Eric Blue recently placed a call to action on his blog, calling for the developers of mind mapping software to adopt a common file format. With the recent explosion of web-based mind mapping tools (MindMeister, Mindomo, etc.), Eric points out that mind mapping is being exposed to a much larger audience today than ever before. Because these web-based tools are free (for now), they have lowered the bar, making it possible for more people to play with them and learn about the power of software-produced mind maps.
The primary advantage of a common file format is that it would make it much easier for users to share their maps, no matter what program was used to create them.
But this idea faces a major hurdle. Getting the major developers of mind mapping software, who are competing with each other, to agree on a common file format is bound to be difficult. They would probably view this from a "What’s in it for me?" standpoint. If you have a user locked into a proprietary file format or system, it’s harder for them to switch. On the other hand, if you adopted a common file format, switching costs would be dramatically lowered, and you could lose customers.
Is there a way around this hurdle? The answer would seem to be some sort of a common XML format that each mind mapping software program can reliably export to and import from. This would enable users to share files, while preserving most of the proprietary advantages of the major software vendors. Several developers, such as Mindjet, have already moved in this direction, because XML makes it easier to export map data to project management software, for example. What’s needed now is an agreed-upon XML definition that all vendors can support.
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