PersonalBrain 6, recently released by TheBrain Technologies, is perhaps the most significant upgrade ever to this unique visual mapping and knowledge management tool. It offers a wealth of new features that enable you to create and share brains (the developer’s name for PersonalBrain visual maps) more easily than ever before.
Also of great interest in PersonalBrain 6 is its tighter integration with the developer’s online map sharing service, WebBrain.com. In the past, to publish a brain to this online community, you had to first “zip” your file, then manually upload it. With version 6, the process has been simplified; all you have to do is use the “synchronize with WebBrain” command in the program’s file menu to send your map to this online repository. By default, all of the files you sync to WebBrain.com are private. This gives you the freedom to play around and get comfortable with these tools before sharing your maps with the world.
In addition to private, you can designate uploaded brain files as unlisted (only visible to people you specify) or public (accessible by anyone). In addition, You can configure Personal Brain 6 to automatically synchronize your maps to WebBrain.com – which makes it act like an online backup system for your brains. You can also use this capability to synchronize your brains between several computers, especially useful if you utilize Personal Brain at work and want to be able to access your maps from your home PC.
Signing up for an account at WebBrain.com was simple and straightforward. I created a brain to document the new features of PersonalBrain 6 and uploaded it, which is accomplished via a “synchronize with WebBrain” command in the file menu. My brain was quickly uploaded; when the process finished, a message popped up momentarily on screen, informing me that all of the thoughts in my brain synced successfully. Good attention to usability! When I looked at my WebBrain account, my brain was there, with a thumbnail image displayed side by side with some usage statistics. When I viewed it, it looked exactly like the desktop version, right down to the slowly rotating shape at the center of the “plex” (PersonalBrain’s name for the program’s workspace).
Later that day, from a different PC, I logged in to WebBrain.com, opened this brain and added several more topics to it. The interface of WebBrain is simple and straightforward. It does one thing and does it very well.WebBrain.com has also been enhanced to easily share your maps with others. You can e-mail or tweet links to your brains from within this browser-based application; it gives you the option of sharing an entire map or creating a link to a specific thought within a map. In addition, you can easily generate code to embed your brains within any web page, in much the same way that you can embed a YouTube video in your website.
Under the hood, Personal Brain 6 has a new database back end, which is faster and more reliable than previous versions, especially for large maps (more than 10,000 thoughts). According to the developer, Personal Brain 6 is twice as fast as version 5.5. This new “engine” will be most appreciated by businesses that are using PersonalBrain to create knowledge bases with tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of topics. In this new version, brains can now be unlimited in size.
User interface improvements
The tabbed area at the bottom of the screen – where you can view notes, attachments, tags and other topic embellishments – has been improved in PersonalBrain 6 to make better use of space and reduce visual clutter. The calendar has also been updated so you can view more events. In addition, the PersonalBrain calendar now syncs with Google Calendar. The enables you to “push” calendar items to your Google Calendar account and vice versa.
One of the truly unique new features of PersonalBrain 6 is something the developer calls “transparent mode,” which makes your brain translucent and enables you to access and use any applications that are running below it, while at the same time utilizing the full functionality of PersonalBrain. Clever? Undoubtedly. Useful? Yes. Unless you have a large flat screen that enables you to display programs side by side or are one of those rare people who only have one or two programs open at a time, windows are almost always stacked on top of each other. Transparent mode eliminates the need to toggle back and forth between PersonalBrain and your other applications.
Transparent mode can also help you to streamline your productivity when doing online research. You can be viewing information on a web page, and making notes about your findings in your brain. Once your map is in transparent mode, you can switch it to something called mini-mode, which displays only the active topic. If you click on the name of that topic, a search bar pops up and you can easily search for content within your brain, without having to open it up on your desktop. These are some innovative user interface developments, to be sure. I’m just not certain how often I would employ them in day-to-day use of the program.
Links to individual thoughts
With this release, the developers has added a new capability called “thought URLs” that enables you to reference a specific thought in your brain from anywhere. If you create a thought URL and place it on your desktop, for example, double-clicking on it launches PersonalBrain and takes you directly to that thought in your brain. No other developer of mind mapping software offers this capability.
To test this, I tried it with one of the topics in my PersonalBrain 6 features map. You make a topic active in the plex, then right-click on it and select the “copy thought URL” command. It generates one of the longest and ugliest URLs I’ve ever seen. But that doesn’t matter, because this capability worked flawlessly. The developer says this new feature also enables you to create links between brains; you simply place the thought URL for the map and topic to which you want to link in the notes area of the brain you’re currently working on.
I can see how this capability could be very useful to serious users of PersonalBrain. Why create a large brain containing a lot of data, only to have to open the program and drill down to your topic with multiple clicks – or be forced to conduct a keyword search for it and then sift through the results? This capability enables you to create a shortcut to that exact topic, so you can reach it in a single click (or a double-click from the Windows desktop).
PersonalBrain 6 continues to break new ground in power, flexibility and usability. In particular, thought URLs are a welcome addition, because they enable you to access a specific piece of knowledge within a visual map that may contain hundreds or thousands of topics. In large knowledge bases, that’s absolutely essential. I also really like the seamless integration of PersonalBrain and WebBrain.com, because it enables you to access your brains anywhere. Other features, such as transparent and mini-mode, may be useful to you or maybe not, depending upon your work style. Finally, in a world where social networking has quickly become the norm, the ability to share maps via tweets, e-mails and other online sharing services is much appreciated.
PersonalBrain 6 is a complimentary upgrade to registered PersonalBrain 5 users who purchased after February 1, 2010. New Upgrades are $119.95 for other users of PersonalBrain 5. A new license for Personal Brain 6 Pro is $249.95. For $50 more, you can purchase the Pro version plus a one-year WebBrain premium services package. Otherwise, after a 30-day free trial, continued use of the publishing and sharing features of WebBrain costs $6.25 per month.