Peter Abrahams of IT-Director.com recently posted an article, also commented upon by Chuck Frey, arguing that collaborative mind mapping software represents a fourth generation of evolution of mind mapping technology. I don't agree with this interpretation, and here's why.
The first generation, pen and paper (or whiteboard), is still the preferred medium for many occasions, so is not outdated or superseded by electronic versions.
The second generation is electronic implementation of mind maps with computer software. This is worthy of being regarded as a different generation, because it builds on the concepts of the first, but adds fundamental capabilities that did not exist in the first. Specifically, the ability to expand and collapse information allowed us to deal with ten, twenty or a hundred times more information than could be sensibly managed in a physical form. This meant that mind map visualisations could be used in previously inaccessible or impractical areas, and allowed mind maps to become serious knowledge management tools. All the other features of electronic mind mapping, such as attaching files and links, or real-time collaboration, do not change this basic premise. We could (and still do) collaborate in real time with first generation technology; you don't need the Internet for that. Agreed, you can now collaborate at a distance, but this is a convenience, not a fourth generation. I think that Peter's third and fourth generations of mind mapping software are enhancements to the second, and not new generations.
So what will the third generation look like? I hope it will be an "unbundling" of mind mapping technology, and an escape from the silos of information that dedicated "mind mapping" tools are creating. The feature sets of many mind mapping tools are overloaded with import and export capabilities, which itself tells a story. They expend just as much effort trying to integrate with "normal" technology as they do on exploiting the fundamental power of visualisation. You could say they have a stereotypical English persona: "Sorry, I'm a mind map. Sorry." I look forward to the day when electronic mind mapping stops apologising, ceases to be a parallel universe, and is just one of the choices we have to access and manage information in a variety of activities. Mind Mapping software clients are to mind mapping what e-mail clients are to everyday work; I don't want all my e-mails grouped together inside an e-mail application, I want them embedded in whatever project or piece of work they relate to, in whatever visual format that may take. I want to be able to have an e-mail conversation from within a mind map, without going through technological hoops trying to get two separate applications to liase with each other. I want to be able to click the "mind map view" tab in Google, Word or PowerPoint. While we have standalone mind mapping applications, this will not happen.
Mind mapping technology is the third generation, not more sophisticated mind mapping applications. I hope!