Mind mapping has been evolving very slowly, with no real breakthroughs in recent years, according to Mark Salamango, CEO of SpinScape, the developer of a powerful new web-based visual mapping tool that is now in private beta testing. He thinks it’s about time for Mind Mapping 2.0, a new era in visual mapping characterized by an increased focus on information discovery, real-time collaboration, tagging and enhanced publishing. If he has his way, SpinScape will take visual mapping in some exciting new directions.
Salamango recently gave me an exclusive first look at SpinScape. Here are my first impressions of it:
The interface: SpinScape features a large central work space. Just about the workspace, set to the left, is a simple set of five toolbar buttons, which give you access to file, node, connect, find and layout. Two more buttons on the right top of the workspace enable you to invite others to collaborate with you and to utilize the application’s “plug-ins” (more on what those are and what they’re used for in a minute). To the right side of the workspace is a map overview pane and a set of tabbed dialog boxes for tags, hyperlinks, annotation (notes), icons and chat.
Creating nodes: SpinScape enables users to do some fairly standard mind mapping things, such as entering new topics (called "nodes" in SpinScape) and rearranging them by dragging and dropping. Each node can be tagged with keywords, can contain notes and annotations, and can have multiple links per node. Nodes display icons that indicate if they contain annotations, links and tags. Nodes appear to be quite large, and take up quite a bit of space on the screen. But Salamango says his development team is working on a more compact way of displaying them.
Collaboration tools: SpinScape’s well-designed collaboration tools enable users to easily invite other people to collaborate on maps or nodes in real-time. This could be really useful if your map contain some proprietary information, which you don't necessarily want to share with others, or if one section of your map contains some background information that really is of relevance to the people with whom you need to collaborate. When you share nodes with others, they can add comments to them.
Map ‘n’ chat: Another real plus is how the application integrates real-time chat into the whole application interface. It’s another tab, well integrated into the overall interface. It’s very cool to be able to chat with a colleague, while both of you are looking at and annotating the same map.
Want to change your central topic? No problem: Another unique thing about SpinScape is how it handles the central topic. Most mapping applications don’t give you the flexibility to select a different central topic - you’re stuck with the one you started with. SpinScape makes it possible, with the click of a mouse.
Plug-ins - where the real power of SpinScape resides: Where SpinScape gets interesting is in its use of "plug-ins" to enable you to conduct searches from within the application, and to automatically add items from the search results to your map (click image at right for larger view of Google search results). At the time of this demonstration, SpinScape included plug-ins for Del.icio.us bookmarks, Google web search, Google Docs, Wikipedia, MindManager and X drive (an online file storage service). These services represent a combination of your personal files, no matter where they are stored (online or off-line), plus popular online repositories of knowledge and information.
During the demonstration, Salamango showed how easy it is to add external information to your map. You simply click the “plug-ins” button, select the type of search you want to conduct and how many search results you want SpinScape to display. Search results are displayed in a pop-up window, with a check box next to each item. You select the ones that you want to add to your map, and it automatically does so. It also inserts their descriptions into the notes/annotation tab of each node - nice! As with any other node in SpinScape, you can add your own comments or notes to the content that it has automatically captured for you.
You can also import content from any other SpinScape map, whether it's one that someone has shared with you or one that is part of the public repository of maps on the SpinScape web site.
When SpinScape launches at the Web 2.0 Conference in April, Salamango hopes to have many more plug-ins available. He says that SpinScape will launch with a public API, which means anyone can will be able to write plug-ins to enhance its functionality.
What's next for SpinScape? Salamango cautioned that the user interface that I saw during this demonstration will change significantly before it goes public in April. The way that the application displays nodes (which currently take up a lot of space) will be improved, to make more efficient use of screen real estate. The tabbed interface on the right side of the screen will be removed, to make more room for users to work with maps; he didn’t say what alternate form of navigation will be used to access these functions. Also, more plug-ins and import and export options will be added.
With SpinScape, Salamango and his development team hope to usher in a new era of mind mapping. Based on what I’ve seen so far, I think they’re off to a very promising start, especially in the area of information and knowledge discovery!