A colleague of mine, Baskar Jayaraman, told me about WikiMindmap. A flash-based site that allows you to search and explore the results in a mind map format.
For those of you unfamiliar to mindmaps – its a technique invented by Tony Buzan, basically allowing one to pictorially represent various characteristics of an idea, thought, thing, whatever. If you are wondering what’s in here that merits the word invention, since man has been known to represent things pictorially for a while now, you would not be alone. The invention is in how Tony simplifies representation of relationships between these abstract terms that is being drawn. Having a visual representation of relationships between characteristics reinforces the connections and is also available for recall. The brain having been freed from this short term recall need is free to think about other aspects. This in turn leads us to see a variety of patterns, acts as an aid to show up inconsistencies and highlights gaps in the thought process.
And of course Wiki or Wikipedia needs no introduction. Am not going to talk about how the community based content creation and validation part of this works. What interests me is the way the Wiki ability to link to content online leads to a information space that can be browsed along pathways that capture the reader’s attention. For the technically inclined every Wikipedia page can be seen as a branching point in a tree. There could be many outgoing branches from this point and branches end into other end points and these have their own branches and so on. But the fact that we are looking at such an information structure is not always apparent. Links to related and sub-topics are links within a page and its hard to grasp how each is interlinked.
Enter WikiMindmap. On searching for something the results appear like this..
The key is that each result element appears as a node that is tied to the central node that was your search term. Every result node that can lead to further results has a “refresh” type icon against it. Clicking on it makes the node the central node, as if you have issued an explicit search on it, with the results appearing as nodes against the new term. In the screenshot below I have clicked on mysticism node, very first node on the right set of nodes. And the results appear like this…
Keep doing this and you would see the neatness of this approach.
That said the novelty wears of quite quickly because of a few factors.
The first has to be the lack of a history feature, I need to know how I got to be where I am within the content set being browsed. Even traditional browsers do not do this well, showing me a linear list of URLs means nothing to me, it assumes that the URLs are explicit about the content they point to and so on. What would be good is to retain this mind map metaphor and show me history of my exploration. Which path did I choose? What options were available to me? What is the level of interest of the specific content that I am looking at now? How many more choose the same path as me? And so on…
And the next one is bigger, to be able to save these explorations as favorites, like a macro one records. From a simple utility perspective one can store this for later perusal. But this is just a start. If this information trail can be shared publicly then the magic begins. Lets look at some imaginary pathways i)Introduction to metaphysics ii) Advanced Datastructures iii) Corporate Finance or whatever catches ones fancy. And what do we name this beast, how about Wikitour?! A place for information tours that could in turn be tagged, rated and commented upon by the community.
I think we have a good one here, anyone interested to pursue this? What do you think? All feedback is appreciated.