Should the MindManager file format be the lingua franca of mindmapping?

Over on the Mindjet forum things are getting a bit heated about MindManager’s lack of facilities to import and export other mindmapping file formats. I have a record of criticising this too, but I think there are two sides to this story. Here is a slightly edited version of my response on the forum.

While I hesitate to re-enter this conversation which seems to be getting a bit “shouty”, but I can see both sides of this debate.

Mindjet obviously see their role as the leading mind mapping player as meaning that they don’t have to worry about playing nicely with their competitors. And like a lot of software companies (Apple, Microsoft, Google, etc) they would love to create a “walled garden” around their products which makes it difficult for users to mix and match formats, programs and cloud storage systems across platforms.

Now I have criticised Mindjet and others for adopting this approach as being very short sighted. It can also be argued that Mindjet’s dominance of mind mapping is not nearly as strong as it once was, but in their defence they still have the largest share of the mind mapping market, at least on the PC desktop.

The problem is that the rest of the market is so fragmented. This means that if Mindjet were to make MindManager more “open” they would have to decide which of their many competitors’ formats to provide import and export facilities for, and then keep these up to date as they and their competitors added or changed features. It is likely that Mindjet have considered the costs of doing this outweigh the benefits of attracting users from other mind mapping programs.

Also it’s not like Mindjet’s position on this is a new decision, a sudden downgrading foisted on unsuspecting users by Mindjet (yes they have form for that, but that is a subject for another time). I don’t know about the early versions of MindManager, but at least since version 8 import and export options have always been very limited.

People might not like Mindjet’s approach but they can’t claim it’s a surprise. And if you are planning to purchase a an expensive bit of new software with the intention of using it with a lot of files that you have created using another application, then it’s your responsibility to find out if the new program can open these files before you buy. Criticising Mindjet over this is a bit like berating Subaru because you’ve suddenly discovered that the sports wheels from your old Ford won’t fit the new Impresa you want to buy (or worse still, have already bought).

Like others I would like Mindjet to provide more import and export facilities, but we should have the same expectations of its competitors. At this stage they do seem to have it easier than Mindjet – it appears they only really need to cater for one file format. If they can import and export MindManager files, everyone seems satisfied.

It pains me to say this and will no doubt annoy a lot of people but it might be best to make the best out of this situation by turning the MindManager format into something a bit like the role that the MS Word, Excel and PowerPoint file formats have as the de facto established standard for office software. Even though Microsoft’s market share is declining, an acid test of any new third party word processor, spreadsheet program or office suite from a competitor is still whether it can accurately read and write Word, Excel and/or other MS Office formats.

Adopting MindManager as the equivalent standard format, a lingua franca for mind mapping files, would go a long way towards resolving compatibility issues. True, Mindjet might end up not having to get off their backsides to address the issue but life would also be simpler for their competitors as well. They would need to provide only one format for importing and exporting files to make mind maps truly portable.

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2 Responses to Should the MindManager file format be the lingua franca of mindmapping?

  1. Nigel Goult says:

    Hi Alex,

    An interesting and thought provoking read as always.

    Coming at this from a developers point of view I can see several reasons why Mindjet would “choose” NOT to introduce import/export capabilities for other mapping applications. The first reason is that they would immediately have to decide which, of the many, mind mapping applications they were going to cater for with the functionality. If they decided to go with the top 5 competitor products for example, (I’ll let you mull over who they might be), they immediately draw a line in the sand. There will be some users one side of the line and another group on the other side so already the decision will upset one of those groups.

    The second reason that this could be far too much effort for its perceived benefits is that once you have decided which products to support, you then need to decide to what extent that support will stretch. This will undoubtedly mean drawing a second line in the sand over what basic map elements will be translated between the products during a “port”. Again, some users will be happy, others sad.

    Putting aside the development time and money this exercise would cost it is already starting to look like something that requires far more effort than it may be worth. Keeping a level of parity between the 6 formats would be challenging and to be honest Mindjet have already experienced this with their own products with regards to the parity of map elements between Windows/Mac/iOS/Android.

    Anyway, lets continue this forward. Mindjet decide to integrate this support and develop the new Mindjet MindManager X15 version which launches with this new found capability. Great. Everything is fine until one of the 5 supported mapping vendors changes something that breaks the “port” routine and this is where the biggest headache lies IMO. Once you tie/integrate into systems that are outside of your control you effectively start a countdown on the development clock. Sooner or later something will change without a) your control and b) your knowledge. The first thing you will know is that a disgruntled user has posted a comment on your Facebook/Blog/Forum having a good moan and you are already on the back foot. Now you are obliged to provide a fix to maintain your functionality which results in another release cycle and the associated marketing communications that are required to go along with it.

    As you said Mindjet are the market leader and although they may have lost some ground in the last few years I don’t think anyone is really coming close to them yet in relation to the Windows OS and I would bet my bottom dollar that this is where the majority of their mapping sales are coming from. While it would be nice to be able to provide that kind of functionality my guess is that the headaches it would potentially bring are just not worth exposing themselves to. They are also the only mapping vendor with a documented, accessible API.

    The final thing I would say is that IF Mindjet were to look at a porting function would it not be better to allow an Import to Mindjet from another mapping vendors format but not an Export to another mapping vendors format? That would open up the option of switching to Mindjet from other vendors but restricting the switch from Mindjet. As you mentioned it would be great if every car we bought could be used with the accessories from the model(s) we owned before but that will never happen.

    The other side of this is that if Mindjet can do what I believe they wish to achieve which is to bring a full parity across devices for their map format and get their pricing and support right then I don’t think they would need to worry about other file formats at all.

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    • Alex says:

      Hi Nigel,

      Thanks for your response. As I said in my post it would be nice if Mindjet could have a much more open approach to importing and exporting other file formats but I’ve come to the conclusion (albeit somewhat reluctantly) that there isn’t much likelihood of that happening for the reasons you mention.

      I think for better or for worse other vendors should recognise this and adopt the MindManager format as the baseline standard for their own importing and exporting facilities. If they all did this consistently in effect each company would only need to offer MindManager as the only alternative file format to their own (though I do love the way the iThoughtsHD iPad mindmapping app offers numerous file conversion options).

      I also agree that achieving full parity for MindManager file formats across all platforms (and making the Mac version equivalent to the Windows one) is more important. And in terms of import and export features there are a couple of improvements I’d like to see in terms of exporting to non-mindmapping formats. The first would be the ability to export MindManager files as formatted to PowerPoint, the second would the restoration of the ability to send contacts from MindManager to Outlook and the third would be to be able to export to an OPML file.

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