I recently had an opportunity to preview PersonalBrain 4.0, the new visual mapping and information management tool from TheBrain Technologies L.P. What I learned is that this new product, now in public beta, is a major upgrade that solves some of the shortcomings of earlier versions, while adding some powerful new features.
Here is a brief summary of the most significant new and improved features of PersonalBrain 4.0:
Cross platform: Previous versions of PersonalBrain were only available for Windows. Version 4.0, which was completely rewritten for this release, is also available for Mac and Linux.
Expanded view: One of the shortcomings of past versions of PersonalBrain was that the plex -- the program’s workspace -- only displayed the currently selected thought and those one level above and one level below. When navigating a large “brain” (the developer’s term for a visual map), it felt like you were navigating with blinders on. Version 4.0 offers a new “expanded view” option (pictured above), which enables you to click on individual thoughts to expand their subtopics and relationships. In expanded view mode, you can drag the visual map around the workspace to view more of its contents, and the mouse scroll wheel gives you the power to adjust the length of the links between all thoughts (which enables you you display more thoughts at once in the program’s workspace). This feature is a welcome addition to PersonalBrain.
Expanded support for files and links: PersonalBrain 4.0 enables you to create live links with Microsoft Outlook e-mail messages and contacts by dragging and dropping items from the popular information manager into the PersonalBrain workspace. You can also attach many other types of files to thoughts in your brain file. Amazingly, the program indexes their contents, so that they can be included in search results. That’s cool!
Categories: You can create and assign individual thoughts to categories, which enables you to add meaning and context to them. This enables you to view thoughts in multiple contexts, which can lead to new ideas and connections.
Additional thought properties: Thoughts can now have colors and zoomable icons, and individual thoughts can have a nearly unlimited number of attached files.
Enhanced exporting: New in version 4.0, you can export the contents of your brain file to an XML and Ajax-enhanced web page. This enables you to share your brain files with others. The export process creates a web-based version of your brain that is very similar to the enhanced navigation on TheBrain Technologies web site. You can also do a simpler HTML export, which displays your brain's contents as an expandable hierarchical list.
Enhanced search: Not only can you search the thoughts of your brain, but also the contents of over 200 linked file types. The program’s powerful backend database can quickly sort search results by relevance and the dates individual files were modified. In the search results, it also displays a horizontal bar, which tells you how many times a thought has been accessed in the last 30 days, which gives you another measure of its relevance.
Filtering: One neat feature is the program's ability to filter out any thoughts not accessed within the last X number of days, which lets you quickly zero win on what you have been working on lately, while hiding everything else.
ESP: This is perhaps one of PersonalBrain 4.0's coolest new features. When operating in this mode, the program “follows along” with what you're doing in other programs, and adjusts the view of your brain accordingly. For example, if you do a Google search on "visual mapping," PersonalBrain 4.0 automatically moves to that part of your brain that matches that search term. This makes it very easy for you to add the results of your Web research to your brain; it also enables you to see what you already know about a particular topic. This feature is very cool to see in action; its almost uncanny to watch how it reacts to your actions.
PersonalBrain 4.0 is in public beta right now. According to the developer, its official launch is expected to take place around late July. If you just want to see what all the excitement is about, the developer also offers PersonalBrain 101 online e-seminars every Friday at 10 a.m. Pacific time.
If you work with large amounts of information and have gotten frustrated by your ability to navigate and work with large mind maps, PersonalBrain 4.0 is definitely worth a look.