Created using our unique mix of professional information hunting & cartography skills and MindManager, the world leading information mapping software, our ground-breaking knowledge maps are an interactive, visualy structured, ‘discover within the bigger picture context’ index of…
- what ‘building blocks’ make up a given ‘knowledge space’.
- what knowledge resources about them exist in the public domain.
- the links to where those resources are online (ie. their URL), so map users can access them ‘there and then’ with a click of their mouse.
Our knowledge maps are made of 2 different sorts of components that together make sometyhing that is much greater than the sum of the individual parts…
- Hierarchical framework of interconnected branchs
- Embedded / attached knowledge elements
The framework of the knowledge map is made up of interconnected branches (of varying colours, shapes and sizes), which are arranged in a visually connected hierarchy around a central topic. There are different ‘types’ of branches within our knowledge maps (though the types are not all mutually exclusive)…
Central topic Contains the map title, publishing details and a central image.
Main framework branches
The next one or two levels of branches define the layout of the map, in 2 different ways…
- Physical layout – how the branches are physically arranged around the central topic. The classic mindmap structure is branches radiating in all directions from a central topic, however MindManager has many more options. As our knowledge maps are reference maps – i.e. the user ‘looks up’ the knowledge within them – our aim is to fill the width of the screen with visual knowledge, whilst minimising the amount of horizontal / vertical scrolling required by the user. Thus we usually use an ‘org-tree’ layout – the 1st level of main branches are arranged horizontally like an organisation chart, with all the sub-branches arranged in a vertical, hierarchical tree like structure below them.
- Logical layout – the logical arrangement of the seed branches with respect to the central topic. This needs to fit in with the ways we humans structure the world in our heads in order to break it down into manageable chunks so we can make sense of it. This arrangement could be alphabetical, geographical, chronological, or a combination (e.g. alphabetical within geographic areas & sub-areas).
Knowledge Seed branches
These are the main focus of the knowledge map, with each seed branch representing a particular building block in the real world e.g. geographic subdivisions, public bodies, elected representatives, communities etc. These are ‘visually rich’, with multiple embedded and attached knowledge elements, including core images like logos and geographic maps as well as links to online knowledge resources, and so are mini knowledge portals in their own right (see below).
These enable the grouping of related sub-branches, and can appear at more than one level in the map hierarchy.
Knowledge Resource Link branch
These sub-branches each have a single attached hyperlink to an external knowledge resource, with the branch title being that of the resource. They are grouped into related collections, such as ‘General Knowledge Resources’ or ‘Geographic Knowledge Resources’. Having a branch linking solely to one knowledge resource enables easier, more ‘thumb friendly’ browsing & discovery of them, which helps in more intensive activities like prolonged desktop research.
These are branches that tell the user more about the map and how to get the most out of it…
- Map Legend branch – Describes in detail each of the different types of branches – and the different knowledge elements embedded within or attached to them – that make up this particular map.
- Contributing Knowledgebases branch – Describes the various official / defnitive / plain old useful online, public domain knowledge resources that we have discovered and ‘tapped into’ to make this map, grouped into related collections, such as ‘General Knowledge Resources’ or ‘Geographic Knowledge Resources’ etc. Many are linked to directly within the knowledge seed or related knowledge resource links collection branches in the main map, whilst some cannot be linked to at the deep level of ‘individual building blocks’, but all are worthy of further exploration if you are interested in the subject area of the map.
- Floating branches – As the name suggests these are not visually connected to the framework branches. Because they are more visually prominent within the map, they are usually used to point the user in the right ‘direction’.
Each branch has a mix of elements embedded within, or attached to, it and/or has some other physical attribute that conveys core knowledge, or link to primary knowledge resources, about the ‘real world building block’ the branch represents. Created using functionality that is often unque to MindManger, these ‘knowledge elements’ take the form of…
This may convey knowledge about some aspect of the subject of the branch e.g. the outline shape indicates the nature of a geographic area’s borders with respect to the sea…
CIRCLE = all coastal borders (ie. ‘island(s)’)
HEXAGON = all land borders (ie. ‘land-locked’)
ROUNDED RECTANGLE = mixed coastal & Land borders
Fill Colour Sometimes the colour filling a branch conveys knowledge eg. a particular political party.
Such as logos, thumbnail location maps, flags, icons, people profile pictures etc., which provide a unique visual element that users can instantly ‘latch onto’ as they navigate their way around the map.
Thanks to MindManager’s unique ability to handle ‘rich’ text – the ability to variably format individual chatracters within a single text ‘string’ – we can pack several different pieces of ‘core knowledge’ – such as names & unique identifying codes (taken from official sources) – into the text of a single branch without it visually overwhelming the user.
Contains supplementary information with all the elements of a word processed page – variably formatted (‘rich’) text, tables and images.
Data Elements [Embedded] MindManager has 2 unique ways to add contextual ‘facts & figures’ (i.e. text and number fields) to individual branches so that they are visible to the user (though only one can be used on any given branch)…
Spreadsheet Table / Chart –A branch specific spreadsheet table (i.e. not referencing cells in a spreadsheet file stored elsewhere), which, if structured appropriately, can be toggled between ‘table’ and ‘chart’ view (though this view is ‘fixed’ when the map is exported to create the HTML version).
Multiple Single Data Fields – These are like single cells in a spreadsheet and the values can be used to format the branch using MindManager’s Smart Rules feature.
Index Marker Tags [Attached] – Arranged in groups and added to individual branches as appropriate, tags add contextual knowledge, enable map filtering and internal navigation.
Multiple Hyperlinks [Attached] – Another unique feature, multiple links to a range of official definitive / plain old useful knowledge resources attached to the seed branch – usually selected from the full range of general & geographic knowledge resource collections – help turn the map into a knowledge portal without adding to the visual clutter.
The origins of why we create the knowledge maps that we do lies in the technique of ‘mind mapping‘, popularised in the 1970’s & 80’s by British popular psychology author and broadcaster Tony Buzan, and the ‘mindmapping software’ that first appeared in the 1990’s to do it on desktop computers, of which MindManager (our software of choice) has always been the market leader, but has evolved to do so, so much more….
The technique of ‘Mindmapping‘ was originally pioneered by Tony Buzan in the 1970’s & 80’s (though the use of diagrams that visually ‘map’ information using branching and radial tree maps traces back centuries). It is a manual, graphical (ie. using coloured pens and paper) way of capturing, storing and working with your own knowledge and thoughts that works in harmony with the way your brain actually processes and stores it – that is in ‘branching’ chains of associated concepts (literally ‘chains of thought’).
In the creation of a ‘mind map’ knowledge is not captured ‘linearly’ in traditional lines, paragraphs and pages of text, but instead in discrete words and associated images, arranged around the central idea, connected together by radiating branch lines that show the hierarchical inter-relationships between them.
This forms a branching structure, radiating out from the centre, which is why they are also known as ‘tree diagrams‘. Text is minimal, a few words only that encapsulate the concept or idea, but this is supplemented by the use of different colours, pictures, shapes and symbols so that the mindmap engages the whole brain, both in creating it and reading it.
The power of the mindmapping process is that, because your brain can literally see your thoughts and the relationships between them in front it as a picture, it can’t help but think of other thoughts and connections, which once added to the map, spark yet more thoughts and so on in a positive feedback loop.
Thus a mind map is both a fundamental ingredient in the mental thought process, as well as a physical, tangible by-product of it.
The Power of a Mind to Map: Tony Buzan at TEDxSquareMile (Dec 18, 2012) [19:35]
How to Mind Map with Tony Buzan [4:59]
Given the popularity of the mindmapping technique (especially in the worlds of Education and Business), but the physical limitations placed on it through using a sheet of paper and pens, by the 1990’s it was only a matter of time before somebody wrote a software program to create mindmaps on a desktop personal computer (well there weren’t any other kinds of personal computer back then, right kids? ;-).
MindManager was one of the first (version 1 was released in 1994 under the name ‘MindMan’), but this was followed by a handful more by the 2000’s (including Tony’s own iMindMap, which was used to create the above map), and now there are dozens and dozens and it’s a very crowded ‘software space’ (though all are not created equal, as we will see in the next section).
What Software Adds To The MindMapping Process
MindMapping software overcomes some of the physical limitations of the traditional, analog process, but also adds fundamental abilities that were not conceived of in the original scope and design of mind mapping, which came from a pre-personal computing age…
And so, just like any other digital file, a digital mindmap can be stored and shared and archived and retrieved and re-worked on and everything else…
Digital maps can be endlessly amended, edited and rearranged within the software ‘on the hoof’ as they are being created. This is at best problematic on paper, if not completely impossible once the main structure of the map has been committed to. In other words digital maps can be changed “at the speed of thought”.
Unlike a sheet of paper, the canvas in mindmap software has no edge. Thus it is possible to literally follow and record a complete ‘chain of thought’ without the mental disruption of worrying about running out of space.
Likewise there is no limit to the number of levels of sub-branches that can be added to the map. Furthermore at any level in the hierarchy, the software allows you to collapse the sub-branches below so you can’t see them, and then expand them out again so you can. Thus it is possible to record effectively unlimited amounts of information down to the finest level of detail, but to hide the detail from view until required so that just the upper branches – which outline the ‘big picture’ about the central topic in question – can still be seen in one view.
There are additional ways that information can be embedded within, or attached to, the branches of a digital mindmap, over and above the ‘traditional’, immediately visible text and images, such as…
Notes attached to the branch (which can be at least an infinite amount of text and sometimes tables and images).
Hyperlinks ‘attached’ to a branch can take the viewer anywhere on the internet, or a file on the computer, when ‘clicked’.
Index Markers ‘attached’ to a branch can ‘tag’ it with contextual knowledge.
In todays ‘information-age society’ almost everything we do in terms of work is digital – creating, consuming and sharing a lot of information on a daily basis in order to do whatever is we want to do. Mindmapping software is an ideal digital tool to do all that in the one environment. From defining the problem / project, through brainstorming a solution (how the problem will be solved / deciding on the project content), to a plan of action to deliver it (who is doing what, by when, with the resources available), to a dashboard that is visually telling you if everything is going according to plan!
The key thing to note – and this is one of the ‘killer applications’ of mindmapping software that saves you time and makes business processes so much more efficient – is that the final map produced by the end of each stage, is re-purposed as the starting point of the next one.
As you can see ‘mindmapping’ software goes way beyond the manual, paper-based technique of ‘mindmapping’ as envisaged by Tony Buzan. It is a hugely versatile digital tool that enables users to do a lot of the everyday digital stuff they have to do anyway, but much quicker, easier and efficiently, allowing them to stay more in control of the whole information capturing, understanding and sharing process.
Anyway as ‘mindmapping software’ became popular, there was heated debate amongst mindmapping advocates as to whether or not mindmaps created by compter software were ‘real mindmaps’ according to the rules of Tony Buzan. However we have never been much vexed by this academic argument because, as cartographers, we could see the exciting possibilities that mindmapping software offered for the mapping of any sort of ‘knowledge space’. Not just abstract thoughts and ideas generated inside your brain, but also tangible things that exist in the real world (often in hierarchical relationships), and the knowledge resources about them that exist in the online public domain.
MindManager software has always been about more than just mindmapping on computer. It has always had a business focus (often describing itself as “the missing piece of Microsoft Office), lending itself to everyday tasks that individuals and teams in organisations need to do – brainstorming, project planning, task lists etc.
When we first started using MindManager over 20 years ago it was for those classic business mapping uses, and it soon became our ‘go to digital tool of first resort’ for working with any sort of information. However we were always struck by the similarities in the processes of mapping ‘business information’, and the traditional ‘geographic information’ mapping we had hitherto been involved with.
And so began our development of MindManager as an information cartography tool, capable of ‘visually capturing’ pretty much any ‘space’ of human interest and endeavour (be it physical, virtual, conceptual or whatever) in a single ‘map’ (ie. a visually structured document), or series of inter-linked maps. Not just the ‘things’ that occupy the space, and the spatial inter-relashionships between them, but also the man knowledge resources about each ‘thing’ that already existed about them in the public domain, and the links to those resources.
Even though many other ‘mind mapping’ tools have emerged into what is now a very crowded space over the years, both ‘standalone’ software or an ‘online service’, MindManger remains our main knowledge mapping tool. There are a couple of reasons for this. Firstly it has always grown as the wider technology has (eg. the integration with first Microsoft SharePoint and now Teams). Secondly – and this is the most important one – no other software has such a wide variety of ‘visual channels’ to attach / embed information in a map. Most of these features are unique to MindManager and it is these that we use to take our ‘information cartography’ to the next level. You can find out more about these on the Knowledge Mappers website, but here are the main ones…
Wide Variety of Map Layout Styles (even at individual branch level)
Not only does MindManager offer an unrivalled number of different map layouts – ‘traditional’ (radiating from the centre) mindmap, organisation chart, timeline etc. – the layout of individual branches & sub-branches can be separately styled, no matter where they are in the hierarchy.
Big Maps, With 1000's Of Branches & Even More Hyperlinks
MindManager maps can have 1000’s of branches without affecting the software ‘performance’. The biggest one we have created so far had 20,000+ branches. This has been enough for us to knowledge map the solar system, and all the countries of the world in a single map. Thus we can be fairly confident that we can map all the ‘things’ in a space before we start!
Variably Formatted ('Rich') Branch Text
By being able to variably format individual elements within the text of a single branch, we can create visual hierarchies for the different components. This means the text string can contain a greater amount of more diverse information, without visually overwhelming the viewer eg. including unique identifying codes (taken from official sources) as well as the name.
Multiple Hyperlinks On A Single Branch
MindManager has the unique ability to attach multiple hyperlinks to a single map branch. This means that…
1) maps need fewer branches so are less visually cluttered;
2) a single branch can become a mini knowledge portal in it’s own right;
3) links to core knowledge resources can remain with the branch when it’s re-used in other maps (whether or not it’s the key focus of that map).
4) a map with 1000’s of branches, can contain many more 1000’s of hyperlinks!
Embedded Single Data Cells ('Topic Properties')
Multiple data fields (akin to single cells in a spreadsheet) can be embedded within a branch and is another way of adding contextual facts & figures to the map. Also the field values can be used to visually format the individual branch eg. if the value is greater than a particular number then make the branch text / fill this colour, or this shape (this is equivelant to ‘thematic mapping’ in GIS)…
MindManager has the unique ability to export maps as HTML5 (.html) files. These retain all the content – and most of the interactivity – of the original eg. they can be interactively queried by filtering using index marker tags to hide / show / highlight the coresponding branches. And, just like any other html file, they can be…
1) viewed by anybody, in any modern internet browser (Chrome, Firefox, Safara etc.), on or offline (once downloaded), on any device;
2) shared by email or file sharing services (eg. DropBox);
3) published online as stand-alone web pages, such that they have their own URL (which can be shared), or even embedded within existing pages (and hosted somewhere else eg. the aforementioned URL).
This means that anybody can view the knowledge maps we create, they don’t need to have MindMaanger software (unless they want to amend or re-use the content).
Anyway as you can see MindManager software really does enable us to take knowledge mapping to the next level!
Where it began...
Once we seriously began using MindManager – the world’s best information mapping software – as a business mindmapping tool back in 2002 (see above), we soon realised we could also use it in a way that complemented our geographic information mapping work. We could…
Map geographic space in a different kind of way
By capturing geographic entities as branches in a MindManager ‘tree diagram’ map from definitive source spreadsheets, we created a visually structured, digital framework that, just like a ‘traditional’ geographic map, not only recorded the different entities that made up ‘the space’, but also the hierachical relationships between them.
Map knowledge resources about the entities that make up the space
By attaching (often multiple) hyperlinks to public domain knowledge resources about the entities to their branch in the map – be they official, definitive or just plain old useful – they become both more easily discoverable within the ‘bigger picture’ context of the whole map, and more easily accessible as they are only ever no more than a couple of mouse clicks away. So as well as being a visually structured index of knowledge resources about the ‘things’ in the ‘space’, our map was now also a portal to those resources.
Incorporate contextual knowledge
Using MindManager’s many unique ‘information cartography’ features (see above), some of the core information contained in the linked resources could be embedded within, or attached to, the map branches – such as images of ‘traditional’ geographic maps (eg. location maps) or basic geo-statistical data like size and population. The resulting ‘knowledge seed branches’ are mini knowledge portals in their own right, and can often negate the need to consult the linked resources for basic information.
A different kind of geographic world atlas
We decided to begin applying this new knowledge mapping technique to the fundamental building blocks of ‘geographic space’ – the countries of the world and the macro-geographic regions and sub-regions in which they sit. So we…
- Started with the data tables for the international standards that define these things – UN Geoscheme (macro-geographic regions) & ISO3166-1 (countries) – and imported the appropriate fields into mindmanager to create the basic framework.
- We then hunted down all the official / definitive / plain old useful knowledge resources about them we could find in the public domain online, and attached their URL’s as hyperlinks to the appropriate map branch.
- Finally we applied a bit of cartographic know-how.
And so (to cut a long research & development story short) we created our first countries of the world knowledge atlas map…
New and exciting though this new type of atlas was, we realised that our knowledge maps still shared important characteristics with ‘traditional’ geographic maps…
A map is it's own 'type of knowledge'
A map – the visually structured index of what things are where and how they inter-relate within the space – is a type of knowledge in it’s own right. It’s not a pure picture, and it’s not just words, rather it’s a carefully, and scientifically calculated, combination of the 2.
A map is a knowledge artefact
Geographic maps have 2 lives… The first is as a working document that shows ‘the space’ now. However the world moves on and spaces change, so the map then becomes a historical record of what the space looked like at a particular point in time. Traditional (ie. paper) geographic maps were physically archived in libraries, so they could be consulted by future generations. Online mapping services like Google Maps however are constantly being updated to always show the most current picture, and anyway aren’t a discrete artefact that can be stored but are assembled from databases on demand to the viewer. Because MindManger maps are a software file, they can be saved and archived.
A map as a 'basemap framework'
Most of us at some point have taken a geographic map and drawn our own information on top it to quickly communicate information to others – how to get to our house / the hotel etc. (though these days Google Maps will do that automatically for you to show you the driving route between 2 points). In such cases the geographic map is acting as a ‘basemap’ – a visual knowledge framework upon which additional, more specialised, content could be added that would be difficult to interpret if the basemap wasn’t there. Well we realised that our general knowledge atlas map could be used as a basemap to create all sorts of different knowledge maps about the countries of the world.
A different kind of calendar ('time atlas')
Intrigued, we applied the same technique to the humble calendar – the atlas for ‘time space’ – and, to cut a slightly shorter research & development story short – our calendar knowledge maps were born…
(These also crossed over to the ‘geographic space’ when we added links to the national days of every country of the world, as well as calendars for specific countries…)
In fact, map any 'knowledge space'
Thinking further we realised there’s plenty of ‘things’ in the world of human endeavour that are real, and important, and have hierarchical (and other) inter-relationship with other real, and important things – organisations from governments (national to local) and public bodies, to corporations to community groups, to informal networks, in fact networks, people and organisations of any type and the ‘spaces’, economic spaces. Such spaces can’t be mapped geographically, or even if they can, mapping them only geographically doesn’t add much to our practical knowledge about them. An ‘organisation map’ is an obvious example of such a non-geographic knowledge map.
In fact we soon realised that, using this new visual mapping technique , we could map pretty much capture any ‘space’ of human interest and endeavour – be it physical, virtual, conceptual or whatever – as a MindManager map…
Share them with everybody, even if they don't use MindManager
Anybody with access to MindManager software can use our knowledge maps as ‘ready made’ templates to amend, adapt & repurpose (in whole or in part) in their own projects, so they do not have to re-invent the knowledge wheel each time.
However thanks to MindManager’s unique HTML export capabilities, the HTML versions of our knowledge maps can be accessed by anybody using any modern browser, on any device, on or offline, without the need for any plugins ie. everybody!
Save everybody time & resources
In these days of information overload we also realised that our knowledge maps could help people – and the teams, organisations and communities of which they are part – more quickly and easily answer the basic questions about ‘the spaces’ that they spend a lot of their time & resources trying to find answers to…
- What are the important ‘things’ that make up this ‘space’ we are interested in?
- What is the ‘spatial’ / hierarchical relationship between them?
- What do we know about them?
- Where are those knowledge resources to be found?
- How do we access them
By discovering & accessing the knowledge they need more quickly (and with a lot less stress :-), they could spend their precious (and usually limited) time & resources actually utilisng it to do what they need to do, rather than scrolling through endless search results (assuming they knew what to look for in the first place of course).
Let's start a map store
And so we opened our digital download map store so that anybody can benefit from the ‘universdally useful’ knowledge maps of our world we create, and began offering our knowledge mapping services to map ‘spaces’ on behalf of clients as well as help them to do it for themselves…