Ygnius

  • Editors' rating
    7.3 Very good

Pros

  • Easy to learn to use
  • good output to other applications and HTML
  • flexible
  • one licence covers two computers.

Cons

  • This standalone product does not cater for collaborative working across a network.

Some people swear by mind mapping, a technique for visually representing concepts and ideas. Newcomers may find the concept a little difficult at first, but converts say they could never go back to note taking methods. Several products provide mind mapping tools for use on a computer, and Ygnius is a functional and flexible offering.

What is mind mapping?
First, some history and a definition. Mind mapping is relatively young, having been defined by one Tony Buzan in the mid 1970s. It was originally intended for use by students, primarily as a method for assisting in memorising information, but has proved useful in other areas too -- including business, where its outstanding characteristics lie in information organisation and structuring. Mind mapping essentially relies on the fact that thoughts, ideas and information are best organised spatially rather than as lists, and are best remembered using images, colour-coding and other visual cues. Mind maps are typically formed from a mix of text and pictures, with connections between information items made with lines, arrows and other devices. Mind maps can be intensely personal in their construction, thereby aiding memory. Mind maps allow links to be made between ideas in ways that linear note taking can't easily facilitate, allowing you to collate thoughts from different angles, which in turn encourages creative thinking. The trouble with drawing mind maps on paper is that the medium isn't as fluid as the maps themselves require. As thought processes and the relationships between ideas change, the maps often have to change too. As the number of ideas on any one map grows, the map can become cluttered and difficult to read. If a single idea that was once peripheral takes a more central position, the focus of a mind map can shift. Inevitably, these factors can mean redrawing the maps, which is time consuming and somewhat defeats the object of having a mind map in the first place.

Ygnius features
Ygnius is a software-based mind mapping tool, designed for corporate use. Because it runs on a computer screen and allows for editing and reworking, it avoids many of the drawbacks of paper-based mind mapping. The process of creating a map is easy. A simple point and click method is used to add branches -- you literally click on an existing entry and start to type. When you press the Enter key your text is added as a sub-branch. Once on-screen, branches are moved around by drag and drop, and can be relocated to any level in the branching hierarchy. Their visual formatting automatically changes to fit in with the hierarchy level to which they have been moved. Mind maps can become very large, encompassing the entire universe of a company's area of work. Such maps, which may contain a significant number of branches, can be easily manipulated so that any one branch can be made the focus around which everything else revolves. This is great for zooming in on the detail of a small section of a map which might incorporate lots of processes, ideas or work areas, while allowing it to exist as part of a large overarching map. Because maps can often require reference to external resources, documents produced in other applications can be linked to branches. If a link is created, an icon indicates its presence, and you simply click the icon to launch the attachment in its native application. For short notes, there is a small text editor built into Ygnius. When a text note is added to a branch, an icon informs the user, and the text is automatically displayed when the branch is clicked. Each branch of a map can be assigned resources -- in a corporate context, these are most likely to be named individuals. Filters can be applied to provide a visual representation of the areas in which any one resource is used. Branches can also be categorised, which means that the logical structure of a map can be cut across in different ways. If maps need to be shared, it's possible to export them as images in a range of popular formats, and also to Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, HTML, XML and Microsoft Project. There are options to include notes and attachments for many of the non-image formats. In the case of exporting to Microsoft Project, Ygnius could prove useful in the planning stages of a project -- by a group as part of a brainstorming exercise, for example.

Ease of use
Newcomers to Ygnius may find that the concept of mind mapping takes some getting used to. However, the good news is that the Ygnius software is relatively easy to learn thanks to its intuitive design, the provision of plenty of example maps to play with, and a good interactive tutorial that teaches the essentials very well. There is a version of Ygnius called MindGenius for the Tablet PC, which makes sense given the hardware's portability and intuitive pen-based interface. As an added bonus, it's worth noting that each registration allows you to install the software on two computers, so those with a desktop and a notebook can run the software on both.

Service & support
As far as support is concerned, the Ygnius Web site provides FAQs, product updates, a knowledgebase and email support, but no phone support. You can also sign up for a free newsletter, and view a range of sample maps created by Ygnius users.

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