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The Best Websites and Software for Brainstorming and Mind Mapping

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A mind map is a diagram that allows you to visually outline information, helping you organize, solve problems, and make decisions. Start with a single idea in the center of the diagram and add associated ideas, words, and concepts connected radially around the central idea.

We’ve collected links to websites and software that can help you create mind maps, and collaborate on and share your maps with others. The programs and websites listed here are all either free or have a free option.

FreeMind

FreeMind is a free mind-mapping program written in Java. It supports folding and unfolding with one click and the ability to follow HTML links stored in the nodes to websites or local files. You can drag and drop nodes to copy one or more nodes and to copy text or a list of files from outside the program.

FreeMind also provides a search function that shows the results one by one as you “find next,” unfolding only the nodes for the items found.

Mind maps created in FreeMind can also be exported to HTML with the folding capability converted to links.

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XMind

XMind is a free, open source mind mapping program for Windows, Linux, and Mac OS X that allows you to plan, capture, organize, and act on your ideas. XMind’s Mind Toolbox allows you to setup relationships between topics, boundaries around topics, summaries of selected topics, labels to categorize and annotate topics, and markers used to express specific meanings, such as priority or progress.

XMind can also be used to create organization charts, tree charts, logic charts, and more, even within one map. You can share your mind maps on the web.

XMind also has Plus ($79) and Pro ($99) versions that offer additional features. You can also sign up for a subscription to XMind for $79 per year.

For more information about XMind, see our article that describes using the Linux version of the program.

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iMindMap

iMindMap Basic is a free mind mapping program for Windows and Mac OS X useful for brainstorming, taking notes, planning and organizing, and managing tasks. You can even use it to deliver 3D presentations.

Some of the useful features in iMindMap are the Icon Library, the notes feature that allows you to add a variety of content into your maps, and the ability to export your mind maps as .jpeg or .png images.

There is also a Home and Student version available for £49 and an Ultimate version for £149.

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Blumind

Blumind is a simple, but powerful, free mind mapping program for Windows that supports multiple chart layouts, such as organization charts, tree diagrams, logic diagrams, and more. The program supports themes and contains a lot of built-in themes you can customize. You can also add notes, icons, progress bars and other widgets to your maps.

Mind maps created in Blumind can also be exported to multiple formats, including JPG, PNG, SVG, and TXT.

Blumind is also available in portable format.

NOTE: If you’re using  Windows XP or earlier, you need to install the Microsoft .NET Framework 2.0 or later (4.0 standalone installer or 4.0 web installer).

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TheBrain

TheBrain is a mind mapping program for Windows, Linux, and Mac OS X that allows you to capture and organize all the ideas and thoughts in your head and digital information, such as webpages, documents, images, and notes, and more.

The free version of TheBrain allows you to create an unlimited number of Thoughts and links and add rich formatting to your notes and webpages to Thoughts. You can perform a full content search of your notes and generate basic reports.

When you download TheBrain, you can try all the features of the Pro version ($219) for 30 days. After that time, if you want to keep using the advanced features available in the Pro version, you need to pay for the upgrade. However, if you don’t upgrade, you can continue to use TheBrain Free Edition to add new Thoughts and notes, without losing any of your work.

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Compendium

Compendium is a free software tool that allows you to manage your information and ideas and the connections among them.

Use Compendium to manage your personal digital information resources. You can drag and drop any document, website, email, image, etc. into the program and organize them visually and connect ideas, arguments, and decisions related to these items. Compendium can help you collect and make sense of disparate material normally stored in different software programs. You can also assign your own keywords, or “tags,” to the items and create your own icons that have special meaning to you.

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WiseMapping

WiseMapping is a free, online mind mapping editor for both individuals and businesses that doesn’t require you to install anything on your computer. It allows you to easily share your maps with others by embedding it into any webpage without using plugins. You can also import maps from and export maps to FreeMind, mentioned earlier in this article.

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Mind42

Mind42 is another free, simple, online mind map editor with easy navigation for large mind maps, using zoom and “birdview.” You can also attach notes and images to branches and link branches to websites and see a preview of a site when you rollover a link. They also provide an online user guide to help get you started.

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Freeplane

Freeplane is a free, open source mind mapping program that allows you to organize and share your thoughts and information. You can use the program to take freestyle, unconnected notes (like post-its) or to order ideas into a hierarchy using lines. Nodes can be connected with links, connectors, and labels, grouped using visual containers, and classified with metadata, or attributes.

You can also create tasks from your maps with calendars and reminders. Your entire map or individual nodes in your map can be password protected with DES encryption.

Freeplane functionality can be extended with add-ons and custom scripts.

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These programs and websites should give you a start on organizing your thoughts and ideas. If you’ve discovered other useful brainstorming or mind-mapping programs or websites, let us know.

Lori Kaufman is a freelance technical writer who likes to write geeky how-to articles to help make people's lives easier through the use of technology. She loves watching and reading mysteries and is an avid Doctor Who fan.

  • Published 11/17/12

Comments (17)

  1. John Davies

    Vue http://vue.tufts.edu/ is another good free cross-platform application. Definitely deserves a spot on this list.

  2. John Dalziel

    I am surprised you have missed out MindMeister which takesMind Mapping to another level, integrates with Google Drive and much more – http://www.mindmeister.com/
    Keep up your quality posts!

  3. Ed Rickshaw

    I use Open Mind.
    http://openmind.1freehosting.net/

    I love it. I’ve worked with the creator. Very nice and free – they rely purely on donations.

  4. utomo

    Nothing can beat Mindjet MindManager features

  5. redbug

    VUE at Tuft’s University is good.
    http://vue.tufts.edu/index.cfm

  6. Bob Levy

    I find it interesting that neither Mindjet nor ConceptDraw were mentioned

  7. Barry Etheridge

    I would have thought it obvious that the criterion for inclusion was the availability of a permanently free option.

  8. jeorgekabbi

    yes for you Barry Etheridge.

  9. Atakan

    mac had something like this back when i was in grade school using the school ibooks, i forgot what it was called though

  10. Bill M.

    I’ve been a user of FreeMind (Windows, Linux) for years. I also put it on all classroom PCs and computer lab PCs on the high school campus where I used to work. A great alternative (and FREE) to the costly (and inferior product, IMO) Inspiration.

  11. Josh J

    Well said barry! Wish my brain could organize a statement as such. ha

  12. jasray

    No mention of Lucid Chart . . . quite nice.

  13. DMRocker

    No mention of MindView, either. Our company is considering going with MindView because of its tight integration and import/export capabilities with MS Office an MS Project. The free products all seem to lack any degree of Office integration, and that is critical for our biz dev purposes.

  14. craisin

    Nobody mentioned Novamind! (or did I miss it?)

    Not free but state of the art!

  15. Irene

    I liked the sounds of Freeplane because it has the ability to create tasks on a calendar. I downloaded it only to find it requires Java. Now I’m conflicted. You have warned about how unsecure Java is. Is it worth installing Java just to run this software? Opinions?

  16. Rick

    Does anyone know of any good MindMap tutorials? I can never seem to organize a MindMap into anything useful.

  17. 1ka3

    I think the mindmeister – the best mindmap. Have app for any mobile devices.

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