The Goods on MindManager

MM-SamplePicSeveral people commented yesterday (via twitter) about the presentation software I was using at Computers and Writing 2009. So weird. First time I’ve really made the twitter boards. So I wanted to post some info about the software and give it my tempered recommendation.

The software is called MindManager. Essentially it visually lays out a set of ideas contained in connected, flat bubbles. The interface can be customized in a ton of different ways, but I tend to keep mine pretty simple. You can create templates, format text, embed links, and export maps into all sorts of different formats (Acrobat, Word, Flash, PowerPoint, a portable interactive version, etc.).

There are really two ways that I think about and like this software. First, I love it as a composition tool. I compose almost exclusively in it now. I wrote my PhD exams, my prospectus, and several seminar papers with it. It’s fast and easy to understand. The real kicker is that it almost completely matches the way that I understand my own composition practice. I’m the sort of guy who picks up ideas and processes them as relatively discrete objects. The better I begin to understand an idea, the better I see how it fits into a network of other ideas. But for me, and maybe I never polished up on my Aristotle enough, arguments have never really been linear. That If A and B, then C, and therefore D, sort of stuff. I mean, I can do that, but it’s never really matched the way I understand learning. So MindManager allows me to work (materially) with ideas as a “field” rather than a progression or proof. I’ve come to enjoy the process much more with this sort of interface.

But there are other less-expensive and free versions of this sort of software out there (search: mind mapping software). TheBrain, VUE, FreeMind, etc. But none of them (as far as I know) allow a writer to compose the bubbles as paragraphs. All of the others either have character limits, don’t allow for carriage returns, or are incredibly cumbersome to format text with line breaks. So, I’m stuck paying for this expensive version. (It’s $149, academic pricing.) I have to say that I like it enough that if it ever goes away, I would seriously consider learning javascript just so I could write my own.

The other way that I like to use the software is as a mode of presentation. I’m still working out the kinks (as people who attended our session can attest), but I think it has great potential. Any map I write can be exported as a read-only presentation version, which is exacly the same as the editable version, but without the editing interface taking up screen-real estate. The bubbles expand and contract as I click on them, and there are other presentation functions available that I haven’t yet explored.

As presentation software, the thing I like most about MindManager is the ability to see the way the whole map fits together. I can zoom-in or -out as I’d like. And I can determine with parts of the map will show at different points in the presentation. The interface isn’t beautiful, but it could be, if I worked at it a little bit.

So yesterday, I made some pretty serious mistakes. I was nevervous (more than usual for some reason), I think because I feel so commited to this idea. I had some problems getting the projector to mirror my desktop, too. I only seem to have trouble with that when I present at conferences. Never at home. Never in my classroom. Never in my office. Go figure. And because of the monitor snag, I forgot to start my own timer, which meant that I had to ask our moderator (a couple of times) for my time-left. Ugh. I’m a perfectionist, and that didn’t feel like it went well. But several people (whom I trust) told me they didn’t notice much of any of that stuff. Okay, so I’m satisfied, but it could have been much, much better. So I’ll get something really polished and snazzy ready for CCCC if I get in. If not, then maybe next year at Purdue.

I’m going to fix a couple of errors, then post the presentation in an interactive version here on the blog in a few days. I’ll tweet the notice.

So that’s it. Try out a free-version of MindManager. (It is available for Mac, too.) It could really do you some good. Or try out some of those other programs I mentioned. PowerPoint has its places, sure, but lits get some variation, no? (And I’ve got to check out Prezi!)

Please feel free to post any other presentation or composing software that you like. Better yet, write a reply to this entry, post it to your own blog, and link back to it from the comments section below. I’d love to send people to your blog from here. Looking forward to it. Best…

This article has 2 Comments

  1. Thanks Trauman. I’m testing out MindManger and finding it very helpful for mapping out a complex writing project with several co-authors. I’m hoping they are willing to jump in with it, too. I’ll let you know.
    Suzanne

  2. That’s great, Suzanne. You might also look at a related project (MindManager Connect) which is a sort of plugin for Mindmanager designed for geographically dispersed collaborative projects. I haven’t really looked at it much, but I keep hearing about it. I think there’s a free-trial available for that product, too.

    Regardless, I’ll be interested to see what your experience is like. You’re on a Mac, right? I’m really curious about that, too.

    Great meeting you at DMAC. Hopefully, we’ll see each other again soon. Maybe you and Alanna and I can get together at CCCC in Louisville in the Spring. Best,

    Trauman

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