Monday, August 9, 2010

Interactive Mind Maps on the Web

I have written about mind maps before.  These are great tools to summarize complex information and relationships between concepts.  In the past I have created a flowchart with bubbl.us and a few mind maps with Vue.

I really like Vue as it gives you the greatest flexibility in the look and content of your mind map.  It also is a tremendous tool for presentation with the use of pathways.  Combining hover zoom and pathways, one can create a very customized flow or a presentation and focus attention on specific nodes or groups of nodes.
The biggest draw back I have found with Vue is a non intuitive collapse and expand function for nodes.  The other drawback is the difficulty in publishing it to the web in an interactive format where a user can click on a node to collapse or expand it.  This functionality is helpful when a map gets really large or when a user is looking at it with a small screen device.

After a very brief search (meaning I probably missed some other good tools), I decided on Freemind for these 2 reasons:

  1. Easy collapsing and expanding of nodes
  2. Maintaining this functionality when publishing to the web.
  3. It does have some formatting options that are quite sufficient for my purpose.
How do you go about this?
  1. Download and install Freemind (Freemind.sourceforge.net)
  2. Create your mind map
  3. Save the mind map (*.mm) and upload to your web server.
  4. Download the Freemind applet (zip file which includes an HTML template) (freemindbrowser.jar).  You need this hosted on your web server.
  5. Create a HTML wrapper using a template included with the freemind applet zip file that points to the location of your freemindbrowser.jar file and your *.mm mind map file.
  6. Upload this HTML file to the web server.
  7. Make sure the MIME types on the web server for .mm are set to application/freemind.  You may need your server administration to do this for you.
  8. Point your browser to this HTML file and you are all done.
Static Image exported from Freemind
Just to test out this functionality, I summarized this information HERE using Freemind as an interactive mind map.

Caveat - needs JRE to work.  User will be prompted to download this if they don't have it
Caveat - this means it will NOT work on iPad or other iOS devices as they don't support Java :-(