I have recently been experimenting with various mind mapping software. A mind map is a diagram used to represent ideas, task and other things that are linked, arranged and then rearranged as more information becomes available. In the 80’s and 90’s sticking post-it notes on a conference room wall and connecting them with yarn would be similar to a mind map today. One of the advantages to mind maps is that in many instances you can put more detailed information behind the topics. That way any notes pertaining to a particular topic stays with that topic no matter where it ends up in the map.
In some ways mind maps remind me a bit of usecase diagrams in UML and I think that we will see more mind maps and usecases being used in topic oriented document design. Many of the mind map tools store or can export the maps as XML documents enabling a developer to write transforms that for example might create a DITA topic for each item in the map.
I’ve been experimenting with three applications:
Freemind is an open source project written in Java. I like the fact that the default storage format is XML based. The schema is simple to understand and allows you to create effective mind maps. It falls down in being able to associate additional notes behind topics.
Semantik formally known as Kdissert is my favorite if you are running Linux. This is a must have application. Unfortunately there is no windows equivalent which limits its appeal in most business situations. Semantik allows you not only to create complex maps with lots of topics but store additional information behind the items as well as links to other files. The topics and information can then be exported as a single document. Currently there is an export template for Docbook which implies that it would be fairly easy to make one for DITA.
Mindjet is commercial software and not cheap. I’d say this is a company that Microsoft should acquire like they did VISO back in the 1990s. It’s good at creating maps and placing content behind them and I think it would fit in perfectly with their Office Suite. The XML export isn’t the cleanest thing in the world (namespaces) and the file order needs to be studied carefully. On the positive side, once I get past those challenges I didn’t have any problems creating XSLT transforms to either Docbook or DITA.
Wikapedia has a longer list of Mind mapping software.