IdeaTree is a new visual, team-based tool for capturing and structuring information and knowledge. It enables you to collect images, files, web pages and other bits of information into a visual map; other users can then attach comments to the map or add to it. Each node in an IdeaTree map can contain text, links to web pages or links to documents, spreadsheets and other types of files.
IdeaTree workspaces are browser-based; there is no software to install. Anyone to whom you give a username and password can share the workspace. Users can comment on each others map nodes and can rearrange them, but cannot delete them.
IdeaTree’s developer calls it a valuable alternative to the disjointed collection of e-mails that typifies most workgroup communication today, replacing it with a shared visual workspace where the group’s collective knowledge is represented and refined visually. The result is a higher level of shared thinking.
I created an account and played around with IdeaTree for a bit. It has some intriguing functionality, but I think it may have a few usability issues. For example, if you create an "internet node" (a web page link) and a document link (to an uploaded Word document, for example), there is almost nothing to distinguish between the two. In fact, in the screenshot above, the top child topic ("2007 top blog posts") is a document node and the one below it ("2007: The year in review") is an "Internet node" (a web page link). The only visual difference is the shade of tan/brown background color of each node – not very intuitive.
Also, the process of creating new nodes is done entirely via dialog boxes. Compared to some of the new generation of web-based mind mapping tools that have emerged during the last year, where topic text can be entered directly in the workspace and new topics can be added via keyboard shortcuts, IdeaTree’s implementation makes it more time consuming to add topics to a map.
Finally, in a collaborative workspace, it would be nice to know who added each element to the map, and who last edited a node. This functionality isn’t available in IdeaTree yet, and won’t be easy to do if everyone on your team is logging in with the same username and password.
On balance, this is a version 1.0 service, with lots of room to grow and improve. The idea is quite compelling. It will be interesting to see how IdeaTree evolves in 2008!