Idea Mapping software

If you have been following this blog you will have noticed that I have been reviewing Note Taking software.  I have also found a program I like and which has almost all the facilities I wanted in a note taking program, it is not perfect but it is near enough, so now it is time to move on to the natural companion to note taking software, and that is Mapping Software.

By mapping software I mean software for doing mind mapping and concept mapping.  Programs which allow you to express ideas and connections between ideas graphically.

With note taking software there are no good free or open source offerings but the situation is completely different with mapping software.  All the programs reviewed here will be free or open source.  This does not mean that they are sub standard in any way, many of them are more sophisticated than a lot of the commercial programs on offer.

You could try all of these programs for no monetary outlay.  Indeed they are slightly different from each other so one could argue that having several of them alongside each other was justified.  Freeplane for instance is good at conventional mind maps but does not do concept maps very well, IHMC Cmap Tools is very good at concept maps but it would be hard work if you wanted to a produce a mind map,  VUE also does concept mapping and allows you to do presentations and Compendium is a good all round visual organisational tool.  The three I use regularly are VUE, Freeplane and Compendium.

The only thing wrong with having all of these programs installed is that you would be spoilt for choice when it came to deciding which one to use.

What criteria will be used to judge them?

One criticism I received for the note taking program reviews was that I gave too much importance to the visual appeal of the programs.  I think in patterns and in images whereas most people think in words, this is just the way my mind works, translating my thoughts into words is hard work and the need for a note taking tool is a compensation for this (some would say an overcompensation) but the result of the way I think is that the visual aspects of a program are very important to me.

I will split the review into sections each concentrating on one aspect of the program, each section will get marks out of ten then all the marks will be added up to get a final score, if you do not like the importance I have assigned to any aspect of the program then feel free to multiply or divide each section by your own weighting factor to arrive at a figure you agree with.

1.  Organisation

Is the map limited to a strict hierarchy (mind map) or not?  Can it be used to do different types of map, like mind maps, organisational charts, concept maps, process flow diagrams etc?  Does it support floating nodes?  Are the links (edges) typed?  Can you have multiple maps in one file or on one sheet?

2.  Attachments to nodes

Can nodes have attachments?   Can a node be linked to a file? or a URL? Does the program support universal links?  Can a node be linked to a different map?  Can images or icons be applied to nodes?  Can a node hold a note?  If so is there a limit to the size of the note?

3.  Appearance

Does the program look good?  Are the ideas in the map conveyed clearly?  Is the look organic with curved lines or the simple box and straight line approach?  Does the map allow manual positioning of nodes and vertices or does it position them itself?

4.  Ease of use

How easy is the program to use?  Is it obvious how to do things?  Does the view of the map centre on the node in focus or if not can the map be pulled about to get the view you want?  Is there an overview?  Does the program perform sensibly when there are multiple instances of it running?  Does the program support collaborative working?

5.  Import – Export

How easy is it to get your stuff into and out of the program?