The list is long and growing of applications designed to help you visually make sense of information. These range in price from free to several hundred dollars. MyThoughts from Mode de Vie Software lands somewhere in the middle of this spectrum, at $49.00.
While so many of the other applications heroically pack on features in an effort to appeal to everyone, MyThoughts takes the radical approach of being a mind mapping program that actually behaves just as a mind mapping program should.
This single-minded approach has earned my admiration. Let’s see if it should earn your software dollar.
A Diagram By Any Other Name
“Mind map” is a term that is thrown around a lot — especially by me. But it refers to a very specific type of diagram and to understand MyThoughts, you need to understand the precise meaning.
Popularized by British author Tony Buzan, the mind map is a type of diagram built to expand upon a single central thought or subject. Like an outline, a mind map presents information in a hierarchy from major topic to sub-topics, sub-sub-topics, and so on.
But, unlike an outline, there is no priority and ranking of these topics. They orbit around the central topic like the spokes of a wheel. Mind maps also make use of visual cues to aid in comprehension and retention. Mind maps can be used for brainstorming or researching a topic, note-taking, study, planning and presenting information.
Most mind-mapping gurus, following Buzan’s lead, recommend the following methods for optimizing the effectiveness of a mind map:
- Use short words or phrases; don’t muck up your map with too much verbiage.
- Use color to designate diverging ideas.
- Use images, where practical, to increase the visual power of the diagram.
- Add links, as needed, to indicate relationships among the topics.
MyThoughts appears to have been developed with exactly this functionality in mind. Let’s build a mind map to demonstrate these properties.
MyThoughts is available through the App Store, or directly from the developer. Installation follows typical Mac OS standards. Keep in mind, however, that whichever purchase channel you choose will be the method you’ll have to use for receiving and installing updates.
When I launch MyThoughts, I am presented with a fresh, clean mind map with a central thought ready to name. For this review I’m going to collect ideas for an article about forests.
To add a sub-topic, I click on one of the little “+” signs on either side of the central topic. A new branch is added and I am prompted to type the name. Adding a sub-sub topic just requires selecting the sub-topic and clicking on the “+” sign.
Alternately, I can use the keystrokes Command-right arrow to create a sub-topic of the currently selected topic, or Command-down arrow to create a sister topic. These keyboard shortcuts facilitate brainstorming. I start populating my mind map.
As the map grows, each new branch is automatically assigned a different color. By default, branches sprout counter-clockwise, starting at about the one-o’clock position, until you’ve reached four branches, the next two sprout at the three- and nine-o’clock positions.
While MyThoughts does the initial layout for me, I can adjust the position, color and shape of each branch. To change the shape of a branch, I grab the “curvature dots,” those small circular handles that appear when a branch is selected.
I can shift the branches of my mind map around at will, until I get the layout just how I want it.
Free-Floating Text and Relationships
The interface for MyThoughts is exceptionally clutter-free. There are five buttons along the toolbar that help you develop your mind map. The first of these is called “Text.” Clicking this button creates a new, free-floating text item in your map. This is a new feature added to the just-released version 1.2.
The second button allows you to indicate relationships between two items in the map. Select this button, then click on one of the items you want to link followed by the second. In the screenshot below I’ve indicated a relationship between a floating text item and one of the branches.
I can create a note for each of the branches in my mind map by clicking on the “Notes” button. The window that opens looks a lot like so many “outlining” programs, with the outline of the mind map in one pane and the notes editor in the other.
One big difference is that the outline pane is virtually inert, as you can’t move or add branches here; you can only navigate to whichever branch you want to add notes to. Nevertheless, this is still a powerful feature, one that is unique in its implementation among mind mappers I’ve looked at.
The developer plans to add the ability to create, delete and edit branch names in the outliner in an upcoming release.
The Media Browser allows access to the rich icon and image library that comes standard with MyThoughts, so you can drag pictures into your map for further clarity. You can also add your own photographs and images, should you choose to.
In the screenshot below, I’ve added an exclamation point as both an icon and an image, to demonstrate the difference.
You can drag images around, as well as resizing them. They stay attached to the branch — move the branch and the image moves with it.
My only complaint in this regard is that I’d like to see some variety in the style of images that come with MyThoughts.
The fifth button is the Inspector, with which you can adjust numerous attributes for each branch, or the mind map as a whole. Use the Inspector to add a hyperlink, change the style in which the branch name is displayed, add outline-style numbering, and more.
You can see in the screenshot below that I’ve chosen to display the branch name in a box and I’ve added a hyperlink (the little chain icon). The notepad icon indicates that there is a note attached to this branch.
MyThoughts provides several methods for sharing mind maps and data with other applications. New in version 1.2 is the ability to open maps made with Freemind, as demonstrated with the two screenshots below. The first is of a mind map created in Freemind, the second is that same map opened in MyThoughts.
Notice that MyThoughts kept the basic layout of the branches, as well as importing the branch icons. What MyThoughts didn’t include with the import is the notes I had attached to two of the branches in Freemind.
Information in any other application that can be saved or exported in OPML (a markup language for outlines) can be opened as a mind map in MyThoughts. For example, I created this simple outline in OmniOutliner:
After saving it as an OPML file, I opened it in MyThoughts.
Note that MyThoughts sets the file name as the central thought, so bear that in mind as you layout your outline.
One of the strengths of MyThoughts is the versatile set of export options. You can choose to export your mind map as an image or a document. Image export options include all the standard file types. With the document export, you can select one of four formats: OPML, RTFD, Word, and PDF.
You could, very easily, plan and write an entire paper in MyThoughts, then export it as a Word or RTFD document for final editing and layout.
MyThoughts occupies a middle-ground spot on the price/feature spectrum for mind mapping applications. There are terrific free options available in Freemind, Freeplane, and MindNode. Any of those three choices handles the task of brainstorming better than MyThoughts, which I found a little stiffer when it comes to simply banging out ideas.
But none of those options holds a candle to MyThoughts for building beautiful diagrams that make best-practice use of mind-mapping techniques. Additionally, MyThoughts is a much more powerful option if you intend to keep notes for each branch and then export the map and text for use in other applications.
To a major extent, the best choice for you could be based on aesthetics. Some will like the cleaner appearance of a MindNode map, for example, while others will appreciate the flexibility of MyThoughts’ more visual approach.
If you feel you need the features of one of those power-house programs, then MyThoughts probably isn’t for you. You might, however, check out the free version of XMind.
Areas for Improvement
For all its polish in many areas, MyThoughts still has the feeling of being slightly undercooked. For example, when zooming out, instead of the central thought remaining in the center of the screen, the whole map shifts down to the left, leaving empty screen space to the top and right; unintuitive behavior by my sensibilities. What’s worse, there is no way to drag the diagram back to the middle of the screen, except to zoom in on it again (or use the “zoom to fit” function).
When you’re viewing the mind map, a notebook icon shows you where you already have notes, but once you switch to the Outline Notes window, you’ll have to go by memory, because there is nothing in the outline pane to indicate which branches contain note text.
These are not deal-breaking issues by any means. Mode de Vie continues to develop MyThoughts and I would expect these issues to be ironed out in future releases. The developer was very responsive to my questions, and when I pointed out a bug, I was told it would be fixed in the next minor release, due out soon (perhaps already out by the time this review is published).
A single user license for MyThoughts is $49, and a five-license family pack is $69. This may seem expensive, given the several free options (MindNode, Freemind, Freeplane and the free version of PersonalBrain).
However, it is considerably less than the business-oriented mind managers (MindGenius, Mind Manager, etc…). And that seems about the right balance of price and features for this unique implementation of mind mapping software.
With MyThoughts you can build beautiful diagrams that comply with best-practice techniques for effective mind mapping. Its note-taking ability is best in class. If this functionality is what you are looking for, MyThoughts is worth taking for the 15-day test ride. I think you’ll be impressed.