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Top 12 Mind Mapping Tools for Web or Desktop

Lori Halley 21 July 2008 7 comments

hand-drawn mind mapThe trick to effective mind mapping is finding the right tool for the job — whether that tool is pen and paper, as Guy Lewis used to unravel his personal life, or dedicated software, as Patrick Lynch used to explain Wild Apricot’s features to his colleagues.

What is Mind Mapping?

Mind mapping is a non-linear, highly visual method of capturing and organizing ideas. Fans of mind mapping claim that it helps them to be more creative, more productive, and more organized in their thinking and learning.

Here's how it works:

Working alone or in collaboration with others, start with a central concept in the middle of your page. Branch out from there, adding ideas as they occur and linking them with lines and arrows as the relationships emerge. Add colors, notes, links, images or any other enhancements that will help you to organize and understand the information.

Use the mind mapping technique for taking notes, brainstorming, whiteboarding at meetings, planning your writing, organizing information and managing projects, to create flowcharts, as a visual learning tool, or to explore complex ideas and present those ideas to others.

Wild Apricot mind map

A pen and paper will often meet your needs quite nicely, but if you plan to present your mind map later, or if several people are mind mapping as a team, software can make the task easier. And there is certainly no shortage of choice in the mind mapping software that’s available. In fact, the sheer variety of low-cost or free mind map tools, each with its own strengths and limitations, can make it challenging to select the right tool for your purposes!

I’ve been testing a host of mind mapping tools recently, and while I'm not sure it has made me more creative or more organized, necessarily, it has been an interesting exploration!  Each of these tools performed well according to what they were designed to do, and you should be able to find reliable software here to suit your own mind mapping style:

Free and Low Cost Web-based Software

Gliffy is lets you create charts and diagrams online, using a library of pre-drawn symbols, and save them as images to embed in documents and web pages. Both the free Basic and premium ($5/month)versions allow users to collaborate in near real time, and Gliffy automatically keeps a copy every time a document is saved, so you can track changes or revert to an earlier version.

MindMeister is web-based mind mapping software that allows an unlimited number of users to collaborate in real time. Import your mind maps from Freemind and MindManager, publish mind maps to your website or blog, or export them as images, PDF or RTF files. Full premium features ($4/month) are free for all account holders for the first 30 days.

Mindomo’s free version is very comparable to that of MindMeister, with the addition of a useful option to keep your mind map private or share it with selected colleagues. The premium version ($6/month) includes a spellcheck utility, folders, full-screen view, and the ability to export mind maps in MindManager, Microsoft Project and Microsoft Excel formats.

Bubbl.us is a simple, Flash-based brainstorming tool that produces mind maps you can embed in a web page. I found it most useful in making a quick diagram to show hierarchical relationships in a graphical format — as in an organizational chart or a family tree.

Three other web-based mind mapping applications you might want to try are the surprisingly powerful WiseMapping, the new Mind42 (just out of beta testing, which currently places no limitations on numbers of users or saved mind maps) and Thinkature, which combines collaborative mind mapping with voice chat.

Free Desktop Software

Open source FreeMind is still the reigning standard for desktop mind mapping tools. Java based, it will run on any platform, as will i2Brain. Other popular choices in the free desktop field include Cayra (for Windows XP or Vista) and the lightweight outliner, MyMind (for Mac OS X).

More Mind Mapping Resources

Mind-Mapping.org offers an impressive “master list of software that supports knowledge management and information organisation in graphical form,” with useful articles on using mind maps and a topic-specific search engine to help you find the right mind mapping software to suit your needs.

Do you have a favourite mind mapping tool?

Or maybe you’ve never been able to see the point of mind maps at all…

Whatever your take on the mind mapping technique please share your thoughts (and your mind maps?) in the comments section below.

Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Posted by Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Published Monday, 21 July 2008 at 4:33 PM


  • Mind Mapping Fan said:

    Tuesday, 22 July 2008 at 10:06 AM

    The map of Wild Apricot above certainly looks like a MindManager map. Like those mentioned in the post, Mindjet has web-based collaboration apps that you can explore.

  • Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

    Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] said:

    Wednesday, 23 July 2008 at 3:07 PM

    Mindjet/MindManager's price range put it outside the scope of this particular list, MMFan, because I wanted to focus on affordable options, but it's certainly well-regarded software - fair to say, it's one of the handful at the top of the market, and there's a free 30-day trial for those who'd like to get a sense of what's on offer.

    It's well worth checking out the resources on the Mindjet website, by the way. You'll find a rather good gallery of mind maps (http://www.mindjet.com/resources/mapgallery/view_all.aspx) that help to demonstrate the practical uses of mind mapping. See the NonProfit Teams category, in particular!

  • Chuck Frey said:

    Friday, 25 July 2008 at 11:55 AM

    NovaMind (http://www.novamind.com) is an excellent choice; the Pro version is US$149. So is XMIND (http://www.xmind.org), which only costs US$99. For reviews of these and other mind mapping programs, please visit my Mind Mapping Software Blog at http://mindmappingsoftwareblog.com.

  • mousewords said:

    Tuesday, 29 July 2008 at 7:36 PM

    Great post, thank you! I'd heard about mind maps, but just started looking into them yesterday. I've tried several methods for organizing my thoughts, but somehow I always wind up going back to white paper and a black rollerball pen. Maybe a map is what I need. :-)

  • Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

    Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] said:

    Friday, 01 August 2008 at 5:24 AM

    One of the great things about mind mapping, as a technique, is that there's really no "right" way or "wrong" way to do it -- just as there are mind-mapping tools to suit each individual. Sometimes just changing from one tool to another is enough to kickstart the creative process. Inevitably, we will tend to think differently at the keyboard than we will with a purple crayon in hand!

  • Tom H. said:

    Tuesday, 05 August 2008 at 2:02 PM

    Great article.  A good friend spoke to me about this, but I never really looked into it until today when I read your post.  I downloaded FreeMind just to see how it worked and ended up planning a meeting I've got coming up.  Thanks!

  • Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

    Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] said:

    Wednesday, 06 August 2008 at 9:05 PM

    Tom, it's great to hear you've been able to put the tool to good use already! And that says something for how quickly one can get up and running with FreeMind, doesn't it?

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