Mind Mapping the World-Wide Web, one page at a time

It’s been a little while since I last updated this blog. I was going to mark my return to regular posting by reviewing some of the new features in the latest MindManager 2020 release, but first I’ve decided to take a small detour to describe some practical things you can do with most Windows versions of MindManager. In doing so I’m drawing on responses I’ve written (on a voluntary basis) to questions on the MindManager Community forum.

In this post I’ll describe a process to turn a list of links on a web page into a MindManager map. These could be lists of links to other pages on the same website, links to products on a commerce website, links to entries in online documentation, or links to references available online.

Why bother doing this when you can simply just hyperlink the page containing the links in a mind map? There are quite a few practical uses, the most obvious of which is to create a framework as a basis to add your own notes and comments, for example if you are conducting online research. This technique can also be used to produce a more concise summary of lengthy webpages with multiple links, especially as you can often edit out the site’s own text descriptions. You can even – with a bit of work – copy and map search engine results.

Finally, you use this approach to take a snapshot of the links on a web page and preserve them at a particular point in time. This advantage does however point to one limitation of this approach; the maps you produce with it are not dynamic. If the web page contents change, you will have to repeat the process to get the latest version.

MindManager and Word – a little secret

Mapping a webpage is surprisingly tricky to do in MindManager. Simply pasting the list in a map results in the links being pasted as the topic names; this looks fairly ugly and is relatively useless as the links are no longer active. You can try going via Excel and using MM2020’s new Excel import facility but this doesn’t seem able to import live links either.

I have developed a workaround, based in part on some of my earlier posts about extending MindManager’s Word import facility. A warning – the process is a bit technical, uses some undocumented aspects of MindManager and requires the use of MS Excel and Word (with the Send to MindManager add-in, which should have installed when you installed MindManager). You will also need a reasonable knowledge of Word, and a basic understanding of Excel.

I’ll demonstrate the process with a very simple example – the list of recent posts on the right-hand side of this blog page, as shown left below – and describe how to turn it into the map on the right.

The first two steps actually involve going in reverse – importing MindManager’s own topic styles into a Word document and saving this in a template, a process you have to undertake before mapping the web page. You need to do this to utilise a little-understood quirk of how MindManager exports documents to Word. When a document is exported, MindManager actually sets up its own styles in Word based on the corresponding Word template styles, creating styles such as “MM Topic 1”. MM Topic 2″ and so on.

This approach can cause problems with exporting as the MM style formats are identical in appearance to but not integrated with the original Word styles, but it offers one great and largely undocumented advantage; once the styles are incorporated in a Word document they can be used to control (at least to some extent) what MM does with them when a document is exported the other way from Word to MM.

Approach

Step 1: I provided a detailed description on my blog of the process for importing MM’s topic styles in this post; scroll down to the heading “Using MM Word styles to improve the import process”. In summary, you need to set up a dummy map with all the MM topic and other styles you want, including at least one hyperlink to ensure this style is ported over to Word. Then save this map and export it to Word.

Step 2: In Word open this dummy document and using the style list check that all the MM styles – and in particular, MM Hyperlink – are visible. Then save this file as a Word template; the MM styles should now be visible in the template styles list.

Step 3: Go to the website page with the list, highlight it and copy it (you may have to do this in stages). Try to avoid copying anything that isn’t part of the list.

Step 4: Open up Excel and in a blank worksheet paste the list in the first column and again in the second column so you have two identical columns side-by-side (you don’t need to add column headers). Highlight the first column only, right click and from the context menu click on Remove Hyperlinks. Then copy the two-column table, which should look like this:

Step 5: Start Word and, in a new document based on the template you saved in Step 1, paste the table you created in Excel (again, you don’t need to add column headers). Highlight the first column and apply either a standard Word heading style or a MindManager topic style such as the MM Topic 1 style to all the cells in this column. Then highlight the second column and apply the MM Hyperlink style to all the cells in this column. This is critical as it ensures that the first column entries become mind map topics, and the second column become the hyperlinks. Save this document.

Step 6: Open a map in MindManager and return to Word. Highlight the whole table in Word and click on the Send to MindManager button on the ribbon. A map something like the following should be created on the blank map in MM (though you have to rename the central topic manually). However, as well as the functioning hyperlinks, each topic will have a note also incorporating the hyperlink (except sometimes one or more topics will only have the hyperlink). I haven’t been able to work out how to avoid pasting the topic notes in the map, but you can simply delete them, then format the map and save it for further work.

Variations

Using Word only: In theory you can accomplish Step 4 entirely in Word without using Excel. However, when you paste a list direct from a web page in Word it tends to want to apply all sorts of formatting which you then need to remove. In addition, Word lacks Excel’s ability to remove hyperlinks en masse from a group of cells with a single command; you could write a Word macro to do but I find it easier just to start the process in Excel. And if anyone wants to ask, as far as I can tell the process can’t be completed just using Excel as there is no way to apply MindManager’s topic Word styles in a spreadsheet.

Complex lists: This method works best with simple lists of hyperlinks on websites. It can be modified easily to work with two-column lists where the name is in the first column and the link in the second, but anything more complicated will require additional work in Excel in Step 4.

The most common “complication” is where there is a brief description (sometimes with additional links) underneath each entry in the list on the web page. After copying the list from the website and pasting it in Excel these descriptions usually take the form of one or more extra rows (usually one row per paragraph). You will need to edit out this extraneous material, but fortunately this is fairly straightforward.

First, paste the list in the first column in a spreadsheet as described in the beginning of Step 4, but instead of pasting it immediately again in the second column, go down the list and delete the rows with the extraneous material. You will also need to delete any imported icons or images (right click on them to delete). When everything unnecessary has been removed, highlight the entries in the first column and paste them in the second. Then go back and delete the hyperlinks from the first column as described in Step 4 and proceed with the instructions from there.

Finally, and somewhat to my surprise, this method seems to work with tiled web pages, though you can end up with a lot of images to delete. Often the links and text from tiled pages will appear centred in the column when it is pasted in Excel, but this won’t affect the process.

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