Thursday, September 27, 2012

Life is Full of Tough Choices: Mindmap or Concept Map?

In my previous two posts, I introduced Mindmaps and Concept Maps. Today, I'll present some rules of thumb regarding when to use each type of map.
This Concept Map illustrates the similarities and differences among Concept Maps, Common Mindmaps, and Pure Mindmaps. As Roy Grubb stated in WikIT, "Concept Maps have rigor, Mindmaps have vigor." Although this is a generalization, it really rings true regarding the differences between the uses of the two types of map. Since, to the best of my knowledge, all software packages except one create Common Mindmaps, that is what I'll focus on.

To cut to the chase, Mindmaps are best used:
  • When you have ideas in your mind and want to quickly record them,
  • For categorizing, sub-categorizing, and re-categorizing information,
  • For brainstorming, since ideas can be recorded quickly and then be reorganized, as needed,
  • For writing projects, to aid in the generation of ideas, and then to organize those ideas into a consistent, usable form,
  • For notetaking, to either take notes on a book or article you are reading, or to take notes live in a meeting or a lecture,
  • For meetings, to plan the meeting, take notes, and publish minutes,
  • For presentations, the map's central topic is the topic of the presentation, the main (first-level) branches represent the main topics to be covered and the order in which to do so, and each successive level of the map uncovers greater levels of detail of the topics specified by the main branches,
  • For planning or organizational tasks, the Mindmap allows you to quickly record all of the information that needs to be organized without worrying whether you are placing the information in the right spot in the map, and then moving branches around as necessary, after further reflection,
  • For managing the execution of tasks specified in a planning map,
  • For studying or memorizing, the categorization properties of Mindmaps illustrates which ideas are part of of the various higher-level ideas, and the visual design aids in retention of this information, and
  • For problem solving and generally stimulating the flow of creative juices, the Mindmap allows you to see the big picture and details at the same time, presenting you with the opportunity to see associations and new ideas that are not apparent in other representations.
Concept Maps, on the other hand, are best used:
  • When there is a primary focus question to be answered,
  • For breaking down and representing complex knowledge, when the knowledge is complex enough that the representation requires types of relationships other than simple categorization and sub-categorization,
  • To teach a concept as described above, through the use of relationships and their types,
  • As a Human-Computer Interface between you and an ontology and/or a computational reasoning system,
  • For the representation of knowledge in an historical or archival context, where new relationship and concepts are added as they are created or discovered,
  • For the deep understanding of a concept, creating a Concept Map is effective, because if you must have a complete understanding of a concept, the building of a map points out areas where your understanding still has gaps, which you may then fill by consulting external sources, and
  • For the creation of a representation sufficiently rigorous for a computer to reason over, a properly constructed Concept Map is ideal.
To summarize, use Mindmaps for problem solving, stimulation of creativity, planning and organization, and use Concept Maps for rigor, detailed modeling of knowledge, and as a way of representing knowledge in a form that a computer can use to reason with.

These are just examples of uses for Mindmaps and Concept Maps. There are many that I have not mentioned. However, this comparison should provide you enough of the flavor for you to decide which type of map to use for which situations that you encounter.

Once again, thanks go out to WikiT for the image, and next week the Mindmap Shootout actually begins!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

An Interesting Video on Scobleizer, or Mindmapping can be of Interest to a Wide Audience Like Other Technologies

Just the other day, I saw an interesting video in which I thought many of you might be interested. It was about Mindmapping and it was on Scobleizer’s Videos. Robert Scoble was interviewing Michael Deutch, Chief Evangelist for Mindjet, the company behind MindManager. In the video, Michael discusses Mindmapping in general, MindManager in particular, and then presented a brief demonstration of MindManager. The video is also available as part of the July 24th, 2009 post of the Mindjet Blog.

This is significant to me, and it should also be to those of you who are trying to get coworkers and bosses to use Mindmapping. The obstacle to widespread use is often that there is a false belief that Mindmapping is an obscure, niche technology that will be gone in a year or two, tops. We all know better, but sometimes we need additional ammunition to convince others. This video is the perfect thing, for a couple of reasons.

First of all, Robert Scoble is well known as a technology enthusiast and expert on the up and coming technologies. He generally makes videos about technologies which he feels the community should know about. The general assumption is that he would not waste his time on an obscure, flash-in-the-pan technology that he expects to fizzle out in the near future. Scoble even says in the video that he uses MindManager himself. All of this lends Mindmapping a certain legitimacy.

The second reason that this video is good news for Mindmappers is that the video will, in all likelihood, be viewed by a lot of people. It could be viewed by a large audience made up of people who don’t use Mindmaps. It could even reach some individuals that haven’t even heard of Mindmaps. Scobleizer Videos are broadly viewed throughout the technology community. Not only that, I am aware of several people that don’t follow any technology blogs at all, except for Scobleizer.

Don’t be surprised if a coworker, or a boss, approaches you and asks about Mindmapping, which he vaguely remembers you pitching to him in months or years past. When your boss recognizes the value of Mindmapping, he may not only encourage their use, he may even mandate it!

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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

CRPS, or Why Tech Landscape Has Been Inactive for so Long

When I started this blog several months ago, my intent had been to post quite regularly. When I posted my list of Mindmapping solutions and announced the shootout, my intent had been to rapidly make my way through the mappers applying some sensible set of criteria, and to promptly post the results for all to see. However, as so often happens, reality interfered with my plans. Not reality as seen in ‘reality’ television shows, but reality in the form of a really nasty disease by the name of Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS).

CRPS, formerly known as Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD) is an incurable, serious disease of the nervous system. It is usually present in one or more extremities and it brings a particularly unpleasant list of symptoms including excruciating pain all the time, weakness, loss of movement, discoloration, swelling, brainfog, loss of short-term memory (did I mention excruciating pain?), and many, many more. It can spread to face, mouth, eyes, and even internal organs. The best way I have seen anybody describe the way CRPS feels is that you soak the affected area in gasoline, set it on fire, and you can’t put it out. Ever. Not even temporarily. That is actually an understatement. There have been studies done on the severity of different types of pain. CRPS pain was ranked as the worst pain recorded in humans. It ranks way above cancer pain and the pain of childbirth. It even ranks above amputation without anesthetic. That gives you an idea of what CRPS is like although, really, you need to be there. If you want more gory details of CRPS, google it and you’ll be surprised at how much material you can find. I know I was.

In my specific case the pains started in February, 2008 in the big toe of my right foot. By Summer it had gotten much worse and spread to my whole right foot. I couldn’t drive or walk without crutches. That is when CRPS was diagnosed. Throughout the Fall, it crept up my right leg and jumped over to my left foot. Around the beginning of 2009, the pain started in my hands and arms, both of them. This was about the time I started Tech Landscape. I was still able to write, although only for short periods of time. When I started the Mindmapping Shootout, a few weeks seemed reasonable for me evaluate software packages albeit very slowly with most of my time resting. Then everything worsened, especially my hands. I came down to only a couple of minutes on the computer, either typing or mousing, before having to rest for an hour or so (seriously). My fatigue and brainfog, with the attendant short-term memory problems, made it impossible to get much of anything done. Since then, the CRPS has spread so that it is essentially the full lengths of my four extremities, covering my lower back, the left side of my upper back, my temples, and maybe my eyes. I’ve also developed fairly frequent dizzy spells, which make me fun to watch when I’m on crutches. All of this has caused my blogging to come to a grinding halt, although it has not dampened my interest in blogging. Also, I will really need to cut down my triathlons to two per year. As they say, “Best laid plans of mice and men...”

So, you may ask, “What does this mean for Tech Landscape?” I asked myself the same question, and it turns out that there is a simple, yet imprecise answer. CRPS is a disease where getting anything accomplished is a great victory. I believe that I have been biting off more than I can chew, and consequently choking rather than writing blog posts. The Mindmapping Software Shootout will have to be pushed onto the back burner. I might be able to complete the reviews at some point, but not anytime soon. I apologize to those of you that have contacted me wondering when the reviews would be posted. I’m considering the use of guest bloggers to get the reviews done. If anyone would like to do one or more reviews, please leave a comment with an email address that I can use to contact you and we can discuss it. There are a lot of exciting developments in the areas covered by this blog. They have generated lots of ideas for posts. Since these are each small efforts, I will start writing them up. Due to the nature of CRPS, I cannot predict the frequency with which I will be able to post. Sometimes, I may publish several times in a week. If my health is acting up, there may be a long gap. I have no plans to stop posting, I just have to do it as my health allows.

Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, I don’t anticipate writing any more about my health in this blog. I just figured that I owed an explanation to the folks that have followed my posts and then wondered if I had disappeared from the face of the earth. Thank you for your patience, and I look forward to getting my next post out to you, soon.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Finding Interesting Information on the Web: It's Not Just for Search Engines Anymore

Today, I'm going to take a break from Mindmapping to take a look at an emerging area of technology that I find exciting and believe to be tremendously promising down the road. The related technologies that I'm talking about are related to search engines, but have evolved enough in various directions that they really should not be considered search engines in any traditional sense.
This train of thought started when I read an article in ReadWriteWeb about Ambiently. Ambiently, which is currently in beta, calls itself a discovery engine, as distinguished from a search engine. What Ambiently does is to find web pages that are related to a given page. It is implemented as a bookmarklet. In order to use Ambiently, simply go to their Web site, drag the bookmarklet to your bookmark bar, visit a Web site of interest, and click the bookmarklet. You'll be presented with links to pages that Ambiently believes are related to your original page. At the moment, what you'll find a mixture of expected and unexpected links. The unexpected links are unexpected for one of two reasons:

  • The link doesn't lead you to a page that is related to the original page in any meaningful way, or
  • The link leads you to a page that contains information related to the original page, but in a way that you probably would not have found using obvious search terms with a traditional search engine.
An example of the first case, where a link is not meaningfully related to the original page came when I clicked the bookmarklet while viewing, which is the beta version of FriendFeed. The Ambient page had lots of links to pages about "beta." However, I spoke with the developers, and they are working on it. An example of the more useful case of unexpected results came when I clicked the bookmarklet from the ReadWriteWeb article about Ambiently. There were obviously a number of links to pages that discuss Ambiently, since the original page was about Ambiently. However, there were other links that I found interesting because they discussed other, similar types of application, with the only connection that I could see was that the new page referred to "bookmarklet."
I'd like to give an example of a person that would find this very useful, me. I'm a scientist. Many times I am doing research for a whitepaper or journal article. It is not always clear what search term would provide me with the most fruitful direction to go. Instead of trying a large number of search terms looking for the best one, I just have to go to a page that looks interesting, and let Ambiently do a more general search, and I can see a number of results, hopefully finding one or two that look worthwhile. At some point, I will probably end up feeding a term to a search engine, either at the beginning to find the initial page of interest, later in the process after narrowing down my research direction, or most likely both.

In my view, this idea of looking in a lot of different directions without my having to try a large number of search terms individually, provides a discriminator between a search engine and a discovery engine. Each direction that Ambiently (implicitly) looks does not provide me with a long list of links. It doesn't need to. It is enough that it gives me a peek in each direction, so that I may decide which ones to explore. Once I visit a page linked to by Ambiently, I have (again, implicitly) chosen a direction to explore. From there, I may find that the new page has links to others with useful information, or I could have a search term to feed into a search engine, or I could even let Ambiently discover some new directions for me from this new starting point.

From what I've seen so far, the reviews have been somewhat lukewarm, but I think that there is something much bigger going on here. I am really excited about this technology, partly because of what it can do for me today, but mostly because of the tremendous potential I see for these alternative approaches for finding information on the web.

There are a few other technologies that I do not see as search engines in any traditional sense that I am going to mention, but not discuss in any detail (perhaps some other day).
Primal Fusion, which is currently in alpha, has a concept of "thought networking." Here the process is more iterative, and can build over multiple sessions and multiple searches. You can start with a search topic of a few words. This brings up a tag cloud of "thoughts." These thoughts can be "remembered" or clicked upon to search and retrieve content. The content can be remembered, as well. If your current research is done, you can logoff and go about your life. Then, when you login to Primal Fusion again, your remembered thoughts are still there. You go through the same process as before, adding further thoughts to your memories. These remembered thoughts show how you think about the web. Over time, the thoughts are re-organized, and refined. New thoughts can be generated, providing new insights into your thought process. Once you have done all of your research for a topic, you can generate a Web site about the topic, create a document, or create an RSS feed.

evri, which is in beta, starts out with a more traditional search, but then allows you to navigate through a network of topics/concepts. Infolust, which is in alpha, provides links related to a page, similar to what Ambiently does. However, it appears that Infolust currently only links to Wikipedia articles.

I believe that this is only the beginning of the changes that will be taking place over the next few years regarding the manner in which we explore the web. Feeding a search term into a search engine is powerful thing. I would get very little done today without it. However, as we move forward, it will just be one of many ways in which we find what we want or need on the web

Sunday, April 5, 2009

There Can Only Be One!!! Rules of Engagement for the Mindmap Shootout

After an unexpected hiatus, I am ready to begin the comparison of Mindmapping software. This is how it is going to work. As you might have noticed from my list of software packages, a post covering all of the online mappers would read like the first 200 pages of War and Peace , where all the characters are introduced.

To avoid the War and Peace Syndrome, I will introduce a few mappers per post, showing how they measure up to the evaluation criteria. Once we have seen all of the contenders by themselves, we will compare them head-to-head for each criterion and determine the Best of Class. Then we will do something similar for the other two classes. After all of that is finished, we will determine which of the Best of Class mappers is the Best of Show. The Best of Show will be considered the best of all Mind Mappers, according to my totally unscientific, subjective criteria, and excluding the windows-based and Linux-based packages.

I will introduce the first set of contestants around the middle of the coming week, and continue at a pace of one to two sets of Mindmappers per week until we finish. I figure that we will finish just in time for you to obtain the Best of Show mapper for a loved one for either Christmas or Chanukah, as the case may be.

There is a very good reason for stretching the competition out the way I am. Sensory overload. I don't want to present a few really long posts, with too much info to really absorb. I don't want you to get overloaded and tired of it. For that matter, I don't want me to get overloaded and tired of the competition. Instead I want you to look forward to it, like American Idol , or Lost !

I have another reason for stretching the competition out. The Technology Landscape I see all around us right now is seething with activity. There are so many exciting things happening and so many cool products coming out, that I want to discuss them, and get your feedback on them. Despite the financial turmoil the world is in, these are exciting times for the technology sector. So, expect to see posts about other things tucked in between the competition posts.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

You Too, Can Learn How to Mindmap, Just Like the Pros Do!

This is just a quick note to let you know about an opportunity to take an online mindmapping class for free. Now that I have your attention (free usually does that), I'll tell you a bit about the course. For those of you that are newcomers, or relative newcomers, to mindmapping, this is a Free Interactive Mind Map class, from the folks at To give you an idea of what will be covered in the course, from the class' homepage. You will:

  • Learn what a Mind Map is
  • Learn what a Mind Map is not
  • Learn the Principles of Mind Mapping
  • Learn the Seven Steps in creating a Mind Map
  • Create your first Mind Map
  • Evaluate your knowledge along the way
  • And much more

To get started with the course, go to its homepage, read the instructions on how to enroll, and go do it! I do have a few comments on the course. It is about "Pure Mind Maps," as defined by Tony Buzan. It does not touch upon the "Common Mindmaps" that we spend most of our time on, here. Having said that, it is a very nice presentation of Buzan's Mind Maps, and the concepts covered in the course are useful even for Common Mindmaps. Another caveat is that the folks running this free course also run other, unfree course, and they would very much like you to take them. You are under no obligation from taking the free introductory, and you may even decide you want delve deeper into the way of the Pure Mind Map and take additional classes. It's strictly up to you. I have no connection, paid or otherwise, with the Mind Map Tutor people

One final point. Mindmapping should not be a chore. It should be fun. In many cases, it can take tasks that are a chore, and make them fun. This may be a geeky thing to say, but I have fun with Mindmaps. That's why I'm so excited about them (even though you couldn't tell, because I hide it so well).

Monday, March 9, 2009

Reality, What a Concept (Map)!

Outwardly, Mindmaps and Concept Maps are quite similar. They both have:

  • Nodes, representing concepts, ideas, or topics,
  • Links between the nodes, and
  • They both begin with a central idea.
If we dig into the ideas behind them, however, differences begin to emerge. Last time, I briefly presented this information for Mindmaps. Today, I'll do the same for Concept Maps. Again, keep in mind that this post just skims the surface of the topic of Concept Maps. It is a large field of study, with plenty of literature to study on your own if you are interested.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Joseph D. Novak first developed Concept Maps as a tool for education. Since that time, it has developed into a powerful tool used in a wide array of fields. I stumbled upon a great Concept Map, created by Novak himself, for a simple case of a Concept Map explaining Concept Maps. It does such a wonderful job that there is really very little chance that I can add much of value to it, but I'll try to do it anyway.

In the simple case where the Concept Map is a stand-alone tool, it is often used to understand complex ideas. The user starts out with a Focus Question, and goes on to map out relationships to and within the Central Concept. There are several properties that describe a Concept Map:

  • It starts with a Central Concepts at the top and is read top-to-bottom, so it starts out looking like a tree,
  • The Map helps to answer a Focus Question,
  • A Concept Map represents organized knowledge which allows for better understanding,
  • Unlike in Mindmaps, concepts may have multiple parents in Concept Maps,
  • Nodes represent concepts,
  • There are both downward links and crosslinks,
  • Links are just as important as nodes,
  • Links are labeled and describe type of relationships between concepts,
  • Crosslinks can tie together different domains of knowledge in the Map, and
  • During the creation of the Concept Map, crosslinks can often represent creative leaps.
Often, instead of a stand-alone tool, it is part of a larger, automated system. The Concept Map is often the User Interface for a Knowledge Management System or a Computational Reasoning System. Knowledge can be input, or presented, through a Concept Map.

We can see how some simple computational reasoning might work. Structured knowledge enters a system using a Concept Map. If incomplete knowledge enters the system and matches the structure of the Map, then the system may be able to automatically infer missing relationships. As a simple example, we have a Concept Map representing the structure of a family, and knowledge enters the system saying Bob "is the son of" Lisa and Chuck "is the son of" Lisa. Based upon the knowledge input to the system through the "Family" Concept Map, the system can infer that Bob "is the brother of" Chuck, and that Chuck "is the brother of" Bob.

This Concept Map, from the same paper as the image above, represents the seasons. It presents all the information about how the seasons are determined and how they relate to each other. As you can see, a relatively small, simple Map is packed with a lot of knowledge. If you wanted to learn about seasons, this would be an effective way to do it. It would also be a good way for you to communicate what you know about seasons to someone else.

Now that I've introduced both Mindmaps and Concept Maps, next time I'll talk about when you might want to use a Mindmap rather than a Concept Map, and vice versa. If you have any questions, just post them as comments, and I'll respond to them as quickly as is possible.

N.B. Thanks to Joseph D. Novak and Alberto J. Cañas for the images used in this post, from their paper:
The Theory Underlying Concept Maps and How to Construct Them, J. D Novak & A. J. Cañas (2006), Technical Report IHMC CmapTools 2006-01, Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition, 2006.