Shelly Hayduk, writing in TheBrain Blog, recently posted an article that suggests that traditional hierarchical mind maps may not be the best way to present complex information and knowledge. She points out that almost all software interfaces today are limited to organizing information into hierarchies, where a piece of information can only be categorized into one place. A case in point: the traditional file manager view in Microsoft Windows, where the directory tree resembles an expandable and contractible outline.
Here's where things get a little controversial: While Shelly acknowledges that mind mapping software offers an improved information hierarchy, it shares the same limitation as the directory tree of your computer's filing system, because each topic can have only one parent. If you want to create a link from one topic to a branch that is distant from it, this is somewhat hard to represent visually, especially in a very large map.
In contrast, PersonalBrain, the desktop software developed by her employer, is designed to create complex connections between widely disparate topics. Each node in the visual map can have connections to numerous other topics, enabling you to display non-hierarchical relationships between pieces of information. As a result, Shelly says TheBrain can be used to display and manipulate maps consisting of several thousand nodes, while giving a more complete picture of each node's multitude of relationships.
Please note: This isn't meant to be a commercial for TheBrain, but to highlight the philosophical differences between TheBrain's approach to visual information management and that of "traditional" mind mapping software.
What do you think? Have you downloaded and evaluated PersonalBrain? What was your experience? How well does it do at helping you to visualize relationships between ideas in your maps? I look forward to your feedback.