I’ve been using mind mapping tools for years for creating plans or elaborating ideas. So far, my favorite offline software was FreeMind. It hasn’t been updated for years, but it is open source and has impressive features, like formatting nodes, icons, good keyboard support, adding links, colorful clouds for branches, and much more. Just take a look at the screenshot in Wikipedia. Today I decided to look for some online alternative for easier access on any device (also mobile) and simplified sharing.
My requirements for a FreeMind substitute were:
- keyboard support to add a sibling (usually
TABkey) and a child (usually with
ENTER) and to navigate between nodes with the arrow keys
- basic formatting of the nodes (bold, color)
- ability to insert icons
- collapsing entire branches
- adding comments and links to nodes
- automatic layout
- free or cheap (~$5) plan
Gliffy is another versatile diagramming tool which proves to be poor when it comes to mind mapping. I turned it down after adding the first node, when I saw edge anchored in the middle of the text:
My opinion: useless for mind mapping.
Bubbl.us was the first specialized mind mapping tool I checked. It includes integrated help which I used to look up the keyboard shortcuts. Unluckily I found that this software cannot be used without a mouse. Nonetheless, I gave it a try… I was surprised by many things: not a single root element, strange layout, ugly gradient nodes and a very clumsy interface showing lots of context options that cover nearly everything.
My opinion: useless for mind mapping.
The next mind mapping tool, MindMeister, was much more comfortable to use and look at. It includes a quick-start tutorial, icons, comments, attachments, links, some formatting. I dislike that only first-level nodes are distinguishing with bigger font and background, and the rest are just small plain text, but there is an option to customize it (right click on the background and choose Customize map theme option). It’s free for up to 3 maps, then €5 a month.
My opinion: worth giving a try.
At first, Coggle looked very promising. A clean interface, sleek diagram… Unfortunately, it is not possible to navigate with the keyboard or add comments, and it’s very hard to select too short nodes (I had to zoom in to select it!). I’m also not very comfortable with its style of displaying the labels aside the lines, as you can see in the screenshot below:
It’s free for up to 3 maps, then $5 a month.
My opinion: it has some drawbacks, but still worth considering.
I am confused about the next tool. Mindmap Maker has all the features I would expect from a mind mapping tool. There is node formatting, full keyboard support, comments, links. There is also a quick-start tutorial in the application and the tool is completely free. It only lacks icons. But the interface is so disappointing… Simply awful:
My opinion: it’s really hard to say. Theoretically very good, but practically unpleasant to use.
MindMup is another online mind mapping tool. With its full keyboard support and simple styling, it seems to be an efficient application. It has some formatting (text size and color), and comments. There are no icons and its interface looks a little old. But this is the first application that has several layout styles, including vertical and condensed. It is free.
My opinion: it’s a bit limited but comfortable to work with.
Miro Mind Map is an online application of the Miro suite designed for creating mind maps. I like this suite and I was glad to find that this tool is quite good. Again, it does not support icons or comments. It has some basic formatting: edge color and bold label. It’s very easy to use with the keyboard. It’s free for up to 3 maps, then $8 a month.
My opinion: easy to use, but feature-less.
Unfortunately, I haven’t found a single perfect application. There are several online mind-mapping tools that are worth checking, but each with some drawbacks. Go and test drive by yourself. My favorites were: MindMeister and MindMup.