Turning URL lists into mindmaps: MindManager 2021 update

Surprisingly, MindManager (MM) lacks a facility to easily import and map a list of URLs. These can be all sorts of things, for example, bookmark or favourite lists exported from web browsers, website page directories, product lists on commerce websites, publication reference links or pages of links you may have developed yourself.

A couple of years ago I developed and documented a workaround to do this which depended on a number of MM undocumented features. This was based in part on some of my earlier posts about extending MindManager’s Word import facility to include formatted task lists. Recently MindManager 21 was released, with a new approach to Word import/export which makes some of the techniques I described obsolete.

However, after a bit of research and a lot of trial and error I’ve been able to modify my workaround to work with the latest version. In this post I’ve updated and extensively revised my previous article to incorporate these and several other changes.

A warning – this process is a bit technical and there are a few steps involved. It requires the use of MS Excel and Word and draws on some undocumented aspects of MindManager which could be changed or deleted at any time. You will need a reasonable knowledge of Word and MindManager, and a basic understanding of Excel. Finally, there are variations in the processes I describe depending on whether you are using MM21 (or later), or earlier versions of MindManager.

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

MindManager and Word – it’s complicated

First, a little background. When MM imports a Word document it recognises a number of Word paragraph styles and uses them to structure the resulting map. Word’s heading styles are used to set the map hierarchy; for example, Level 1 headings are converted into main topics, level 2 headings into the next level of sub-topics, and so on. Paragraphs formatted with normal or body text are converted into topic notes.

This is fine, but MM doesn’t know what to do with many other Word styles, nor does it seem possible to to use Word styles to incorporate other topic information. Generally speaking, any material which is formatted with styles outside the basic Word heading hierarchy is either converted into topic notes, or ignored.

However, MM does have two interesting quirks in its relationship with Word, which the recent MM21 upgrade have affected but not removed entirely. Together, these provide a pathway to import a lot more information from a Word document:

  • First, MM can set up and use its own form of Word paragraph styles when it exports to Word (in fact, until MM21 that was the only option available in Word export). This style range is extensive and covers a number of topic properties as well as the topics themselves.
  • Second, MM also recognises much of this extensive list of styles if they are applied to a Word document and then imported into MindManager, and will use them to add the appropriate topic properties and map structure.

Approach

The first steps actually involve either importing the special MM styles or creating them in Word. Once the styles are incorporated in a Word document they can be used to control much of what MM does with them when a document is exported the other way from Word to MM.

This was comparatively easy to do with previous versions of MindManager as the default Word export set up special MM styles in Word based on the corresponding Word template styles. These styles all have the prefix “MM”, so we have for example “MM Topic 1″ and MM Topic 2” matching the corresponding Word styles “Heading 1” and “Heading 2”, and so on. 

In MM 21 you now have the option to export using Word templates and styles directly without creating these special styles. In most cases this is an obvious improvement over the previous export process, but is not suitable for our purposes as we actually want the MM styles. Fortunately there is still an export option which retains them. There is also a third option which I’m still experimenting with which is to create the MM styles in Word.

Please note that steps 1 and 2 below need to be done only once.

Step 1 – add MindManager styles to Word: This means there are now three alternatives for adding MM styles to Word, depending in part on which version of MindManager you are using:

Pre MM21: Create a dummy map in MM to export to Word with any styles you want to use later in the import process (bear in mind that you don’t need to worry about the styles making up the heading hierarchy). Include at least one hyperlink to ensure this style is ported over to Word; if you are importing a simple list of URLs this could be the only MM style you need. Simply save this map and export it to Word

MM21 or later: Again, you need to create a dummy map in MM to export to Word with the MM styles you want to be able to import, including a hyperlink. When you export to Word using the new custom export option, work through the export dialogue selecting all the content options (apart from those under Additional Content, which you don’t need). You don’t need to worry about content order or style, except for Template & Style. Here you must select Style based on Map Style. Then export the map to Word.

All versions: As an alternative it appears you can simply create MM styles by renaming the relevant default Word styles to match the MindManager style names. To a large extent these are the same as the corresponding Word styles with the addition of “MM” as a prefix. For the purposes of importing a list, Word’s Hyperlink style should be renamed “MM Hyperlink”. Please note that I haven’t fully tested this approach; in addition, setting up these styles in Word is not as straightforward as it could be, and I simply don’t have to the space to describe the process here.

Step 2 – create a special MindManager template in Word: If you have exported a dummy document from MM, open it and using the style list check that all the required MM styles – and in particular, MM Hyperlink – are visible. Then delete all text from the document and save this file as a Word template to use specifically for formatting documents to be sent to MM; the MM styles should now be visible in the template styles list. If you are writing your own styles in the MM format, save these styles in a file and save this as a template.

You are now ready to start work on the list itself.

Step 3 – set up the list for import in Excel: Go to the website or downloaded document with the list of URLs, highlight the list and copy it. In most cases the list will be a single column of URLs. Switch to Excel, create a new file and paste the list in the first column of a worksheet (you may have to do this in stages). Try to avoid copying anything that isn’t part of the list.

Step 4 – create a two column list: In the worksheet where you pasted the list you need to create an identical version in the second column; copy the list in the first column then paste it in the second so you have two matching 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:

If your table already is in two column format and looks like this you can skip Step 4, and paste the table in a new Word document before proceeding with the rest of Step 5.

Step 5 – format the URL table in Word: Start Word and create 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). After checking and eliminating any blank or unwanted rows, highlight the first column and apply either a standard Word heading style (for example, Heading 1) 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 those in the second column become the hyperlinks. 

Step 6 (optional) – incorporate headings: if the table has a heading structure (for example, a list of bookmarks which is organised into different sections) that you wish to retain you will have to go through it and manually apply a different style to the headings in the first column. In this case you might use MM Topic 2 for the URL topic titles and MM Topic 1 for the actual headings. Apply the lower level style for the topic titles as per step 5, then apply the higher level style individually to the headings. Remove any duplicate titles in the second column then apply the MM Hyperlink style to this column.

Step 7 – send the formatted URL table to MindManager: Open a map in MindManager and return to the document in Word. What you do next depends on which version of MM you are using:

Pre-MM21: Highlight the whole table in Word and click on the Send to MindManager button on the ribbon (this Word add-in should have been added during MM installation). 

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 may 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.

MM21 or later: Unfortunately the Send to MindManager Word add-in was eliminated in MM21. Instead you will have to use the Import Microsoft Word Document facility. If the URL table is the only part of a larger document that you wish to import, copy and paste it into a new document and import the table from there instead. This approach does offer one advantage – it does not seem to generate any extraneous topic notes.

Troubleshooting

Sometimes the imported map may display the URL table as an attachment to the first main topic without any other topics appearing, or it will display the URL topic titles but not the actual links.

If this occurs, check that the table columns have been correctly formatted in the Word document and that there aren’t any blank cells or unnecessary carriage returns. If you continue to have problems a last resort is to convert the table to text. When the dialogue box appears select Separate text with Paragraph Marks. Check that there no extraneous paragraph marks then import the document.

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 this (if you don’t want to remove the links one-by-one) but I find it easier to do this 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. Anything more complicated than a one or two-column list will require additional work in Steps 4 and 5.

The most common issue is where there is a brief description (sometimes with additional links) underneath or next to 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).

If you want to retain this material you will have to create a third column and move this material to this column in the same row as the corresponding title and URL. Format this column in the Normal style (or alternatively use the MM Notes style) and then follow the rest of the process outlined above (Edit: it is likely that you will have to follow the procedure described under troubleshooting of converting the table to text). The additional text should appear in the map as Topic Notes.

On the other hand, if you want to edit out this material the process is straightforward. First, paste the list in the first column in a spreadsheet as described in the beginning of Step 4, but instead of copying it to paste 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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