InformationTamers.com, a web site created by the developers of Topicscape, a 3-D mind mapping software program, walks the reader through concise and engaging analysis of different information management solutions, and their strengths and weaknesses. Here are a few highlights:
Indexing software: This genre of programs indexes the contents of your computer's hard drive and then enables you to conduct keyword searches it. This type of software was of limited use to the author because it was hard to come up with a precise search term that would deliver the results he was looking for. Like using a web search engine, these indexing programs often returned too many irrelevant results.
Mind mapping/concept mapping software: These tools moved information management into the realm of a “visual road map,” which made it easier to “see” pieces of information and how they fit into the larger whole. But he found this model of visual mapping to be somewhat limiting for two reasons: First, the strict adherence to hierarchy – in other words, a node in a map could be the child of one other node. The other shortcoming, in his opinion, was that as the volume of data contained in a mind map increased, it tended to get very large and ponderous to work with.
PersonalBrain: This software program overcame some of the shortcomings that the author experienced with mind mapping software, namely that an item in a map could now be the child of multiple nodes. In other words, it was a better platform for visually describing complex relationships between items. Also, the fact that you could place any topic in the center of the screen, which caused the entire map to rotate around it, made large maps somewhat easier to work with. But the author found that large maps were still hard to work with, even on a high-resolution computer monitor. Also, because you could center your map on any topic, he found that PersonalBrain lacked a sense of “place” – which means that he found it hard to determine where he was within the overall structure of a Brain map, which made it harder to zero in on the information he was looking for.
Topicscape: The author became part of the development team for this 3D mind mapping program, where he was able to help design an interface that overcame the limitations of these other information management paradigms. The solution was to represent topics, their parents and children as 3D “cones,” to use screen real estate more efficiently, while also clearly displaying the relationships between the topics in your map. These “cones” look something like mountains on a 3D plane. Topics can be related to multiple other topics, and each topic or node can contain multiple attachments. This allows users to develop very complex visual databases of knowledge and information, while still retaining the ability to navigate through it efficiently.
To be completely honest, when people would ask me why I never covered Topicscape in this blog, nor did I include it in my list of mind mapping software, I dismissed it as not being a “true” mind mapping program. I thought it was an intriguing information visualization tool, but I failed to see how it handled hierarchies of topics. Now that I have read this excellent backgrounder, I have a better understanding of the problems it was designed to solve, and how it does incorporate some of the principles of visual mapping. I plan to download the trial version of Topicscape and explore it more closely, now that I have a better understanding of it.
If you are a fan of visual mapping and information management, I think you’ll find this article to be very interesting!