Mind mapping: bubbl.us, XMind
September 19, 2011
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I was never much of a graphic outlines fan but I got to admit they come handy. Especially when I find myself needing a lot of information in one eyeful. An example is the Osaka Guardians character sheet [link], there are just too many people around to keep track of all of them without help. I primarily use two mind mapping tools, though none of them convinces me completely. Click on the images to see them full-size.
Update: bubbl.us has stopped being free access and now you have to sign up and you can only save three maps for free, so you can skip this if you want a free tool that allows you unlimited access.
- Really simple usage: you can get around with enter (new child bubble) and tab (new sister bubble)
- It colours up the child bubbles logically and automatically
- Allows you to share with other uses on line
- It is really easy to join bubbles using arrows
- The bubble design itself is elegant and pleasant
- You can use ‘read only’ links to share with non-users (i.e., what you see here [link]), although that feature seems to be down at the moment (maybe it has gone paying-customers only?). This allows you to keep the link updated, no matter how many changes you make on the sheet
- You can manually change bubble and letter colours (and font size)
- It has pin and unpin features to move one bubble or a cluster of bubbles
- Allows export in graph (png and jpg) and html formats
- Allows collapsing clusters of bubbles
- You need to register
- You can only save three ‘sheets’ or mind maps on the free web page (you could save more in the old version)
- Does not allow curved arrows, which becomes confusing at points
- The arrow color can not be changed
- It’s an on line platform which requires flash
- In Ubuntu, it messes up special characters
The main issue with bubbl.us is that it’s an on line tool. The advantage of it is that it is always available as long as you got an Internet connection, and works in every operative system, you just need a browser. The disadvantage of that is that you never know when it is going to disappear or have a glitz and never come back and you can’t recover it; DoS attacks, server issues can take your work away.
- It is a free desktop application (not-free premium application)
- Runs on Mac, Windows and Ubuntu/Debian
- Allows colour and shape changes on the bubbles / boxes
- It has different pre-made schemes, for different kinds of mind maps. In the images you see two of them, but there are several: tables, logic diagrams, organization maps…
- Allows grouping bubbles in different ways, like brackets, wrapping boxes
- Allows arrows and inter connections with different shapes, colours and lines, and to “name” the connection
- You can export as different formats, among them png
- You can choose all the writing’s format
- Allows you collapse bubbles and clusters at will
- It is possible to add a personalized background, though that will probably just hinder the visuals
- You can add icons and emoticons (stars, smilies, flags, priority buttons…)
- It re-spaces your outlines depending on how many sub-bubbles you have
- It automatically sizes down the bubbles, which fools the brain into confusing importance of the bubbles
- You need to set the colours and shapes manually
- Moving bubbles is not easy, the program assumes connections on its own
- It does not let you choose the interface language, and the translations might not be completely accurate (I personally don’t like not having the option to have an app in English, but that is personal preference)
- No automatic colouring of the bubbles
- You can’t pin or unpin bubbles
- Seems to have some trouble when the sheets are really big
XMind has three main issues for me. One is that it’s not easy to move bubbles and organize the data. The second is the automatic downsizing of the bubbles, I find it very distracting. Finally, it does not accept automatic colouring and whenever I need some colour I spend a lifetime on it. Although the colours and sizes can be manually set, you have to do it manually, selecting the bubbles and deciding on the format and colours.
I use both tools, but I am still not 100% convinced by either of them. I keep wanting to move the bubbl.us diagrams to XMind so I always have them handy in case the website collapses, but the size issue becomes unavoidable when you’re talking big mind maps like the Osaka Guardian character sheet, although the fact that it does not seem to allow the embedding any more might push me to do it. I will keep an eye on more applications, though, although for now XMind is the one with the best results of the ones I have tried (I did not like FreeMind [link] nor Edraw [link] when I tried them, so still out on the hunt). You can compare how the Osaka Guardians Character Sheet looks in bubbl.us [link] and the same worked on XMind [link] as of today (read as “*groan* I need to work on the Hiroshima structure as soon as I am done with Retriever“).
I am sure I will remember a ton of pros and cons about both tools when I’m done with the entry, but for now, I think I am not missing any of the most important ones.