Comparing Online Concept Mapping Tools

Having an office laptop with no admin privileges forced me to look beyond VUE for my concept mapping and representation needs. While the list of undifferentiated features are high, there are certain features that still makes you say yes to a specific tool despite compromises. My evaluation criteria is very personal, features like real time collaboration with multiple authors or sharing in social media, import from freemind, images are not so relevant for me, as my use is specific to one facilitation or representation usually.

Feature Creately Diagramly Lucidchart
Search (search across both node and link texts)Stencils or templates (for shapes and standards across map types)

Multiple links across nodes (not just one link between nodes)

No separate sign up (google/facebook/twitter connects)

Export to picture formats (png, jpg)

All morphologies

(unlike regular mindmapping softwares with one central node and branching out)

Sticky Nodes (connections retained when you move/format)

Yes Yes Yes
Rapid prototyping (with just clicks from nodes, without drag drops and separate linking) Yes Shape repeats and no choice on the new node shape Yes Shape repeats and no choice on the new node shape Yes Better than the other 2 with the prompt for the new node shape
Link form (linear, orthognol, free form) All forms Rounded orthogonal works for most instances No free form links All forms and I really like the curves in Lucid, as we can create the maps without links cris-crossing with them. Multi pivots possible
Google Docs Integration (saved as picture) No Yes Convenient No
Export to xml (formats vary by tool) Yes Yes No
Import from same tool xml Yes Yes Only visio with limited guarantees for proI did not try this here
Save map as model/template(model maps are useful when concept maps are refined in stages or with many inputs) No No Yes

PS: I chose lucid finally and with a huge compromise on diagramly’s google docs integration.


For all of you trying to use perception…

For all of you trying to use perception mapping, please understand it is not an effort to construct reality from perceptions surfaced in a meeting. Nobody wants to live in a world created by just perceptions. But rather the effort is to make sense of what more than 1 person in a group had as a perception and how it affects the thinking of a group and really intervening only so much to change that. Reality changes perceptions, and sometimes rarely perceptions do change reality, but you don’t necessarily try that.
If there are collector point perceptions understand that it is group think, if there are contradictions understand the reality is itself contradictory, and understand that loops that are long are really imaginary if the group itself is not in any proximity. In any case there is value in the mapping and changing the picture or representation of reality that you always had.


Concept Map versus Mind Map

I had written about maps that I use earlier, in the below presentation I distinguish between Mind Maps and Concept Maps and lay out a simple method based on Crandall, Klein et al’s Working Minds. This activity can be done individually or in groups. The test for checking if you have succeeded in teaching the method would be the following
“without the concept map creator explaining are readers of the map able to get the crux of the domain in focus”
the next level
“after the creator explaining, does that lead to more connections internally on the domain in focus”


More Maps

After joining my current job, when I started "Knowledge Mapping" I have encountered and applied several other maps. I want to leave a record here of a few that I have been practicing.

Mind Map to Concept Map

Mind Map is basically a flowery diagram that helps you remember a "linear" hierarchy of concepts but without any cross linkages. Tony Buzan made this famous with case studies like "when I was a student, I had this hard course I had to take and when I started adopting mind maps for taking class notes it became so much more easier and recall just before exam was so good I became the university topper". This is great and there are so many tools available including the clunky but popular FreeMind

and tools like MindMeister available over the internet with a simple registration or as device apps.

As I said Mind Map is linear hierarchy that does not allow cross linkages, so to represent a domain that is complex you need support for all hierarchies and relationships, which is what concept map does. You can form meaningful propositions and make sense of a complex domain easily. My faith in concept map was reinforced specifically by 2 sources

1. Cognitive Task Analysis (CTA) work done by Gary Klein and others who have been propagating concept map as a standard way to represent knowledge domains

2. Ed Rogers CKO NASA who visited us last year, was doing the entire presentation from a single concept map and NASA also applies concept map internally a lot.

Nowadays all my presentations have at least one concept map (around 6-10 slides get represented in 1 concept map) , I use VUE in rapid prototyping mode to create the representations quickly

Here is a reproduction of a concept map (on concept map) from Working Minds

that is one of the greatest references for CTA.

Perception Map

Recently we did a conversation based training on Perception map. This is a powerful technique when it comes to dealing with perceptions on highly sensitive or people oriented issues within teams. It lets you define the core issue more clearly, as people problems gets cloudy when the number of perceptions gets beyond 3 (another limit of our pre-frontal cortex)

I am particularly interested how the teams actually do the mapping, after perceptions are collected and de-duped. In my opinion, you can enforce a lot of rules into this, or you can simply let it emerge by constraining the leads to step (one perception can only lead to one other perception not more). All sorts of collectors, loops and conflicts surface and it is fun to watch as this happens in groups. Making this step anonymous helps, with managers or other leaders excluded from the meeting.

Tree Map

When you look at a visual there are only 3 cues actually, 1. relative size of the object 2. the color of the object in relation to others and 3. the text that is there in the object. If it is a representation of some form of flow then you will have connectors, but tree map is not suited for those. Tree map is suited when you have a hierarchy of data elements and you want to drill down layer after layer in that data set. I use it for parsing our internal MIS reports and make sense and to decide where to put the focus effort.

I think I encountered tree map first in Many Eyes but started using the tree map application of UMD

Story Map

I got interested in story maps when our user centric design community

floated a session. The concept is as simple as a time line on a specific user action (I will call this The Spine) and you will have multiple user stories that is mapped against the spine. Key take away is not just that, you can actually classify based on user need and from this plan which story will be developed in a Sprint cycle.