Comparison of Concept Mapping Software
This article compares the features of a number of concept mapping packages. We suggest that you first read our Introduction to Concept Mapping which discusses the uses and advantages of concept maps.
The four packages we are going to look at are MindGenius for Education v3, Mind Manager X8 Pro and Inspiration v8.
1.0: How to create a map
In this section we are going to look at how each package lets you create, adapt and extend a concept map. This varies greatly in each program and produces very different looking maps. It is important that the method of creating a map suits your way of thinking and you may find that this is the deciding factor for which package you use.
Brainstorming is the most efficient way of developing a concept map and so is an important function in concept mapping software. But brainstorming or rapid fire functions work differently in each package. This can greatly affect how you use the package and whether it is suitable for you. To show what sort of map appears when you brainstorm we have entered 4 ideas in a brainstorming session in each program. None of the diagrams took very long to draw but they all look very different. Within the text of the maps is some explanation of how each package lays out a brainstorming session.
MindGenius: The layout during brainstorming depends on which map type you choose. The first example uses a web layout and the second an organisational chart.
1.2: Adding a new branch
New ideas can also be added to a concept map without using the brainstorming functions. Each program has a different way of letting you add new branches, which may affect how useable you find the program. Most programs use a button on the toolbar for creating new ideas. However, Inspiration and Kidspiration also use a symbol palette which allows you to drag and drop the shape of each node you want. This means you can add new nodes without linking them to other ideas. This can be an advantage for those people who want to put all their ideas down without any structure or links and then organise them later. But, unless the nodes are organised in the correct manner, other functions in the program, such as the text outline, may not function properly.
1.3: Changing the order & level of nodes
Being able to re-arrange ideas in your map is important for organising your thoughts and idea. After a brainstorming session you want to be able to move ideas to different parts of the map (e.g. to group similar ideas together) or to change the level of an idea (e.g. from an idea to a sub idea of another). Therefore being able to quickly and easily re-arrange ideas is a major functions of any concept mapping software.
We found that those programs which initially impose a structure as you enter ideas, (such as MindGenius and MindManager) have the easiest method of re-ordering and changing the level of the map nodes and branches. In the programs which allow you to enter ideas without linking them or imposing a structure, such as Inspiration, it was more difficult to re-arrange branches with links having to be moved or re-drawn. This is an important point - some users may prefer to see all their ideas on screen at once before connecting them up manually while other users may prefer to see all their ideas on a level playing field around a main idea which they can easily re-locate, group and re-order.
Notes are a useful tool for adding more information to a map without cluttering up the view or distracting from keywords or ideas. Notes can also be used to bulk out a map into a first draft of a document which can then be exported to a word processing package. Both MindGenius and MindManager have extensive notes functions allowing you to extend and format your notes. For example you can add bullet points, tables and other objects or change the size of the font and underline or bold text. Inspiration has a more basic notes function and it can be more difficult to tell if there is a note attached to an idea. However, it is possible to add and edit notes in the outline view in Inspiration.
Maps are frequently used as a way of summarising a lot of information in a visual manner. Therefore it is useful to be able to attach not only text to an idea but images, symbols, categories, resources, hyperlinks, files and other maps. In many cases images, files or hyperlinks can be used as the idea instead of text. Applying categories and resources to ideas can be useful for planning projects or simplifying large maps. For example, one of the tools repeatedly used in mind mapping is to apply visual symbols to help distinguish between tasks, ideas, status and priorities. MindGenius and MindManager provide the most attachment functions with the ability to attach any files or image.
1.6: Relating one branch to another.
Sometimes it may be useful to show a relationship between ideas on different parts of a map without linking them. These are called mental connections or relationships and are only available in MindGenius and MindManager. In MindGenius a Mental Connection has all the same properties of a branch - it can have a names and notes, images or files associated with it - but it does not affect the structure of the map. It can be used to connect two branches on the map or to add free-floating text and pictures. When the text form of the map is exported all the properties associated with the mental connection appear under each of the ideas it was connected to. In MindManager a Relationship is shown as a line connecting two ideas. A name can be given to a relationship but this option must be turned on in the Preferences menu and there are no other properties associated with the Relationship. Inspiration allows you to add links between any ideas but this does affect the text outline version of the diagram.
1.7: Free text or images in your map.
Sometimes it is useful to be able to put text or images close to the map but not attached. For example this can be used to describe the background to the map or how to complete a map template.
Mind Manager is the only program which has this tool explicitly included although it is also possible to create free text and images with MindGenius and Inspiration very simply using other functions.
2: Changing the layout of a map
The most important aspect of concept mapping is to represent information visually. Therefore how you lay out the information may affect how easy it is to understand or interpret. A lot of the time the choice of layout and formatting depends on personal preferences. Some people may prefer to have as much flexibility as possible in determining the layout of their map as it helps them to understand the ideas and relationships involved. Others may prefer a more structured approach where they do not get distracted with re-arranging the map all the time. A compromise between these two approaches is to use templates where the user can set up a template. This can contain an empty map in the style they favour which can then be used again and again. In this section we will examine the layout options available in each program along with functions that can alter the format, style and template of a map.
Map layout functions
Inspiration has the most flexible approach to laying out a map as it allows you to move ideas to any location. However the functions for arranging a map into a set structure are limited - the structure is only imposed when you use the re-arrange function, it does not apply to any new ideas that are added afterwards. This means that you have to constantly re-arrange a map as you extend it. The map below has been arranged as a tree diagram but when new ideas were added they were arranged in a web layout.
MindGenius provided the best structured layout - with the ability to re-arrange the map into a variety of layouts at the touch of button. MindGenius also lets you define the layout of a map in a template. Although you can’t move ideas to any locations, MindGenius does let you alter the spacing of the map branches, both horizontally and vertically.
Other Map View functions
Both MindGenius and MindManager have filtering functions which enable you to filter out branches from the current view. MindGenius has various criteria that can be used to filter out branches including category, date range and whether a branch contains notes or not. You can also zoom-in to a branch of a map using the focus function which is particularly useful when working on a large map. MindManager has a function where selecting or unselected branches can be greyed out or hidden completely. Both these programs and Inspiration have options to specify which levels of the map are shown. This is a useful tool for simplifying large maps.
Inspiration and MindGenius also let you alter the background colour of the map; while MindGenius and MindManager also let you use images as a background - all of which can be saved in a template.
3: Outline View
One of the main advantages of using concept mapping software is the ability to see, edit and export a text version of your map. This enables you to effectively use concept mapping as an outlining tool. Each package has a different method of handling outlines.
All three programs have an Outline view that allows to edit and expand the map outline. MindGenius has the advantage of seeing the text outline at the same time as the map (see screenshots, below).
4: Importing and exporting maps.
Being able to share the content of maps with other people as well as manipulate the data in other applications is an important facet of concept mapping software. Similarly it is valuable to be able to import information whether it is from another map or a text document. These functions enable you to convert text into a visual format and back again. For example, it is possible to convert a word document into a visual map, and then from a map into a text document, a presentation or project plan. So what functions do our concept mapping programs offer?
MindGenius has the most advance importing and exporting functions with the ability to include images, attachments and notes into the exported files. These export functions can be accessed at the click of a button and can lead directly into other applications. The option to use MS Word, Excel or PowerPoint templates means that you can very quickly go from a map to a completed presentation, document or spreadsheet. MindManager also lets you export to a Word document through the toolbar, while Inspiration allows you to export your outline view to a variety of text file formats. Maps can be saved as a graphics file in all these programs.
We found that the most easy to use packages were MindGenius and Inspiration. While MindGenius and MindManager both had the most functions (particularly for exporting to other programs) we found the advanced functions much easier to access and more useful in MindGenius. Inspiration, although lacking in advanced features, is the best package for those users who want have complete freedom over how their map is laid out, while MindGenius provides the best brainstorming and structured layout approach.
|MindGenius for Education||MindManager||Inspiration||Mind View 3|
|1.1 Is there a brainstorm function?||Yes, automatic||Yes, from Tools tab||Yes, from toolbar||No, but can add new branches quickly quickly via pressing ENTER|
|1.2 What methods are available to add new ideas to map?||Select idea and start typing in sub-idea, go to Branch menu and select “Add branch”, right click an select “Add Branch” or click “Insert” button on keyboard||Select “Central Topic”, then click “Topic” or “Subtopic” button under the Home tab or right click and select “Insert Topic” or press “Insert” button on keyboard.
Add floating Topic and create relationship to other topics if needed.
|Select idea, then click “Create” symbol on branch direction you wish to add or press “Insert” button.
Drag empty idea box from symbol palette and then link it manually to the map using the link button.
|Select idea then click ENTER, or click Branch or Sub-Branch button in toolbar or right click and select Insert and choose from Branch, Sub-Branch and Pre-Branch.
Add as many new roots as you need, allows for multipe maps on one page/in one
|Important for creating a map to suit your own thinking style.|
|1.3 How can you change the location or order of the nodes?||The order can be altered by dragging a node to over the branch you want it next to. When an up arrow is shown then the node will be positioned above that branch and vice versa for a down arrow.||The order of branches can be changed by dragging and dropping. Branches can be positioned where a red preview appears.||The position of a node can be changed by dragging it to a new location. This does not affect the order in the outline view. To alter that, ideas can be dragged and dropped in the list to alter their order.||The order can be altered by dragging and dropping, preview will be shown with idea being highlighted in blue. Moving an idea will alter the order in the Outline view.|
|How can you change the level of a node?||Drag the branch to the outer edge of the branch you want it to be a sub idea of. When a left or right arrow appears then drop the branch.||Drag branch to the edge of the branch you want it to be a sub idea of. A yellow arrow will appear in the location where the branch will be moved to.||In diagram view the only way to alter the level of a node is to alter the link between it and other nodes. This can be done by deleting the link and then reconnecting the node in the new location or by dragging the existing link end to the new node.||Drag the branch to the outer edge of the branch you want it to be a sub idea of. When the preview appears drop it.Levels can be moved around via drag and drop in the Outline view as well as in the Map view. Different Map views can be chosen to change the current map look.|
|Important for re-organising your ideas.|
|1.4.1 Can you add notes to ideas?||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes, with multiple taps|
|Important for expanding your ideas. Necessary for using concept mapping for drafting documents.|
|1.4.2 How can you tell if there is a note attached to an idea?||A paper symbol appears to the right of the idea it is associated with.||A note book symbol appears to the left of the idea it is associated with.||When idea selected, top-left hand corner box is filled||Paperclip image appears to right of the text in branch, hovering over the paperclip icon will show a preview of the note, clicking on it will open the note in split pane below map window. Can be undocked to be floating window.|
|1.4.3 Can you view the notes window while editing the map?||Yes||Yes||No||No, only when editing the idea that the note is attached to.|
|1.4.4 Are you able to format your notes?||Yes, including bullet points, numbered lists, tables, hyperlinks, images and symbols. You may also alter the background colour of the note||Yes, including bullet points, numbered lists, tables, hyperlinks, images and symbols.||No||Yes, including bullet points, numbered lists, tables, hyperlinks, images and highlighing|
|1.4.5 Can you spell check your notes?||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|1.4.6 Can you export your notes?||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes, will export with map|
|1.4.7 Can you view your notes in the outline view?||Notes are not shown in outline view but can have notes editor open so that when an idea is selected the notes are shown.||No||?||Yes, paperclip will appear in front of branch entry, note can be opened from there.|
|Important for creating a finished document.|
|1.5.1 Can you attach an image to an idea?||Yes by right clicking on the idea and then browsing for the file||Yes either by dragging and dropping from symbol gallery (where the user can insert their own images) or by inserting a new idea as an image.||Yes, either by dragging from dragging from the symbol palette, or by cutting and pasting an image or by right clicking and inserting a graphic.||Yes, either by dragging clipart from the Multimedia Catalogue tab or from your own images via the catalogue or add branch image.|
|Important tool to help memorise ideas or making your map more visual.|
|1.5.2 Can you use icons to categorise an idea?||Yes either from the icon toolbar or from the more extensive icon library which can be customised and extended.||Yes, known as codes, can be dragged from the toolbar to the idea.||No||Yes, via the Icons button in the Insert tab.|
|Enables you to add another dimension to your map.|
|1.5.3 Can you attach a file to an idea?||Yes, by right clicking and using attach option. A symbol then appears by the idea.||Yes, by right clicking and using define hyperlink option. A symbol then appears by the idea.||No||Yes, via Insert (right click or tab) and using Attachment option, paperclip icon will appear next to idea|
|Enables you to expand the information held within your map.|
|1.5.4 Can an idea be a direct hyperlink?||No||No||Yes||No|
|1.5.5 Can you attach a hyperlink to an idea?||Yes, by right clicking and using attach option. A symbol then appears by the idea.||Yes, by right clicking and using define hyperlink option. A symbol then appears by the idea.||Yes||Yes, via Insert (right click or tab) and using Hyperlink option, paperclip icon will appear next to idea|
|1.5.6 Can you link another map to an idea?||Yes, by right clicking and using Linked map path option. A symbol then appears by the idea.||Yes, by right clicking and using define hyperlink option. A symbol then appears by the idea.||Yes, by double clicking on the top-right hand corner of an idea which will now be filled in. This will create a new map with the original idea as the main idea.||Yes, it is possible to have more than one map in a map document and maps can be added to branches as attachments|
|1.5.7 Can ideas be categorised?||Yes by right clicking and using Categories option. This shows a master list of categories which can be extended.||Only by use of code symbols.||No||Yes via the icons under the Insert tab|
|1.5.8 Can resources and tasks be allocated to an idea?||Yes by right clicking and using Resource/Action option. This shows a master list of categories which can be extended. Actions can be exported to MS Outlook.||Tasks can be assigned though codes or by synchronizing with MS Outlook or MS Project.||No||Yes via the task and timeline info panel|
|1.6 Can you associate free text or images with the map?||Yes by using the mental connection function with no connector shown.||Yes using floating text or floating symbol functions.||Yes by adding new ideas but not linking them to the map.||Yes, via insert, there is the option between Floating Comments and Floating Pictures and totally separate ideas and maps can be created around an existing map|
|2.1 What set map layouts or arrangements are available?||Standard map layout with numerous order options;
Organogram or organisation (top down tree) diagram; Funnel (bottom up tree) diagram; Input (left) tree diagram; Output (right) tree diagram; Affinity diagram; Graphical layout view.
It is also possible to colour code each branch or add numbers.
Integrated Gantt view available in Task tab (v3.5)
|Standard map layout; All left map;
All right map.
|Web diagram; Cluster diagram; Top down tree diagram; Bottom up tree diagram; Left Tree diagram; Right Tree diagram; Options to change lowest level stacking arrangement.||6 different views, changable while creating the map, Mind map view (root in centre, branches radiating from it clockwise), Top Down, Left/Right, Outline, Timeline, (Gantt - in Business Version only.)|
|Important for versatility and developing a map to suit your thinking style and uses.|
|2.2 What options are there to alter these layouts?||Can vary both horizontal and vertical spacing of ideas. There are numerous options to change the order the ideas appear in.||Can align sub ideas square or round to the main idea.||Can alter the location of each idea by dragging it.||Can vary horizontal and vertival spacing of branches via the Properties under View tab, order of branches can be changed as well as appearance of line width.|
|2.3 Can you design your own templates?||Yes. This can be used to define the layout, font, colour (including background colour), connector type and printer settings.
You can also design your own style for each level of the map and incorporate this into a template.
|Yes. This can be used to define the font, connector type and print format. But templates can only be saved through the task pane which not available unless opened specifically.||Yes. This can be used to define the colour, font and shape of each idea. You can also define the layout of the map, but when you add new ideas it will default to the web arrangement.||Yes. Maps can be saved as templates and opened via My Templates when creating new document.|
|Important for creating maps in your preferred style or for teachers developing maps for students.|
|2.4 Can you set your own template to be the default?||Yes||No||Yes||No|
|3.1 Is there a text outline view available?||Yes in the map explorer or in the map outline layout.||Limited a text outline can only be printed out (although it can be viewed in the print view option) or exported.||Yes by clicking the outline button on the toolbar||Yes (Outline View)|
|Important when using a map as a drafting tool to allow you see a text version.|
|3.2 Can the outline be viewed at the same time as the map view?||Yes||No||No||No|
|3.3 Can you edit the content of the map within the outline?||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|3.4 Can the outline be shown as a numbered list?||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|4.1 Can you open or import information and convert it into a map?||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Important if you wnt to create a map based on existing documents.|
|4.2 What file format can you import?||MS Word, Outlook, Project, Text file, Brainbloom file, Pocket Mindmap file||MPX, Outlook, Word files||Text files, rich text files.||MS Word, PowerPoint, Excel, Outlook, Project, MatchWare Mediator and XML files|
|4.3 Can you export the map as a graphic?||Yes as a bitmap, jpeg, or windows meta file.||Yes as a bitmap, gif, pcx, jpeg, png or a windows or enhanced met file format.||Yes as a Windows Meta file, bitmap, Mac pict, GIF or JPEG file format.||Yes. As BMP, JPG, PNG and EMF format|
|Important if you want to view the map outside the program.|
|4.4 Can you export the text outline to a word processor?||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Important for using a map to draft larger documents.|
|4.5 Can you create a presentation based on the map?||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Important for using a map to draft presentations.|
|4.6 Are there any other formats you can export or save a map as?||MS Excel, MS Project, html, XML, Pocket Mind Map format. Also possible to export actions to Outlook.||MS Project, PDF||MS Project||Ms Excel, Outlook, Project, HTML, Picture, Matchware Mediator, RTF, XML|
|4.7 Can mind maps be shared with people who do not have the software?||Yes MindGenius Viewer is a free program which lets you view MindGenius maps. The distribute functions lets you package maps, including attachments and linked maps if required with this viewer and then save it or email it.||Yes MindManager Viewer can be downloaded from the Internet which lets you view MindManager files. Pack and deliver functions allow you to distribute a map through email, ftp or by saving.||No. Also difficult to email as the file ending used in Inspiration is not accepted by many virus checkers and if you try to open the file in Windows it may try to install it as the file ending is the same as some internet settings.||Yes, MindView Viewer for PC and Mac version can be downloaded from their website.|
|Important if you want to share maps with those who do not have the software.|
|5.1 Can you print a map?||Yes||Yes||Yes.||Yes|
|5.2 Can you fit the map to one page or on to multiple pages?||Option to select how many pages wide and tall are used or to print off at full size.||Option to select how many pages to fit the map to.||Option to select how many pages to fit the map to.||Option to select how many pages to fit the map to, orientation and page spread|
|5.3 Can you print the outline view?||Yes options to include images, notes, attachments and to add headers and footers.||Yes options lets you select bullets or numbering, whether notes are shown and how many levels are shown.||Yes with the option to include printing notes.||Yes when printing in Outline view|
|6.1 What operating systems does the program run on?||Vista, WinXP Home and Pro, 2000, 98/Me
On Mac: Virtual PC Win 2000 emulator running on an OSX, G4 Mac system
•Microsoft® Windows® Vista 32-bit
•Microsoft® Windows® XP Professional, Home or Tablet PC Editions 32-bit
•Microsoft® Windows® Server 2003 32-bit
•Microsoft® Systems Management Server using Windows® Server 2003 32-bit
•Citrix® MetaFrame Presentation Server 4.5
|Windows 95 or later; Mac System 7.1 or higher||PC: Windows 2000, XP, Vista (or higher)
Mac: Mac OS X 10.4 or later
|6.2 What are the minimum specifications for running the program?||Pentium II 400 megahertz, 256 MB RAM, and 100MB available disk space.||PC:
•IBM® or compatible Intel® Pentium® processor (700 MHz or greater)
•256 MB RAM or greater, 512 MB RAM or greater on Vista
•150 MB disk space and 50 MB more during installation
•SVGA (1024 x 768/16-bit color or greater)
•Microsoft® .NET 2.0 or higher
|PC: 486 processor or higher, with 8mb RAM, 30mb hard disk space.
Mac: 2mb RAM, 30mb hard disk space & 16 available colours.
150 MB disk space
(Full installation 250 MB)
Mac: 300 MB of disk space
|7.1 How is the software licence structured for a single user?||Can be installed on 1 computer, to be used by one individual except in an educational setting where it can be used by any number of users.||Can be installed on 1 PC.||Can be installed on one machine. Teachers of schools which own multi-user licences can install it on their home computers.||Single, 5-user and 10-user licence available|
|7.2 What is the single license, education price?||£57.00 + VAT||£199.00 + VAT (£49 + VAT Education price)||£57 + VAT||£59 + VAT|