Saturday, February 16, 2013

MindNode Makes Mind Mapping a Mind-Blower

Mind mapping - the process of visualizing ideas and information in much the same way that people think - has evolved from pencil and paper to digital methods. The new MindNode Pro app for Mac, however, makes mind maps easier to navigate with features that play into our media-rich, link-embedding, social-sharing era of computing.

Mind maps don't have anything to do with identifying the contours of your brain -- although they may give you an inkling about how your mind works.

At the heart of a mind map is the idea that we don't think in rigid hierarchies. The old-fashioned tree outline with heads, subheads and so forth can nicely organize a theme, document or white paper, but it isn't how people think or the way the brain works.

We don't think in straight lines. Our ideas tend to radiate from each other -- more like a net than a strand of rope.

That's where mind maps enter the picture. They can help you create the framework for a project in a way that's closer to the way you think.

Before computers had good graphics support, people created mind maps with paper and pencils. Pencils were a key component, as lots of erasing could be involved. Even then, a mind map could be decipherable only to its creator.

Enter the Computer

Computers have greatly improved the task of creating mind maps. Not only have they improved our ability to create more legible maps, but they've opened up the process to collaboration, something impossible in the pencil and paper age.

All the advantages computers bring to the mind mapping process can be seen in MindNode Pro (US$19.99) for the Mac.

MindNode allows you to quickly and easily create new nodes -- the spokes on the hub of your idea -- as well as create cross connections between nodes.

Back in the pencil-and-paper days, the nodes, siblings and children consisted of words. Everything was flat and two dimensional.

With MindNode, you can embellish an element in your mind map in ways that not only enhance the look of it, but make it leap into cyberspace.

Media Galore

You can add media to your maps. If you created a map of your family tree, for instance, you could display a photo with each family member in the tree.

For easy access to images, audio and movies, MindNode has a media button on its toolbar. Clicking it displays a window that gives you access to folders on your Mac where media reside.

For example, you can access your iTunes library directly through the media window. When you see an audio file, image or even video needed to illustrate an element of your mind map, you can drag it from the window to the map.

Links can also be added to elements. A reference to a court decision on a map designed to explain a public policy issue, for instance, could contain a link to a PDF file of the actual decision stored on your computer, or to a site on the Web containing the document.

Size Matters

While computer mind maps have a lot of advantages over paper ones, one area where digital maps fell down was size. Large sheets of paper cost a lot less than large computer screens. Also, when a map starts getting cramped on a sheet of paper, you can just tape another sheet to it.

MindNode addresses the size issue by giving you an infinitely sized canvas for your maps. If your map expands past the edge of the MindNode window, the program just slides left, right, up or down to accommodate the expansion.

The expanded canvas works nicely with a trackpad because you can slide around the canvas effortlessly.

MindNode, which runs on OS X 10.7.3 or later, also supports Lion's full screen mode, so not only can you get the maximum area for your mind map, but you can block out all desktop distractions to your brainstorming as well.

Mess Begone

Those messy mind maps from the bad old pencil-and-paper days are gone with MindNode, which has a number of organizational features to create cleaner maps.

If you need to remove some map clutter from sight, you can hide nodes with a single click.

You can edit your map on the fly by grabbing nodes and dragging them anywhere on the screen.

Grabbing and dragging nodes, however, can be inadequate if your map gets too complicated. MindNode thought of that; it has an auto-organize feature that will clean up things for you without your intervention.

Your map's organization can also be aided by customizing your nodes with the many choices of colors, fonts and stroke width offered by MindNode.

More Than Sharing Photocopies

With paper mind maps, sharing usually meant photocopying your map and circulating it to your colleagues. That just won't do in the age of the social web.

MindNode lets your share your maps on your local network with your other iOS devices. MindNode's makers, IdeasOnCanvas, also makes versions of the program for the iPhone and iPad.

You can also export maps created with the software into other formats, such as PDF, FreeMind and OPML, or as a PNG or TIFF image file. You can even export it as a text outline in RTF.

MindNode is a great example of how a computer has taken a productive tool for brainstorming - the mind map - and made it a robust powerhouse.

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