Friday, August 29, 2008

FreeMind for mind maps

How do you represent thoughts on paper? Left-to-right, one sentence after another? Or do you treat paper like a canvas, creating "clusters" of words?

If you like clusters, then you probably like mind maps as well. No -- mind mapping does not "change the way you think!" or awaken some hitherto dormant genius. But yes, if you prefer a "canvas", mind mapping certainly makes it easier to express yourself. It may have something to do with the fact that if you're innately predisposed to thinking incrementally from vague to precise (fleshing out, stubbing), then mind maps permit that naturally. The (perhaps equally innate) desire for grammar, on the other hand, probably creates cognitive overhead.

There are over a dozen useful mind mapping software; some are even free and open. There seems to be a reasonably complete list available at But if you're looking for this kind of software, allow me to introduce you to FreeMind. It's open source, it's free, it's easy-to-use, and it works! Most importantly, there is an active user and developer community so there's help when you get stuck.

Earlier versions were somewhat slow, but starting 0.8.x, I've found FreeMind to be responsive enough to use for live discussions. For example maps and screenshots, go to the project's gallery, but here's a picture of a "brand map" that I did using FreeMind.

Nestlé brand map image (created using FreeMind) (click to enlarge)

The company's official brand show-case is here. I find the mind map, even as a picture, to be more engaging. Do you?

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