta version.  MindMaple Pro for Windows can be had on a $10 p.a. subscription or a $50 lifetime license.

Nodes can be laid out as you wish, which I always like or you can leave it to lay out automatically.  To support tidy manual layout, there’s an unobtrusive grid that can be toggled on and off.  The map background has options for color, images, textures and gradients.

It has good node-numbering options if you need that.

Find includes a Replace function, which is useful, but like many mind mappers this one does not search in notes or comments.

Topics have many options for attachments (see the map below for detail), notes and comments on topics, and project management attributes, like start and end dates, priority, amount complete, duration and resources.

click for full-size image
click for full-size image

Lite vs Pro, Windows version

Pro offers advanced MS Office export, password protection of files and export to PDF.  It also has more map themes, clip art and backgrounds (with a promise of more to come) compared to Lite which just has four themes and six templates.

Import / Export

I imported a MindManager map and the result wasn’t bad (it’s the one above), though there are a few inconsistencies.  An equivalent map imported from FreeMind looked cleaner and more consistent, but this is probably because MindManager has more stylistic variations on offer than FreeMind.  MindMaple does not offer export to other mind map formats.

The Windows desktop version can export to Word, Excel, PowerPoint, HTML (which includes neat control allowing map image to be resized by the user), image (in 5 formats) and text, plus PDF for Pro. Given that most of the attributes needed for simple project management are present (it lacks task dependency) it’s a shame that it cannot export project data to MS Project and the like.

Export to jpg image files in MindMaple uses heavy compression and produces an image of poor quality…

jpg is on the left, in case you were wondering!
jpg is on the left, in case you were wondering!

…so choose png for a sharper and clearer appearance.

Map sharing

Unfortunately I couldn’t test the sharing capability.  The sharing function is in beta and, though I saved a map in my Google Drive folder, MindMaple/Google rejected my log in when I tried to access the share and synchronizing functions.  I was unable to find out if two users could edit the same map at once though MindMaple descriptions suggest it can, but if so, I could not test how it handled any editing clash.

Although there are one or two minor items that need to be fixed, this is a respectable mind mapping tool.

See more examples and download details at the Master List entry for MindMaple.

Roy
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LucidChart appears on a new platform

LucidChart has been in Mind-Mapping.org for more than three years – it was first mentioned in this blog by Vic back in May 2010 and is one of the 15 free visual products I included in my (also free) eBook.  Now, LucidChart have released a new version for the iPad.

Lucidchart is a useful free diagrammer – not that great for mind mapping (that’s not what it’s intended for as you’ll see below) but very useful for the ‘drag and drop’ type of diagram made popular by software like Visio, Gliffy, Diagram.ly, DrawAnywhere and Creately.

LucidChart

The new iPad incarnation of LucidChart is free, like the browser-based version.  Running from a PC in a browser, free LucidChart runs out of steam at 60 objects in a diagram.  To add more than that, you need to go premium, but the iPad version doesn’t have that restriction.

LucidChart shines when making flowcharts, wireframes/iOS Mockups, organization charts, network diagrams, Venn diagrams, BPMN for business processes and URL diagrams.

LucidChart for iPad
Click for full-size version

Both in a browser and on the iPad it allows multiple simultaneous users – an unlimited number, they claim.

This is a tool that iPad-owning visual thinkers working in business should grab and try out.

[ Update 12 Sept, 2013: And here’s where to get it : https://www.lucidchart.com/pages/tour/ipad_flowchart_app ]

Roy
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