Five Best Mind Mapping Tools

Mind mapping is a way to brainstorm, make a plan, or turn ideas into the steps needed to make them happen. There are plenty of great tools out there to help you build, organise and share mind maps. Here's a look at five of the best, based on your nominations.

Title photo by Marco Antonio Torres.

Mindjet (Windows/Mac/iOS)

Mindjet is more than just mind mapping software -- it's a suite of applications and tools designed to help you and the people you work with brainstorm, stay on top of projects, collaborate on tasks, and stay organised together. It's more like a complete project management and collaboration suite. It includes an extremely powerful mind mapping and brainstorming tool, designed to help you organise your projects, assign different arms of your projects, and flesh out all of the individual to-dos and jobs required to make the whole project a success. It works just as well if you're working with a hundred people or simply organising your own to-dos. Plus, it integrates with web services and tools you already use, including Microsoft Office and Box.net. Anyone familiar with the old tool MindManager will be happy to learn it has been rolled into Mindjet's individual apps. Most of Mindjet's users are companies willing to pay for it: it costs $15/month per user for the individual plan, and $30/month per user for the enterprise plan.

XMind (Windows/Mac/Linux)

XMind has been around for a long time, and it made the roundup the last time we looked at mind mapping apps in 2009. It hasn't lost its power; it's still extremely flexible, works well on any desktop OS, and makes it easy to organise your ideas and thoughts in a variety of different styles, diagrams and designs. You can use simple mind maps or "fishbone" style flowcharts. You can even add images and icons to differentiate parts of a project or specific ideas, add links and multimedia to each item, and more. If you're a project manager, you can use XMind's built-in Gantt view to manage tasks. Best of all, XMind is completely free and open source. If you have some cash to spend, XMind Plus and XMind Pro offer additional import/export and presentation features, along with options targeted at project managers. Plus will set you back $US79 for a one-time buy; a subscription to Plus and all of its updates is $US79/month, while Pro is $US99.

Coggle (Webapp)

Coggle is a completely free, simple-to-use mind mapping tool that's easy to get started with. Sign in with a Google account and you're off and running. Double-click on any item to edit it, and click the plus signs on either side to add branches to your mind map. Click and hold to drag them around the canvas to design your mind map any way you like. Coggle will automatically assign different colours to your branches, while clicking on a branch will bring up a colour wheel so you can personalise it yourself. When you've finished a map, you can download it as a PDF or PNG, share it with others who can just view it or, if you allow it, edit your mind map. You even get auto-saving and revision history, so if you want to see what your mind map looked like before someone you invited started working with it, you can.

Freemind (Windows/Mac/Linux)

Freemind is a free, GNU General Public Licensed mind mapping app built in Java, so it runs on just about anything you throw it at. It ranked highly in our last roundup, partially due to its flexibility, and because its features and performance remain consistent regardless of the operating system you use. It's a fairly powerful mind mapping tool, offering complex diagrams and lots of branches, graphics and icons to differentiate notes and connect them, as well as the option to embed links and multimedia in your mind maps for quick reference. Freemind can export your map as HTML/XHTML, PDF, OpenDocument, SVG or PNG. Compared to a lot of the newer tools it may look a little dated, but it's still powerful and useful, especially if it's function you're looking for, not form.

MindNode (Mac/iOS)

MindNode is an elegant mind mapping and brainstorming app for Mac and iOS. The iOS version is designed to work well on the iPad, and makes it easy to drag branches around, add new nodes, connect nodes and share documents with others. The Mac app is similar, and supports sharing your mind map with others and exporting as PDF and as a Freemind project. MindNode can automatically hide branches that have nothing to do with the items you're working on, embed images and screenshots onto nodes, create links on nodes, and even automatically organise your branches for you if they get messy. It can also support linked mind maps. The UI is relatively clean and hides a lot of its features in order to keep things clean, but that doesn't mean it's not powerful. Many of you who nominated it pointed out it's one of the first mind mapping apps you've seen that really does things right on a tablet. MindNode is $20.99 for the Mac app, and $10.49 for the iPhone/iPad app.

Honourable mentions this week go to Scapple and MindMeister, both of which just missed the top five. Still, the nominations were so close this time, we're willing to bet you have a favourite that may have been left out! If so, let's hear what it is and why you love it in the comments below.


Comments

    Freemind has been forked to a project called Freeplane (http://freeplane.sourceforge.net/wiki/index.php/Main_Page) which has a lot of nice additional features.

      try also pimki tool. this is also a mind mapping tool. surely you will get lot of benefit from it. http://www.mindmappingsite.com/sw-tool-reviews/software-reviews

    I need something like this but with the best support for transitioning between my desktop and my phone (Windows Phone 8).

    Simplemind for iOS, Android and PC has a clean interface that has the great capability of the map being able to be dragged around the screen with the cursor. http://www.simpleapps.eu/simplemind/

    The best mind mapping "app" is a sheet of paper and a set of coloured pens. As clever as all these apps might be, they're taking a technique that is most effective and empowering in a free-form "hand drawn" format and squeezing it into shapes and functions that will work digitally. A mind map is not a flow chart or a tree diagram and yet that's what most of these end up looking like. Not exactly conducive to creative thinking/expression or connection of ideas.

    So before investing money and or time in any of these apps, read Tony Buzan's classic, The Mind Map Book, and consider a trip to the stationery/art shop instead.

      Pen and paper work great until you reach the edge. I suppose that with a few rolls of tape (and some pens that can write on glossy surfaces) you can keep going until you fill a room.

      Still, I prefer the ease of storage, erasing, and expansion that the digital approach affords.

    I'm surprised that Inspiration 9 didn't make the list. The application works brilliantly - it can do mind maps but then transform that into an outline for a presentation, essay, etc. This helps both the visual (and maybe more chaotic) thinker to synthesise their thoughts but this can easily be transformed into an outline for the more linear thinkers amongst us. There is an iPad app, as well as an Windows/Mac application.

    +1 to Angela for the suggestion on Tony Buzan's book.

      Too hard- try and find out how much this costs if you live outside the US

    For me, Personal Brain is the best one, as always...

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