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Thinking made easy - the 5 best mind map tools



SUMMARY


The concept of mind maps gives the impression of being quite novel, probably thanks to the English name. In fact, the English author, speaker and educational trainer Tony Buzan coined the term back in the 1970s. And he didn't reinvent the wheel either, but merely gave it a name. The mind map as a form of representation for thoughts and ideas has been used for centuries because it corresponds to the way the human brain processes, stores and retrieves information.


No wonder, then, that professors, students, startups and large corporations of the new millennium have rediscovered this practical tool for themselves. All it needs is a pen and a sheet of paper - and creative thinking, of course. But there are also software solutions that can not only simplify and speed up the creation of and work with mind maps but also add some aspects. Find out which mind map programs are the best in our guide. But first: What are mind maps, why do you need them, what does a good mind map look like and what must mind mapping tools be able to do?



CONTENT


  • What are mind maps?

  • Why do you need mind maps?

  • Structuring information with mind mapping software

  • 5 practical mind mapping tools

  • An overview of the features of the 5 best mind mapping apps

  • Conclusion: The right mind map software is a matter of taste



WHAT ARE MIND MAPS?


A mind map is roughly defined as a structured form of presentation for concepts in which individual elements are arranged around a central theme and linked together. With its non-linear, graphic layout, it helps the user to retrieve complex or even chaotic thoughts and ideas associatively, to order them intuitively and to visualise them in an appealing way. In contrast to a rigidly chronologically structured list, a mind map thus corresponds more to the structure and functioning of the human brain.


The keyword is Radiant Thinking. The mind map picks up on this natural property of the mind to link countless elements and concepts in a complex way. Moreover, it is supposed to address both hemispheres of the youngest part of the cerebral cortex and thus a whole range of cortical abilities at the same time, whereby these are supposed to reinforce each other and increase brain performance in general. This makes mind mapping a highly effective method of storing information in the brain and retrieving it from there.


Each mind map follows the same basic principles. First of all, they have a map-like structure that starts in the middle with a basic idea (best represented by a picture) and "propagates" outwards in ever finer ramifications. All ramifications can be logically traced in both directions, making connections and interactions clearly visible. For better visualisation, various types of lines, symbols, pictures, shapes, fonts and colours are also used, which enrich the mind map with additional information and address further areas in the brain. This stimulates the ability to associate and makes it easier to remember information.



WHY DO YOU NEED MIND MAPS?


Since they correspond to the natural basic structure of the human mind, the functioning of mind maps is universally understandable and can be applied to almost any complex topic.


In everyday life, mind maps are used to make notes in a non-linear way, e.g. to-do or holiday packing lists. Pupils and students can use them to internalise complicated learning material more quickly. Sometimes a well-thought-out mind map also helps with structuring and writing texts - as in this guidebook article.


In the professional field, the mind map also has clear advantages for collaborative work. Speakers can use it to illustrate their ideas to the audience, and working groups use the tool for effective decision-making and marketing campaigns. Financial planning, minute-taking, event and project management are other possible applications.


Instead of jostling with colleagues for a large sheet of paper, however, it makes much more sense for companies and agencies to resort to digital mind mapping tools. With their help, the entire team can not only work on the same mind map simultaneously but also completely independent of location. In this way, these software solutions are able to improve communication and cooperation in the company and at the same time save time, energy and ultimately money.



STRUCTURING INFORMATION WITH MIN MAPPING SOFTWARE


As an alternative to pen and paper (or blackboard or whiteboard), there are various ways to create mind maps with digital tools. Although programs such as Photoshop offer extensive design possibilities - provided creativity and technical know-how are available - they prove to be comparatively cumbersome and labour-intensive for this task.


Fortunately, specialised mind mapping tools are currently available in abundance on the internet - these are ideal if you make frequent use of mind maps in your private or professional everyday life. Free mind mapping Software and professional programs look very similar at first glance, but the differences lie in the details.


But how do you recognise good software? Since you usually just record a mind map by hand, a digital tool has to offer clear advantages to be relevant at all. These include above all:


  • Intuitive operation: Only if the user interface is self-explanatory and the creation of mind maps is just as fast or even faster than with pen and paper is it worth switching to keyboard and mouse.

  • Automation: With just a few simple steps it should be possible to create clearly structured mind maps with ideal use of space. Prefabricated templates that can be filled in and extended serve as a quickly available sample basis in the best case.

  • Performance: What is only possible in poster format in the physical world should not be a problem in the digital realm. This means that a good tool must allow subsequent editing, rearranging, copying and deleting, even if the mind map is very large and complex.

  • Aesthetics: In any case, any digitally created mind map should look better than a quick doodle on the nearest napkin. Aesthetically pleasing visualisations and colours are therefore an important quality criterion. The possibility to add pictures and symbols can also mean a great added value.

  • Cost factor: Since the cost of a pen and a sheet of paper is virtually zero, mind map software should offer the best possible price-performance ratio - either by being available free of charge or by offsetting the money invested by the user with extensive additional functions. These include, above all, those that a traditional mind map cannot provide, such as the insertion of links as well as video and audio files or the storage of backups in the cloud.


Something else is of great importance with mind mapping and brainstorming tools: the collaborative aspect. By means of multiple user accesses, live updates, change histories as well as feedback and sharing functions, many cleverly programmed programs make it possible to collaborate with colleagues in real-time.



5 PRACTICAL MIND MAPPING TOOLS


The mind mapping programs presented below meet most or even all of the quality criteria mentioned but stand out from each other due to their individual strengths.


Beginner-friendly: coggle

The main selling point of the coggle web app is its ease of use and clear interface. After a quick registration via email or Google account, the developers promise that you can learn the entire tool within just five minutes - thanks to the intuitive drag-and-drop system (which is typical for such tools). Despite the beginner's friendliness, no wishes remain unfulfilled, neither with the mind maps nor in terms of real-time collaboration: you can add images and annotations to elements, adjust colours and designs and invite team members to the project via email. Results can be shared on Facebook and Twitter, exported as PDF or PNG or integrated into your own website using IFRAME.


Another click loads the video from YouTube. In this case, YouTube may set cookies over which we have no control.


However, certain features are only available in the paid models of the otherwise free program: There is an unlimited number of mindmaps, an upload function for high-resolution images and the collaboration function via email link.


Collaborative: mindmeister

The app mindmeister from a Munich-based developer recommends itself as a "mindmap collaboration tool" with a special focus on companies such as Electronic Arts, CNN and Philips and aims to offer a range of functions that does justice to the self-assigned title. This includes: Sharing of mindmaps via direct link, bulk invitation for groups, wiki maps or Google Drive, real-time collaboration via live chat, change history as well as comment and voting function for the exchange of feedback. In addition, mindmeister is available as a mobile app for iOS and Android.


The free basic version prohibits the uploading of images and files and is limited to three mind maps per account. Additional functions such as Word and PowerPoint exports as well as custom themes for the company are available in the paid packages. The business account also offers group sharing, external back-ups and customised log-ins.


Open Source: wisemapping

wisemapping is a browser-based open-source tool for individuals and companies. Unique compared to the other mind mapping programs in this list is the possibility to host the software on your own server without any plug-ins thanks to a customised Apache version 2 licence. This is achieved by means of an absolutely transparent source code that can be obtained from the official homepage. You don't have to pay for it, even on a professional scale. It is sufficient to mark created mind maps with the phrase "powered by wisemapping".


Another advantage: the tool can be tested completely anonymously, but you agree that the finished mind map will be publicly displayed on the homepage as a promotional example. Once you are convinced of the solid functionality, you can register via email, Twitter, Facebook or Google+ account and optionally donate via PayPal to support the developers in optimising the software.


Aesthetic: mapul

What stands out most about mapul is the hand-painted aesthetics of the interface and mindmaps. The web app, which was developed with the help of Microsoft Silverlight, is thus visually convincing because it allows for much more artistic and thus more appealing results than most other tools. The rather boring tree diagram is understood quite literally here: Branches of varying thickness merge from a colourfully designed trunk into increasingly filigree branches on which terms and images hang like ripe fruit.


If you don't have enough time for this organic and classic style, you can also use the auto-layout function. With this, you create mindmaps purely by keyboard, while the program takes care of the arrangement of the branches, which you can edit later. Due to the strong focus on the aesthetic component, however, mapul lags behind other tools as far as collaboration functions are concerned. Moreover, most of the functions are not available in the free version. To create more than just a single mind map, you need a subscription.


Absolutely free: mind42

Don't feel like investing money? mind42 is one hundred per cent free because it is financed by advertising, which does not interfere with the use of the tool. All you need to do is register by email. Nevertheless, the web app is suitable for extensive collaborative use, as its name already indicates (it reads "mind for two"). With email and direct link invitations as well as the integration of the instant messenger Google Talk, collaboration is possible in real-time.


In addition, links, notes and images can be added directly via URL and finished mind maps can be exported in various formats - be it common ones such as RTF, PDF, JPEG and PNG or files created in Freemind, Mindjet Mindmanager or other mind map software. However, there is one downer: the change history of a mindmap can only be viewed by its creator, not by team members.



CONCLUSION


As you can see, the difference between the best mind mapping tools on the market lies mainly in the details. Clear and visually appealing mind maps can be created quickly and easily with each of these programs, but collaborative functions vary in strength. On the other hand, each program has its individual strengths. Which one is right for you, therefore, depends mainly on your personal preferences and whether you are willing to spend money on it. Sample screenshots, promotional videos and free test versions on the homepages can help you decide - as can extensive brainstorming with a mind map.

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