Thursday, January 21, 2010

Software Spotlight - Mind Mapping Software

So you have a really big project, or you happen to be running a campaign for a group of people. What best way to put it all together? How do you keep it all organized? How do you keep track of your progress? Well a great start is to have a brainstorming software to help get it out on paper, or at least in digital format! In this post I'll go into detail about the various Mind Mapping Software out there, and how best to use them.

So first off, what is Mind Mapping? Its a style of brainstorming that focuses around declaring a central idea, and then creating relationships between this idea and any other ideas that may revolve around it, each different idea opens up another set of ideas until you come up with as much detail as you can manage. For those familiar with note taking, they'll find that Mind Mapping Software is a means to make a Hierarchical set of notes into a visual format, one that you can customize to your own liking.

Now, there are a lot of Mind Mapping software out there, and most have different ways of presenting it. Some are more commonly seen as flowchart software, which is a more technical presentation of visual elements for various Electronic Hardware and Software. A really thorough list of software that can be used for this purpose can be found at Wikipedia, though my brand of choice happens to be FreeMind. FreeMind happens to be open source, meaning that its managed and tracked by a group of users, and as such, the code is freely available for download, to be modified as you wish, or enhanced as you wish, as long as you follow their Software Licence.

In any case, the software itself can easily manage a number of icons as well as fonts and color modifications to suit just about any need. As I get into more posts about world construction, I use the mind Mapping software to help me keep things organized, as well as keeping track of what has detail and what doesn't, whats completed and what things I want to work on next using check marks, x's, and arrows and numbers to help prioritize things once I have everything cleaned up. And then when all is said and done, I open up another central idea that extends from the primary to act as the "Player" aspect of the game which helps me keep track of all player activity, as well as provide quick access to notes that I'd like to add to the campaign as the world evolves.

For those not familiar with the software, there is a really good tutorial on how to use the software found on Youtube. The software is Java based, and as such can be used on just about any platform (Windows, MacOS, or Linux to name a few). Once you get into the software, start branching out ideas and try to put them into the mind map as you would see fit. The more you use the software and the concept of mind mapping the more natural it will come for you, and you'll start finding ways to make it visually pleasing and if anything make it a lot more second nature.

Mind Mapping software isn't just for coming up with campaign ideas, its a great way to keep track of times for working on projects similar to that of a timesheet, for putting together ideas for studies and composition as detailed in the youtube video I mentioned earlier, and any other thing you'd feel would need a visual representation of ideas. Take a look at the various pieces of software and try out one of the open source ones. If anything you can keep using it or try to find a piece of proprietary software that fits more of your needs!

So for those out there who already use it, why is it that you use the software? For those who don't, have you ever had a chance to mind map a topic? If so, how much did it help you with said project or mapping out the idea? And for those who tried, what is your favorite Mind Mapping software?