As someone whose primary business role involves laying out ideas, planning creative content, and writing articles, I spend a ton of time making mind maps to organize my thoughts. Unfortunately, most mind mapping tools aren't flexible enough to handle multiple kinds of input. But a new Web app called SpiderScribe delivers enough flexibility to turn mind mapping into an online team sport.
Unlike your typical mind mapping app, SpiderScribe gives you the ability to embed a variety of links, notes, files, and other content into your mind map. Better still, it lets you brainstorm collaboratively with your coworkers by simultaneously editing shared multimedia mind maps.
Now two weeks old in beta, the SpiderScribe interface is basic, but it's more robust than the majority of online mind mapping apps I've tried. When you log in, you start at a simple map list. You can double-click any map in your list (which, like the documents list in Google Docs, lists maps that have been shared with you in addition to maps you've created) to open it. Or click Create New Map in the top-left corner to start something fresh.
In SpiderScribe's terminology, maps live on "boards." Give your new board a name and description (or don't, it doesn't matter) and you'll see a blank background flanked by the toolbar, Properties box, and Navigator. Unlike MindManager and XMind, SpiderScribe doesn't start you off with a central theme box of any kind. This leaves you open to select what kind of media you want to build your map around.
At the time of this writing, the toolbar consists of five options: Text, File, Image, Map, and Event. Drag any of those options to your map to get started. If you choose Text, you'll get a standard box to type in. The File option gives you a box with an upload file button in it. Click the button to browse for a file from your hard drive, and embed it into your map. Same goes for images.
To embed a Google map in your mind map, drag the Map icon onto your board and position it wherever you like. Then type in a location and it'll appear in the box.
The Event option works much like the map box. Drag it onto your board, then click the pencil button to choose a date. You can enter notes about the event in the Notes field. Unfortunately, you can't currently import events from your Google calendar, Outlook, or iCal. It would be awesome if you could, but alas, they're just not there yet.
Your Navigator box shows you where you are on the board. As you and your collaborators add new items near the edges of the board, the board automatically expands to leave room for more stuff. To navigate to another part of the board, just click on the area you want to see within the Navigator box.
In my limited testing of SpiderScribe, I'm more than a little impressed. It's by far the coolest free mind mapping tool I've played with, and it's barely two weeks old as a beta release. I'd really like to see support for imported calendar events in the near future, and a corresponding mobile app for Android and iOS would certainly help, but apart from those issues it's pretty hard to complain about a freebie with this many cool features. If you're half as fanatical about mind maps as I am, you need to check this one out.