When I last reviewed Spinscape in June of 2008, it had just finished beta testing, and was very much a version 1.0 product – showing lots of promise, but also some rough edges. BossDev, the developer of Spinscape, recently released version 2.0 with a wealth of new and improved features in a polished, fast and intuitive user interface. It also includes some exciting new capabilities that push the envelope of what’s possible with mind mapping applications.
Here’s what’s notable in Spinscape 2.0:
New map management panel: When you first open Spinscape 2.0, you’re greeted with a robust map management panel, which enables you to create a new map based on several templates, view and access your recent maps, and even create a hierarchy of expandable/contractible folders to manage your maps. This is also where you can access any maps created by others that you have the rights to share.
The container metaphor: In Spinscape 2.0, each node in the map represents a container, in which you can place many types of assets. Carrying the container metaphor even further, each node has what the developer calls a “lid” – a set of tabs that appears below a topic when you click on it to make it the active node of the map. This nested set of dialog boxes contains tabs for notes, videos, links, file attachments, discussions or task information. The implementation of this multi-functional asset bar is very slick. You can enter your content directly in the lid, or in a status bar at the top of the workspace that also has a corresponding set of tabs. You can “pin” open this lid to keep it always visible; otherwise it disappears from view when you click somewhere else in the map. This helps to keep visual clutter to a minimum in your Spinscape 2.0 mind maps.
At the bottom of the lid is the word “dock” with arrows on either side of it. If you click on one of them, the currently open tab will “detach” from the topic and dock itself to that side of the workspace. At this point, it becomes a resizable window – nice! This comes in useful if you’re writing and want to keep the notes tabs of several key topics open to capture your random ideas. I love the concept of a detachable notes area. Very cool!
Good use of screen real estate: As you collapse branches of your map, the rest of the topics reposition themselves to minimize the amount of white space on the screen. This helps to ensure that you can see more of your map’s content within the workspace. Zooming is accomplished using a mouse scroll wheel or a two-fingered gesture on Mac laptops. Product manager Mark Salamango explained that Spinscape 2.0 was designed with gestures in mind because of the growing popularity of mobile computing devices like the soon-to-be-introduced Apple iPad. Tabbed palettes on either side of the workspace give you access to a wealth of options for customizing your maps, while also making very efficient use of space.
Improved plug-in system: Here’s where Spinscape 2.0 gets exciting. The first version of this web-based application introduced the world to the concept of auto-discovering information from the web and pulling it into your mind maps, but version 2.0 has taken this capability to the next level. It currently offers plug-ins for Google, Google Docs, Wikipedia, Amazon S3 and ESV Bible searches.
If you select the Wikipedia plug-in, type a keyword and click the search icon, Spinscape searches the online encyclopedia and displays a results summary in the plug-ins window. You have three ways you can add this content to your map, designated by a trio of icons at the bottom of the search results window: add to the current node, add to a new node, or add full content. If you select “add full content,” Spinscape uses the Wikipedia listing’s headings and sub-headings to parse the text into a series of subtopics. If you click on the notes tab in the lid of one of those subtopics, you’ll discover that Spinscape has inserted the full text of that section of the Wikipedia entry as a note. Very slick!
Another example: If you conduct a Google search, the results window displays links to narrow your search to the web, videos, images or blogs. Selecting the video link, the results window is repopulated with video results for your keyword. Next, you have the option of adding the video to a new node or to the current node. Regardless of which one you choose, the video becomes the node, and can be played in place within your Spinscape map. In addition, this “video node” has a lid – just like a normal topic – so you can add notes, tags, links and other meta data to it. Very cool! As you play with this application’s powerful search capabilities, you realize that this is what it means to leverage the full power of mind mapping as a research tool!
Salamango says his team has released a new API (application programming interface) for Spinscape 2.0 that will make it possible for developers to easily write plug-ins for it. You will be able to submit plug-ins to a centralized gallery, and will be able to designate them as public (anyone can use them) or private (only you can use them, or you may sell them). These plug-ins will be available from a plug-in gallery within the Spinscape interface. Salamango said he has even written a plugin to help developers build plugins faster and easier!
I noticed that Spinscape 2.0 didn’t seem to have any social media plug-ins, so I asked Salamango about that. He said his development team has a number of social media plug-ins under development that should be released shortly.
Flexible sharing options: Sharing was enabled in the first version of Spinscape, but it wasn’t very easy to use. The BossDev team solved that problem in version 2.0 by creating a simple sharing “wizard” that enables you to easily designate:
- What you want to share – an entire map, a section of it or individual nodes
- Who you want to share it with – individuals or groups in your Spinscape contacts – or send an e-mail message to people not in your list of contacts
- How you want to share it – read only, read/write
You can assign, change and remove these permissions at any time. To the best of my knowledge, Spinscape is the first mind mapping tool to ever take sharing down to the node level.
If a node is designated as not shared, it’s not visible to your collaborators. If a node is sharable, it is designated by a small square with an “S” in it in the upper right corner of each map node. If you aren’t sharing maps and want to reduce visual clutter in your Spinscape workspace, you can turn off these sharing indicators in the application’s settings menu.
Real-time collaboration: Spinscape 2.0 does a great job of enabling real-time collaboration; small tool tip pop-ups show you who has added content or edited nodes in the shared map; node-level locking ensures that two people can’t edit the same node at the same time. Collaboration is supported via a very elegantly implemented chat feature. The developers of Spinscape wisely made it look and feel like the chat function in Facebook, which means it will immediately be familiar and intuitive to many users. As you would expect, you can export your chat history into a note.
Tagging and filtering: Spinscape 2.0 enables you to tag the nodes of your mind map; this enables you to filter its contents based upon the tags you have defined. You can also drag and drop tags onto your contacts to create groups and set up sharing rights for them.
Farmland view: Sometimes a traditional mind map view is useful, but other times it’s not. That’s why Spinscape 2.0 includes a new “farmland view” – so called because it converts your map’s nodes into a patchwork quilt of rectangular shapes (see image at right; click on it for a larger version). When you mouse over a topic in this view, its color changes to yellow, along with all of its child topics. This shows you what’s related to the topic that you’re hovering over. It gets even better if you double-click on a topic. This zooms you one level deeper into your map’s contents, still in the farmland view. It’s a unique and potentially powerful way to do visual data mining, accoding to Salamango. He says that farmland view is the first of a number of alternative ways of visualizing your data that will be supported in Spinscape during the coming months.
Presentation mode: I love the way Spinscape 2.0’s new presentation mode has been implemented. It enables you to create and manipulate a series of screenshot “views” of your map. The views you’ve captured are displayed in a horizontal “filmstrip” at the top of the application’s workspace; you can drag and drop them to adjust their order. This gives you a very fine level of control over what gets shown in each “slide” of your presentation. When you play your presentation, Spinscape automatically animates the transitions between each state – very slick! What’s even cooler is you can combine Spinscape’s presentation mode with its powerful and flexible sharing capabilities to invite others to view your presentation. That person or people get to view your screen, sort of like a “GoToMeeting Light,” as Salamango describes it.
An iPhone version of Spinscape is now available: Along with the launch of the new version of the web application, the developer has also recently released an iPhone version of Spinscape, which works seamlessly with its big brother. However, it doesn’t inherit the web application’s visual interface. Because of the small screen, Spinscape for the iPhone utilizes an outline format to enable you to navigate through the levels of your mind map, while retaining the nested tab “lid” for viewing any attached assets.
This is only a partial listing of what’s new in Spinscape 2.0; there’s even more that I don’t have the room or the time to describe here. All I can say is get yourself an account and take this powerful mind mapping application for a “spin” (pun intended). I’m confident you will be impressed. The cost is US$9.99 per month, or $100 per year – a bargain, in my opinion.
Spinscape 2.0 illuminates the future of mind mapping. It not only enables you to easily find, organize and share a variety of content assets, but is also seamlessly connected with all of the rich resources that the web has to offer. This makes it an incredible research tool for just about any business professional, student or clergyperson. Spinscape 2.0 is powerful, easy to use and incredibly flexible. Plus, with a developer API, it will become even more useful in the months ahead, as the developer community begins to write and share new plug-ins for it.
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