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Here’s the good news.

Finally, we can be like Leonardo da Vinci’s in one small way. No, we are not getting his polymathic superpowers.

His penchant for taking free-flowing notes that filled notebooks with diagrams and scribblings is more achievable. Maybe, he knew that the human brain likes visuals more than words. Maybe, connecting words and images made him see things which most could not.

Today, we call these brain-cell like intertwinnings — mind maps.

mindmap

It is the most popular brainstorming technique of all. Count the hits on Google if you don’t believe me. Check the number of books British psychologist Tony Buzan wrote for promoting it. A tiny 140.

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For a student, a mind map is a memory aid to review notes. For an office worker, a mind map can be a solo brainstorming tool or a collaborative one. Brainstorming groups at work use mind mapping techniques for problem solving and decision making. Want to develop an agenda for an annual conference or plan your time as a manager? Maybe, a mind mapped SWOT analysis can help spot a weakness or an opportunity?

You can apply a mind map to any office scenario.

  • Forecast revenue.
  • Prepare for a hiring interview.
  • Chart product development and marketing.
  • Fine tune a RFP (Request for Proposal).
  • Organize a trade show.
  • Plan an office party.

Pick a Free Mind Map Tool

Choosing from the many excellent mind mapping 4 Great Web-Based Mindmapping Tools To Enhance Your Creativity 4 Great Web-Based Mindmapping Tools To Enhance Your Creativity Mindmaps are a wonderful resource for brainstorming, planning, and managing ideas in a way that increases your productivity and enhances your creativity. But what if you want to create a mindmap without pen or paper? Read More and brainstorming web apps 8 Diagramming Apps for Better Brainstorming on the Go 8 Diagramming Apps for Better Brainstorming on the Go Life can be busy and chaotic. These mind mapping and brainstorming apps can help you keep track of your inspirations and ideas for a better thought process. All just a screen tap away. Read More and tools is a matter of nitpicking. But how should you go about selecting the right tool that doesn’t befuddle you? Keeping your needs front and center, here are few standout features you can look at:

  • Free or paid. When you are starting out with mind mapping take what you find for free. Mind mapping is a habit before it is a practice, so build up the habit first without paying a dime.
  • Offline or online. There are many mindmapping web apps, but if you are on a spotty connection then definitely an offline tool works best. Also, storing mind maps containing confidential or sensitive information online could be a security issue.
  • Ease of use. The easiest tool to mind map with is pen and paper. Compare any software you pick with that ease. The fluidity of putting your thoughts on screen matters a lot in rapid brainstorming.
  • Look and feel. The aesthetic appeal of your mind maps will be a factor, if you need to display them to a team. Also, beautiful mind maps draw the eye (and mind) when you need to come back to them.
  • Template variety. With brainstorming templates 8 MS Word Templates That Help You Brainstorm & Mind Map Your Ideas Quickly 8 MS Word Templates That Help You Brainstorm & Mind Map Your Ideas Quickly Brainstorming your ideas visually helps with clarity and allows you to connect ideas and interlink them together. That’s where mindmapping took off. You might know zilch about it, but even age old habits of doodling... Read More , you can save a lot of time when every mind map is imagined around a few common organizational processes.
  • Import and export options. A critical feature as you wouldn’t want your lovely creations trapped in one format. Many popular mind map tools, e.g. FreeMind, also accept other formats for import. An export format like PDF is necessary. Export to Word, PowerPoint, Excel, Outlook, or Project helps with document integration.
  • Collaboration. Another critical feature, if you are working within a shared workspace and perform team brainstorms.

We have covered many mindmapping tools here at MakeUseOf. You might have discarded some and may have settled on one. FreeMind, XMind, and MindJet are popular. As not every tool will tick all the boxes, here are a few more mind mapping tools to consider.

1. Coggle

Platforms: Web, Chrome

This mind mapping Chrome extension Trap Your Best Thoughts with 10 Note-Taking Chrome Extensions Trap Your Best Thoughts with 10 Note-Taking Chrome Extensions Notes are the simplest self-management tools. With information overload on your mind, use these ten extensions to jot down quick notes, manage them better, or just share them with others. Read More deserves a look again for its sheer simplicity. Use it in the browser instead of installing it on Chrome. Coggle saves your work in the browser just as well. Coggle comes in three flavors – Free, Awesome, and Organization.

Mindmapping with Coggle

The free version allows you to create unlimited maps, so it should be good enough for your needs. The commercial versions come with features like presentation modes and unlimited private mind maps.

Noteworthy Features:

  • Create mind maps with colored nodes and branches.
  • Add comments or detailed notes to branches. Supports Markdown.
  • Drag and drop images from the desktop into the mind map. No image limits.
  • Coggle mind maps are also collaborative. Work alone or invite team members.
  • Version tracking with a history mode. See who changed what and when.
  • Message team members, leave notes, and even chat in real time.
  • Download mind maps as PDF, text, PNG, or mind map (.mm) files.

2. MindMapple

Platforms: Windows, Mac, iOS

MindMapple (ver. 1.71) is a desktop and iOS application that has free and pro versions on offer. The ribbon interface should be familiar.

Mindmapping with MindMapple

MindMapple is pre-loaded with themes and templates. Visual thinkers will like the software because it allows use of pictures and clip-art. Select any topic on your mind map and use the Clip Art library to add appropriate graphics. Cloud sharing via Google Drive is a key beta feature, but it’s not functional due to API changes.

MindMapple has powerful set of features for handling larger projects. Multiple mind maps can be collated in one document. You can track topics with priority and schedules – an essential for project management The Fool Proof System to Plan & Manage Multiple Projects The Fool Proof System to Plan & Manage Multiple Projects Full Horizon Planning is an easy system to manage multiple active and dormant projects. It's superbly unbreakable when it comes to those guaranteed, daily distractions. We show you how to set it up digitally. Read More .

I would definitely recommend MindMapple for its completeness. The Pro version gives you advanced features like PDF export, password security, and advanced Microsoft Office exporting.

Noteworthy Features:

  • Add relationships, boundaries, hyperlinks, and files to a mind map.
  • Add extra information by adding topic notes and attachments.
  • Labels and bookmarks allow you to manage complex mind maps with ease.
  • Export your mind maps as PowerPoint, Word, Excel, HTML, TXT, image files, and XMind files.
  • Import mind maps created in FreeMind and MindManager.

3. NovaMind

Platforms: cross platform

NovaMind is a cross-platform brainstorming software. Try it on Windows desktop, Windows 8, iPad, Mac OS X, or Android, and online as NovaMind Cloud. It is a commercial software but has a capable free version. NovaMind starts you off with an interactive tutorial to introduce the basic concepts. A demo mind map is built as the tutorial progresses.

Mindmap with NovaMind Cloud

The application has a useful layout engine that helps you design quickly as the topics are not allowed to overlap on top of each other. A unique user-friendly “dial” holds all the mind mapping commands.

The Lite version is useful for trying out the software. It suffers because it doesn’t offer options to save or export mind maps in different formats.

Noteworthy Features:

  • Mind maps are limited to 25 topics.
  • Store up to 10 NovaMind documents online on NovaMind Cloud.
  • Share your documents publicly. Private sharing is not available in the free version.
  • Stylize mind maps with symbols, themes, and images.
  • Notes, external links, and callouts are also supported.

4. Text2Mindmap

Platform: Web

Text2Mindmap is one of my favorites for one reason – speed. As the name indicates, the online tool allows you to put down your thoughts as a text list. Each text line will become a node in the mind map. An indent (with a press of the TAB key) on the list translates into a new branch of nodes.

Mindmapping with Text2MindMap

Text2Mindmap is free for this core purpose. Mini ($5/Month), Standard ($9/Month), and Pro ($11/Month) subscriptions open up more features, like private accounts, more storage space for maps, and printing mind maps without ads.

Noteworthy Features:

  • Download mind map as an image or as PDF.
  • Saved maps are available via a unique URL.
  • Keyboard shortcuts are supported.

5. Blumind

Platform: Windows

Blumind is three things everyone loves — powerful, portable, and free. The download is less than 1MB. Within that small portability factor Bluemind doesn’t pack in many bells and whistles. But it has all the basics for simple mind maps.

Mindmapping with Blumind

Apart from mind maps, you can use the freeware to create org charts, logic charts, and tree diagrams too. The software has a tabbed interface. You can import pre-existing mind maps from FreeMind. Import from Excel spreadsheets is also available.

Blumind also has an internal timer. That is useful for using a timed constraint for your brainstorming sessions. I would vouch for Bluemind, if you are looking for a simple portable mind mapping alternative.

Noteworthy Features:

  • The software has built in color themes and can be customized with user themes.
  • Draw a variety of chart layouts like: organization chart, tree diagram, and logic diagram.
  • Supports multiple export formats, including all common image formats, CSV, PDF, SVG, and text.
  • Support notes, icons, progress bars and other widgets for a richer view.
  • Keyboard shortcuts are supported.
  • Offers multiple languages.

6. Sketchboard

Platforms: Web, Chrome

Sketchboard is more of a collaborative whiteboard rather than a dedicated mind mapping program. But whiteboards are vital for collaborative brainstorming The 6 Best Free Online Meeting Tools to Collaborate With Your Team The 6 Best Free Online Meeting Tools to Collaborate With Your Team Read More paired with a good chat app.

Mindmapping with Sketchboard

You can also integrate Sketchboard with team tools like Slack, Google Drive, HipChat, GitHub, and FlowDock. Check out the Sketchboard user gallery for some fine examples.

Like the majority of mind mapping tools, Sketchboard.io also comes with a choice of free and paid plans. The free plan is for 5 users.

Noteworthy Features:

  • Real-time collaboration. Free account is limited to 5 users.
  • Create boards with endless drawing space by dragging the canvas area.
  • Mix and match ideas with UML, freehand drawing, mind maps, notes, and roadmap.
  • Comment and annotate while you collaborate with team members.
  • Download Board as SVG, PNG, PDF.

7. Visual Understanding Environment

Platforms: Windows, Mac, OS X, Linux

The Visual Understanding Environment (VUE) is an Open Source project from Tufts University. The latest version of the software was released in October this year. The cross-platform mind mapping program is designed for teaching, learning, and research.

Mindmapping with VUE

But you can re-purpose it according to your ideation needs. For example, VUE handles complex maps well. An Outline window is just the thing for concept maps that get too complex.

In the above screenshot example, Eva Gladek of Except Integrated Systainability uses VUE to create system maps of production processes.

Noteworthy Features:

  • The “Merge Maps” tool can merge multiple maps into a new one for analysis.
  • Search nodes and links in large maps. Search results can be highlighted, hidden or filtered.
  • Add a VUE mind map to a Zotero collection. Zotero is another Open Source tool for organizing your academic research Take The Stress Out Of Referencing With Zotero Take The Stress Out Of Referencing With Zotero Essays are dry. They're time consuming. They're dull. And the worst part of it? Referencing. Thankfully, there's an app out there making referencing less frustrating. Read More .
  • Supports external data from FTP sites, RSS feeds, and Google. You can also import CSV datasets. Multiple other external resources like Twitter and Wikipedia are also supported.
  • Present better mind maps on-screen by selectively fading out nodes and links. You can also zoom in and out of the map during presentations.
  • VUE files can be saved on the VUE site or to a drive. Formats supported include HTML, PDF, image formats, RDF, and XML.

8. WiseMapping (Web)

Platform: Web

Start mind mapping without logging in with this free online application. WiseMapping takes minutes to master. It works on all modern browsers as it uses vector graphics and HTML5 to render the mind maps.

Mindmapping with Wisemapping

You can start using it without logging in. But without an account, you can create just one mind map and when you exit the program, your mind map will not be saved.

Noteworthy Features:

  • Easy-to-use drag’n drop interface.
  • Embed mind maps on any website or blog.
  • Collaborate on maps with friends or coworkers.
  • Download and save maps as images, PDF document, or FreeMind file.
  • Import and export mind map files from FreeMind.

Other Mind Mapping Tools We Have Covered Before

This article is about the lesser known, but capable programs out there. Do look into what has come before.

We have covered mind mapping applications for the iPad Mind Mapping On The iPad: Here Are Your Options Mind Mapping On The iPad: Here Are Your Options Whether you’re studying or brainstorming: making mind maps can be an essential skill. Paper works fine in a pinch, but technology makes the whole process ten times easier. Read More , brainstorming with Android Generate Better Ideas With These Android Mind Mapping Apps Generate Better Ideas With These Android Mind Mapping Apps Brainstorming is sometimes a spur-of-the-moment activity. Arguably, the best tool for generating ideas remains the humble pen and paper. Again arguably, the second best tools are mobile phones and tablets. After all who carries paper... Read More , mind mapping apps for the Mac MindMapping: 3 Simple Idea Mapping Software for Mac MindMapping: 3 Simple Idea Mapping Software for Mac Read More , and a Google Drive add-on like MindMup Try MindMup Mind-Mapping Via Google Drive Try MindMup Mind-Mapping Via Google Drive If you've ever tried to create a mind-map for your brainstorming sessions, you'll know that using the right tool is essential. There are many sites with mind-mapping tools to choose from, and choosing between them... Read More .

We have also re-purposed Microsoft Word as an effective mind mapping tool How To Build a Mind Map In Microsoft Word How To Build a Mind Map In Microsoft Word Read More .

How to Best Use a Mind Map Application?

Before you pick the right software, you have to decide its role in your workflow. Maybe, asking yourself these questions will help.

Decision Mindmap

Your answers will help to benchmark the best fit for the job. If your needs are extensive and system-wide, then a commercial powerhouse like MindMeister or MindJet works best. If you are already on Windows 10  and not looking for that elephant gun, but something simple – choosing M8 will save you a lot of bother.

Remember, it is as much about elimination as it is about selection.

Do you use mind mapping in the office or for personal brainstorming needs? Which is the one software you would recommend? Or do you feel that the humble pen and paper is the best bet for those intangible cognitive benefits? Pour your heart out in the comments.

Image Credits:Mind Map by Ellagrin via Shutterstock

  1. Wolf Larson
    August 26, 2016 at 8:24 pm

    I'm looking for a Mind Map tool with the following features:

    - Must be able to save to Box for collaborative use (I cannot save to other cloud locations)
    - Must be able to crosslink

    Any thoughts on what options these two requirements filters me down to? I've looked at now about a half-dozen solutions and it doesn't seem that the combination of these two capabilities is very common.

    • Saikat Basu
      August 27, 2016 at 6:44 am

      Mindmeister integrates with Box. You can also add links to your topics to redirect to additional maps or connect your thoughts with an existing web.

  2. Bob Bowling
    August 19, 2016 at 4:04 pm

    As a photographer I am of course "visual", and I hate lists: boring and overwhelming. Kanban seems okay for project management (I only have a few at a time as a freelancer), but, although visual, KB is quite linear. I LOVE these mind maps I see (the simple and colourful ones!), but I need the program to be somewhat of a task/project manager. Can't tell which ones do that well. Can I set deadlines? To-do lists? Reminders? X-mind appears to do this under *Business toolbox, but that is only on "Pro" at $99, drat. And when it says "Task Management in there, how do I find out the capabilities? Any other programs you can think of that would fit a freelancer who wants mind-map style yet task management, too? (Oh, also I prefer residence ON my Mac, not cloud-dependant. Here in Thailand, where I do free projects for charity groups, the internet is NOT everywhere!) Thanks so much for how much work you put into these reviews and your expertise. Neat to see a thread where the author actually answers questions... amazing!

  3. Marijus
    July 29, 2016 at 6:44 am

    Thanks, great article!

  4. Nigel
    July 9, 2016 at 10:53 am

    Really good article Why no mention of Xmind? Free, cross platform and slick.

    • Saikat Basu
      July 9, 2016 at 2:35 pm

      Did mention it in passing with a link. Didn't make it a centerpiece because we have covered it before and it is popular.

  5. Viet
    July 6, 2016 at 1:29 pm

    This was one of the most thorough reviews of a lot of the mind mapping apps out there. But, I'm still a little lost....What do you suggest for a Chef of a restaurant where I would be doing my menus, prepping, and daily planning. Ideally, id like it to work on android and PC.

    I would love to add photos so my manager knows what the dish will look like

    Idea: dinner menu
    Topic/nodes : sides, main entrees
    Sub nodes: mashed potatoes, steak(some I may want to add photos) and
    sub sub node---perhaps a link to a recipe or something like that.

    Do you think a mindmap is for me or should I go with a flowchart and a checklist? Thanks Saikat!!

    • Saikat Basu
      July 7, 2016 at 11:56 am

      Hi Viet,

      As they say -- "A great chef can still cook great dishes with a dull knife." :)

      Try your hand with Mind Vector. They have a free plan. You can use images and insert notes in each node-subnode. From what I understand, your mindmap needs to be VISUAL.

      Mindmeister
      is also worth a shot.

      Let me know how it turns out.

  6. sandesh.shivashankara
    June 21, 2016 at 10:07 am

    Hello Saikat,

    Nice article that clearly describes capabilities of mind mapping tools available out there. The videos provided gives a glimpse of the GUI that helps people to choose a tool that suites their tastes. I tried few of them but 1 major lacking I see, which common in among the tools I tried is that there is little or no option to connect sub topics of different branches together.

    I intend to use the tool for an altogether different requirement. In short, I would like to collate my customers and prospects together. For example, there is this company A,B & C and there are 5 employees in each of the company (Let's name them as 1,2,3,4 & 5). So far, so good, I can chalk this out in any of the mind mapping tools. but when it comes to mapping the individual employees of company A to employees of Company B or a particular employee of company A to company B, there is no much flexibility or options I see in the listed tools by you. Hope I have put the point across

    Can you please let me know which tool best fits for my requirement please?

    • Saikat Basu
      June 21, 2016 at 3:42 pm

      Sandesh, I think it is called "cross-linking' in mind mapping terminology. And it is usually represented by a dotted arrow/connector in most cases.

      SketchBoard, WiseMapping and Visual Understanding Environment have it. You can also look at The Simple Mind and more advanced tools like MindJet and XMind too.

      Hope this helps.

  7. MaX
    June 11, 2016 at 7:35 pm

    Is there a tool (ideally for Mac OS X) to calculate the number of nodes in mind maps saved in different formats like PDF, JPEG, PNG, PowerPoint, Word, etc?

    I have hundreds of mind maps saved in such formats and would like to know the number of nodes in each other than counting it manually of course.

    • Saikat Basu
      June 12, 2016 at 5:49 am

      Couldn't find anything except this discussion around Freemind.

      You can give serial numbers to your nodes from now on I guess. Could be a quicker workaround to counting them manually.

    • MaX
      June 12, 2016 at 10:41 am

      Thanks. The problem is that I do not have the original applications or native files, but the exported or saved mind map outputs as PDF, JPEG, etc.

      So, I guess that what I need is an image analysis tool capable to identify and count nodes on such (picture) files. Any idea?

  8. Kyo
    June 4, 2016 at 8:57 am

    Nice article. I have used XMind for 8 years for engineering projects and organizational project management and tracking. It has been really great, one think I found a need for in it is an easier way to link and view "sub-maps". Came here to see if there is anything new - i like the look of VUE, going to try it out.

    • Saikat Basu
      June 6, 2016 at 4:50 am

      Do drop in and give your feedback on how it turned out for you :)

  9. Mike
    June 1, 2016 at 6:16 pm

    Thanks for this very useful article. Are there any you can suggest where i can create formulas to input numbers in to calculate percentages, etc ?

    • Saikat Basu
      June 2, 2016 at 10:10 am

      Not sure if it's a mindmap solution you are looking for.

  10. Gavin
    May 9, 2016 at 8:16 pm

    Thanks Salkat - That's a great post, really helpful. I have just tried MindMaple and found it really intuitive, so I'm going to get the Pro version. Thanks again.

    • Saikat Basu
      May 11, 2016 at 3:09 am

      You are welcome Gavin. Go for it...and do tell us how it works out with the Pro version.

      What do you use mindmapping for?

  11. Kiriske
    May 6, 2016 at 2:06 pm

    Have a look at Mindomo, an online concept mapping software (homepage) that wasn't mentioned. Besides its concept mapping and mind mapping features, it also has an outline feature that lets you switch from the outline view to the mind map view and vice versa. Offers real-time collaboration too. I guess you can start with their free version, and if you want for example to create unlimited maps and export them as PDFs, you can upgrade.

    • Saikat Basu
      May 7, 2016 at 3:22 pm

      Thanks Kiriske.
      Didn't mention Mindomo because we have included it quite a few times. For e.g. here and here.

      But it's always good to be reminded again as it gives us a chance to see how the program has developed over time and what are the latest features.

  12. codywohlers
    April 17, 2016 at 2:31 pm

    Please put the date in the article! Especially when it contains phrases like "this year"

    • Saikat Basu
      April 18, 2016 at 2:38 am

      Just below my name and profile pic.

    • codywohlers
      April 18, 2016 at 3:07 am

      so it is! sorry seen at lot of articles on other sites without a date. didn't look hard enough...

  13. Bemaxo
    February 10, 2016 at 7:25 pm

    Also a useful mindmaping software is YouMinds Composer which allows you to convert Mindmaps into notes, pinboards, diagrams and more.

  14. Ankit
    December 22, 2015 at 10:14 am

    Xmind works best for me. Mindmup is another one.

  15. Micheal H
    December 7, 2015 at 10:12 am

    Another free platform that lets you easily create pretty good mind maps is GoConqr.com.

    • Saikat Basu
      December 7, 2015 at 10:59 am

      Wow. Thanks. It looks like a very good PLM tool. Will check this out in detail.

  16. Squalle
    December 4, 2015 at 5:38 am

    I've never really understood the reasoning behind these types of programs.

    • Saikat Basu
      December 4, 2015 at 5:51 am

      Mind mapping in general or the software programs?

    • Squalle
      December 5, 2015 at 1:33 pm

      I understand the concept. I guess I just never understood how something like this would help. I've tried them before and they didn't help me at all. They just seem to make things jumbled up.

    • Saikat Basu
      December 6, 2015 at 4:44 am

      Ah! That's okay. Not everyone gets it and they don't have to. For some, simple checklist or freewriting helps just as well. There are things like Rico Clusters too. You, the user, precede the tool.

  17. Kelsey Tidwell
    November 28, 2015 at 11:09 pm

    Take a look at Mohiomap when you have a chance. It's more of a viewing app than an actual map generation tool, but it's worth checking out because...

    It can link to your Evernote, Google Drive, Box or Dropbox and display all of your stored data as a mindmap. You'll be looking at your "data mind" as something almost organic, instead of a flat folder tree.

    A dynamic way of seeing your files in a graphic representation, it can still do what mindmaps do best...give you a different view to spur your thinking.

    • Kelsey Tidwell
      November 28, 2015 at 11:12 pm

      I also meant to say that I like and use Mindmup and Draw.io! :)

    • Saikat Basu
      November 29, 2015 at 11:46 am

      We have covered Mohiomap before when talking about the same integrations you mention. :)

  18. Filippo A. Salustri
    November 28, 2015 at 1:49 pm

    You missed Freeplane (better version of Freemind) and IHMC CmapTools, both of which are outstanding tools.

    • Saikat Basu
      November 29, 2015 at 11:54 am

      Thanks for the mentions. CMap Tools definitely looks good.

  19. hildyblog
    November 27, 2015 at 10:07 pm

    The thing to keep in mind about mind maps is that the theoretical mind map is often limited by the software. A true mind map can point from any bubble to any bubble. Many, if not most, software packages cannot do this; they are really just graphical outlines and are limited by the hierarchical nature of outlines. That's not to say they can't be useful, just that they can't provide all the benefits of a true mind map.

    • Saikat Basu
      November 28, 2015 at 5:08 am

      True. There are cogntiive benefits to doing it on paper. Firstly, it is more free-flowing and speedier. Digital tools come into the picture when you need to articulate a really complex one more professionally perhaps. For the last thing however, I feel that a mind map does more for the doer (as a personal exercise) than for the viewer...that's why it shouldn't be "presented".

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