MyThoughts: A Single-Minded Mind Mapper

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.

MyThoughts mind mapping

A mind map in MyThoughts

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.

Getting Started

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.

New map in MyThoughts

Creating the central topic in MyThoughts

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.

Creating a new branch in MyThoughts

Creating a new branch in MyThoughts

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.

MyThoughts mind map

My mind map on forests takes shape

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.

MyThoughts detail of curvature dots

Use the curvature dots to reshape a branch

I can shift the branches of my mind map around at will, until I get the layout just how I want it.

MyThoughts mind map

It's easy to adjust the layout of a mind map in MyThoughts.

Major Functions

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.

MyThoughts free floating text

Create free-floating text and relationship links in your mind map.

Outline Notes

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.

MyThoughts - Outline Notes

You can view your map as an outline and create rich-text notes.

Media Browser

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.

MyThoughts icon and image

Images and icons can be associated with a branch in MyThoughts.

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 Inspector

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 Inspector

The MyThoughts Inspector

Exchanging Information

Freemind

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.

Freemind mind map

A mind map in Freemind

Freemind map open in MyThoughts

The Freemind 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.

OPML

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:

OminOutliner outline

A simple OmniOutliner outline

After saving it as an OPML file, I opened it in MyThoughts.

MyThoughts Map

MyThoughts can open OPML formatted files.

Note that MyThoughts sets the file name as the central thought, so bear that in mind as you layout your outline.

Export

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.

MyThoughts Export Dialong

MyThoughts can export documents in several formats.

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.

Competition

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.

As for the more expensive, business-oriented mind mapping and diagramming programs, such as MindManager and iMindMap, I don’t believe MyThoughts is intended to compete with them.

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).

Price

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.

Conclusion

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.


Summary

MyThoughts is a powerful canvas on which to build and manage a mind map. It also has an excellent note-taking feature. Maps can be exported in a number of common file formats for use in other applications.

8
  • Steve

    So ugly! http://www.mindnode.com is better, even in free version.

    • macuser96

      You are funny! ;)

  • Scott

    @Steve Z:

    Interesting review, as always:)

    I wonder: how much text can be added to each Outline Note?

    You should compare MyThoughts to Inspiration, which is not as Mac-spiffy but is a lot more flexible in its integration of outlining and text notes. Check here:
    http://www.inspiration.com/Inspiration

    I’ll keep watching MyThoughts development…

  • http://welcometosherwood.wordpress.com Steve Zeoli

    Scott,

    Thank you for reading my review and the nice comments.

    I don’t know what the limit for text is in an Outline Note, but I just pasted a 5000 word essay as a test and it handled it with no problem. I then pasted it again twice more for a total of 15,000 words and still no issue.

    I am familiar with Inspiration, but I’ve never been a big fan. Wish I could be, because it has some nice functionality. One of the things that bothers me about it is the way the diagram keeps re-drawing itself if you make even a slight change to the outline. So, for instance, if I fiddled around for a while to get the outline arranged as I wanted, then needed to make an edit or addition to the outline, it would redraw the whole thing and I’d have to start over. At least this is what used to happen. I haven’t tried the most recent version.

    Steve

  • Nick

    Why exactly does the application feel stiffer v. mindnode? Are the shortcuts not as good?

    Helpful review. You clearly have thought about mind mapping and the related software.

  • http://mastermindmaps.wordpress.com/ hans buskes

    Hi Steve, like your article. You’re making a good point on the importance of exchangeability between different mind map software.

    I do think, however, that you missed a very important point. A non-experienced mind mapper makes no great mind maps even using the most expensive software. On the other hand an experienced mind mapper makes great mind maps using simple software. (compare it with a photo camera. An expensive camera is no guarantee for a superb picture).

    As a professional mind mapper I can make exactly the same quality (or better: as effective) of mind maps, using e.g. iMindmap and MyThoughts.

    As form and visual additions are crucial to the success of a mindmap, I would say MyThoughts scores a fraction better (than iMindmap). You can have a look on mastermindmaps.wordpress.com what can be achieved using MyThoughts professionally.
    hans

  • http://therankmaniac2011.blogspot.com/ Nihar Sharma

    I wish there was an interface that could incorporate something like what Evernote has to offer but in a UI similar to MyThoughts

  • Pingback: My Thoughts Captures My Thoughts Beautifully « DaveOlson.ca

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