Why I like my tool

It’s still beta and it’s not beautiful, it’s not for everybody’s taste and it’s not for every situation. It’s very difficult to explain why I am so enthusiastic about the tool which seems hardly different from many other mapping applications and which is not my invention.

It was not designed after some theory research. But it proved to be very useful, and we can “rationalize” (see Stephen Downes’ presentation at minute 27:55 / slide 13) quite interesting reasons for its power.

The two panes seem to cater to two different operating modes (visual overview in the left pane — verbal detail in the right), and the extreme immediacy of the juxtaposition minimizes the distance between these two modes.

It minimizes the abstraction that occurs on traditional concept maps when we “wrap” or “collapse” a concept into a term. To re-expand such an abstracted idea (to “unwrap” it), we need to start a dedicated goal-directed brain process (even if it is just half a second), and this hurts the “broad vigilant overview”. But if the detail text is always immediately present, we need not really leave the overview mode. So we can fully leverage the great human visual imaging capability, and the map’s affordance that we may offload parts of the precious working memory, the “visuo-spatial sketchpad”.

This is roughly the rationalization of the surprising power of the tool, but this power needs to be experienced, not just argued for with design consideration.

panes

I did not invent it, but incidentally found its great affordance in an abandoned version of the larger framework of DeepaMehta. I remixed a few thousand of its 50,000 lines of code with a few hundred lines of added functionality.

It seems not much different from other application. In particular, the “coordinated view” principle is long known from email clients, which offer a message list and the message preview simultaneously. And mapping applications are numerous, but I have not found any that reasonably work with non-hierarchical nodes and offer import of highlightable detail texts.

It’s not a universal information management tool, and it’s not for the final polishing of a presentation to be shown to others. (But once the ideas are in place, it is easy to redraw the picture into a pretty Cmap or PersonalBrain). The most typical application stage is the short phase between stuff collection and the outline. (But this is the crucial step that most academic writing guides just skip by stating “Then structure your content”.)

I won’t be disappointed that it’s not for everybody’s taste. Probably it is not even for all “visualizers” because Kosslyn showed that spatial visualisers are much different than object visualizers (with verbalizers being in between). And maybe it needs a bit of some synaesthetical “disorder” (like people who smell colors) to “see” conceptual proximity like spatial proximity.

So I am prepared for any honest critique.

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