This article will introduce you to three online mind map tools that are free to use and have solid functionality. A number of note taking tools were previously covered on Freewaregenius, and I’ve previously written about Bubbl.us, another mind map tool. This article will present three more tools: Text 2 Mind Map, Creately, and Lovely Charts, which can all help you brainstorm and diagram your thoughts.
[Editor's note: this post was written by Freewaregenius contributor Jason H. Check out his tech blog: 404techsupport.com].
Text 2 Mind Map is listed as a work in progress, but it’s very complete in what it does. While it’s not as advanced as the other sites on the list, it is the most simple to use. You just make an outline of the text that you want in the left pane. Use Tab to indent and Shift+Tab to outdent to make the order of your thoughts. You can easily edit the list while you’re working on it or after the chart has been made.
The toolbox on the right is also straight forward and you can move it around to if it’s in your way. You can make the screen go full size in order to accommodate your chart if it’s too big. By default the chart will move around whenever you update it or drag nodes around so that everything is mostly equidistant. You can turn this off by checking the ‘Freeze map’ and then drag everything how you want it to look. You can change the size and the color of the text from the Toolbox and you change the color of each node level by clicking on the node and then the small arrow that appears. You can also change that coloring from the Toolbox under the Colors section. You can also choose to have each branch a separate color instead of each level if you’d prefer it that way under Coloring Method. Finally, you can change the line color and width as well.
You can save the Mind Map for working on later by just manually copy/pasting the outline to a file for yourself and you can save the image by hitting the ‘Save map…’ button in the toolbox to render a .jpg version of it.
Lovely Charts allows you to make flowcharts, sitemaps, wireframes, organization charts, network diagrams and pretty much anything else by allowing you to import .jpg, .jpeg, .gif, or .png images as symbols. Lovely Charts has a Basic, free version and a Premium version at $29 Euros a year. You can see what the version differences are on their FAQ page and judge for yourself if it’s worth the upgrade. The Basic version allows you to create diagrams with the full symbol library and the ability to export as .jpg or .png files. The diagrams will have a Lovely Charts logo with the free version. The free version allows you to have one editable document that can be collaborated upon with others.
To get started with Lovely Charts, just create account and enter the verification code that’s e-mailed to you. You’ll have to have Adobe Flash installed for your browser, but you can quickly start creating diagrams for whatever purpose you need. Some cool features of Lovely Charts includes opacity control for each symbol and the ability to quickly select a different symbol in the same library group from the right-click menu. You can also control the line width and arrow end of any pointing lines and align the symbols to a grid.
Lovely Charts uses a different type of control to create symbols that I didn’t quite find intuitive although I believe if I got accustomed to it, you could very quickly create charts if you had a specific purpose in mind. You start off by dragging a symbol from the toolbar onto the grid. You then drag that object to where you want the next object to be and a copy will be made with an arrow pointing back to the original object. You can then right-click the new object to change it to a different symbol if needed. While an interesting method that seemed very smooth, I think I would prefer a more static system where I could just drag an object, drag a different object, and then drag an arrow from one to another.
Creately is the full-blown experience and the best tool out of this list. It is a data driven, online diagramming & design suite all in one sharp web application. With Creately, you have a package that is much more comparable to the full-blown commercial suites like Microsoft Visio. You can sign up for an account to get started immediately. Creately gives you a lot for free: unlimited public diagrams, 5 people collaborating on a diagram at most, the ability to publish/export, 10 megabytes of storage, and SSL protected connections. With the basic account, all exported documents are watermarked with the Creately logo. You can upgrade to the Creately Plus! account at a ‘pay what you want’ price. But back to the features you get with the basic account (free):
You can collaborate with people over flowcharts, mockups, network diagrams, presentations, sitemaps, and a lot more. You can easily create your charts using the drag and drop interface, resize shapes, and easily undo any mistakes you make along the way. In your collaborating, revisions will be made and your co-workers can leave comments on the revisions. As far as the visual display is concerned, you can style your charts or even make graphics out of the tools available at hand including gradients, style, text size and font, and the alignment of nodes.
You can export your diagrams as an image, a PDF file, an XML data file, or send through e-mail. Your diagrams can all be saved under your account for easy access from any Flash-enabled browser. Creately also uses tabs to allow you to work on multiple files easily at the same time.
See their demo video for a tour and a display of its awesome ability to intelligently work with network diagrams and other features: