Why was the Google map search part so useful…
For those of us who use MindManager (MM) for research purposes, the sudden demise of the program’s Google map search part has left a serious gap. It was also one of MM’s more under-recognised features so it probably needs a little explanation.
The part was a modest but very useful tool for seeking out and storing relevant web-based material within a mindmap. With the map part, users could create and save simple Google searches which could be saved in the map and run at any time. The results generated, including live links, also appeared in the map; they were regenerated whenever the search was run, but could also be saved permanently.
This meant that users could research the Internet without leaving the program, knowing that they could have access both to stored historic search results as well as current ones. These results could also be exported Word, Excel or other programs; indeed the ability to do this represented one of the easiest (and legal) ways in which Google search results could be scraped and tabulated.
The Google map search part had some major limitations. Essentially it ran the default basic Google search, with the only variables available to the user being the search text and the number of results to be generated. There was however one fairly obscure way the searches could be tailored, which was through the Google search syntax.
Through adding terms to the search text you could for example select specific date ranges – provided you could manage the obscure Julian calendar system which Google requires to be used in simple searches. I devised a method to do this using Excel in a way which also facilitated multiple and updateable searches within the limits of Google’s search API which I outlined in a (now redundant) earlier post.
… and what happened to it?
The “deprecation” and replacement of this search API caused MM’s Google search part to cease working abruptly around two months ago (making my post on its use redundant in the process), though Mindjet was slow to admit this.
It also appears that the company should have been aware that the API was going to be deprecated by Google well before the event. Mindjet has not conceded this but it has announced that it plans to completely rewrite the map part to comply with the new API. To the dismay of many users however the new version won’t make the upcoming MindManager 2017 upgrade and probably won’t be available for at least another year.
Since the map part won’t be returning any time soon I thought I’d look at possible workarounds for web searching from within MindManager. While I’ve discovered some useful techniques, none approaches the simplicity of the defunct map part in integrating searching and the saving of search results. This means that the process now has to be split into two key steps:
- setting up and saving searches.
- running the searches and saving the results.
Despite the obvious limitations some of these techniques which are described below do provide some worthwhile search functionality within MM. In addition I will look at some alternatives to storing and using multiple searches which don’t necessarily involve MM.
1. Creating and saving searches
As Bob Levy pointed out in the thread about the map search part, it is still possible to add a Google search to a MM mindmap as a topic link. Clicking on a search link saved this way displays the search results either in the MM browser or your computer’s default browser, depending on what option you have selected previously in MM.
There are a few approaches for doing this, all of which involve creating the search in Google then adding it to the relevant topic in MM.
Option 1: create basic searches in Google and save them in MindManager as links on topics
First, use Google’s basic search page to create your search. Highlight the search URL, copy it and switch to MM. Click on or create the topic to which you want to add the link (you don’t necessarily have to use the term being searched in the topic name but for future reference it’s a good idea to do so).
With this topic highlighted, either click on Link in the Topic Elements tab of the Home ribbon or right click the topic and choose Add Link. When the dialogue box appears paste the URL you copied earlier into the Link to field.
It is possible to add more than one link to a single topic but generally speaking sticking to a “one topic one link” rule makes it easier to keep track of saved searches. One exception may be if the same thing is being searched for using different names, for example, searches for “West Highland Terriers” and “Westies” could be linked to the same topic.
You can also tailor searches by adding parameters from the drop-down menus at the top of the Google basic search results screen. To do this run the search first but don’t copy the initial URL. Then select the parameters you want before running the search again and then copy the URL.
These parameters allow a significant degree of search customisation. For example, if you click on the Search tools menu you can also select the search country and whether or not you want to do a “verbatim” search for the exact search terms. Perhaps more importantly you can set the time and date range relative to the time you are running the search (ie, the past hour, 24 hours, week, etc). This relativity will be maintained when the search is run in the future from the link in the MM mindmap.
Option 2: create advanced searches in Google with parameters
The second option is similar to the first, the only difference being that you start with Google’s advanced search page: https://www.google.com/advanced_search . This opens up even more opportunities to tailor the search and you need to run the search only once before copying its URL to MM. As with the basic search, if a relative date range is set in the last update field this will be maintained in searches on future dates.
There is one small disadvantage of this approach is that the resulting URL is considerably longer than the equivalent generated by using the basic search. This is presumably because a code is generated for each search parameter even if it is left empty.
Option 3: create either basic or advanced searches in Google and store them in MindManager notes
In theory MM topic notes also offer the potential to store one or more copied Google search links generated by either a basic or advanced search. Unfortunately copying and pasting a link URL directly into the topic notes does not make the URL live automatically, unlike Word where simply hitting return or adding a space at the end of a link achieves this.
Several steps are involved if you want the search link URL to appear and also to be a live link. First the URL (or some text representing the URL) has to be added to the topic note, highlighted and then the link icon pressed. When the Add link dialogue box appears the copied URL has to be pasted into the Link to field.
2. Running searches and saving the results
If you run a search within a mindmap created with any of the above methods you should end up with a webpage of relevant links displayed either in the MM built-in browser or your default browser. From there you can go to specific URLS that appear in the search results and process them within MM in the same way that you would deal with the links on any other web page.
If however you want to store the search results themselves either individually or collectively within the map there are a number of options.
Option 1: copy individual links as required from the browser and paste as individual topics, links or in topic notes
Copying individual links and pasting them into the map is the simplest option but there are some limitations. For example, if a link URL is pasted into the map as a topic it won’t be “live”. This is because MM topic text cannot contain live links; the URL has to be added using the Add link option.
Copying an individual link URL extracted from the search results and pasting it into the topic notes will however become “live” provided you copy the embedded text and not just the link URL. You need to click the URL and select Copy rather than Copy shortcut before switching to the relevant Topic Notes and pasting the link (if you select Copy shortcut you will get the complete URL field contents but these won’t be live when the text is pasted). Also if you copy and paste the link with some of the surrounding text it will be embedded and will therefore be live when pasted in the topic notes.
Option 2: highlight some or all the links and text on the search results page and copy and paste into topic notes as a basis for later research
You can also extend the process described in option one by copying several search results and URLs from the search page at the same time and pasting this material into topic notes.
The easiest way to do this is to go to the last link on the search page (or if you want a selection smaller than the full page the last link in the section you want). Highlight up to the first link URL on the page (or in the desired section). Doing it this way rather than starting at the top seems to avoid accidentally highlighting the entire page, including material you don’t want.
Copy the selection, switch back to MM and paste it into the topic notes. While the formatting won’t look the same as the original search results page and any images will be lost, the text including the embedded URLs should all appear and these URLs should be live links. If you need to copy more than just the results shown on the first page of search results, repeat the operation for the next and subsequent pages. The results may need some editing to remove extraneous lines of text.
Option 3: paste the search results into a Word document or Excel spreadsheet
One variation on option 2 is to paste the results into a linked or attached Word document instead of the topic notes. While this isn’t as convenient as pasting the results into the topic notes it has the advantage that Word has a much more comprehensive set of tools for editing the results text. For example you can easily select and delete the non-URL text or conversely extract the URLs to copy and paste them onto another Word document or back into the map as topic notes.
Similarly you can paste the selection into a spreadsheet in Excel which has similar tools for editing the results. These can be used for example to create a table just of the URLs. Obviously the search results can also be pasted into other programs. I may have a more detailed look at some of these methods in a future post.
Alternatives to using MindManager to save Google searches and search results
Even though the workarounds described above mean that MindManager is still a useful tool for online research, there is no denying that these techniques don’t approach the ease of use of the discontinued Google search map part.
For some users that may be reason enough to look for simpler alternatives for storing Google searches and/or search results which don’t rely on MM or which can be linked from a mindmap but run largely independently of MM. Some of these are discussed below.
Option 1: set up and save Google searches as favourites in a browser
The simplest alternative is often overlooked – just as with any other web page you can store a Google search for reuse as a favourite in your web browser. Simply set up the search and follow your browser’s instructions for saving the search page as a favourite.
Some browsers will also let you create folders to structure your saved favourites, so you could save all the searches for a specific topic in one place. Again, depending on the browser you use the location of these folders may be accessible as links from other programs including MM.
Option 2: use Google Alerts
Another simple alternative is to use Google Alerts as a basis for research. Each alert is essentially a basic Google search which is stored on the Google website; it then sends the user the search results on a regular basis. This has the advantage that you can receive the results anywhere and they are not tied to a particular computer, program or file.
The alerts which can be set up on this page are easily added to, modified or deleted and while customisation is somewhat more limited than in either a basic or advanced Google search, you can select source type, language and region as well as the alert frequency. You can set this frequency to be either immediately, once a day or once a week.
The alert results can be copied from the emails and stored using one of the options described earlier regarding the saving of standard Google search results. If you want to store the results in MM the emails can also be sent directly to the active map if you are using Outlook; there will be a live link to the source email and its contents will appear as a topic note, though unfortunately the URLs within the pasted material will not be live.
Option 3: set up and save searches in Word, Excel or third-party software
As with any other web page, the URL for a Google search can be copied and pasted directly into a Word or Excel document where it will form a live link. You could use this approach to manually construct a table of Google searches in either program – and like option 1 this can be done completely independently of MM, though these documents could be linked or added to a map.
Again consistent with the approaches described earlier the search results can be saved to the same or another document in Word, Excel or another program. If you have saved the search URLs as a table it is tempting to do likewise with the results URLs though this is difficult to do automatically, in part because Google frowns on attempts to scrape its search results. The results page can however be copied and edited in either program using the methods described earlier to form a table.
What can we do to get the search part back?
Although some aspects of these alternatives such as the ability to tailor searches offer some advantages none match the simplicity and ease of use of the Google search map part. Unfortunately as I previously noted the current plans are for the part to be returned in a future version which is probably a year away.
There may however be a small opportunity to change this. MindManager has just been purchased by Corel whose CEO Patrick Nichols has called for ideas on how to improve the product. I urge interested users to take up that offer by offering feedback on Nichol’s article and also on the Mindjet community forum about the importance and usefulness of the humble Google search map part and calling for it to be reinstated as soon as possible.