Hi all. I’m planning on some OU study in the near future, and as such am in the market for a note-taking tool. I’ve been using Scrivener for a few weeks now, and have found it to be a stellar app for drafting and writing, but I feel that for taking down information to encourage and reinforce the learning process, I’d need something a little more free-form. Having scanned the net for suitable solutions, one possibility I’ve noticed is Cmap, a free concept-mapping application.

I’ve messed about with it, created a couple of test cmaps, and early indications are it could well fit in with what I’m looking for, as long as I don’t get too bogged down tinkering with the look of the cmaps as I go. Off the bat, the only problem with I have with it is the name - it’s a bit too close to Crap for my liking, something I fear may have negative repercussions on my long-term use of the app…

Does anyone here have any experience with Cmap specifically, or concept mapping in general? I’ve searched the boards, and only Amber’s mentioned the app (and then only in passing), so it’s clearly not on most people’s radar, either as a good, bad, or in any way noteworthy piece of software, which suggests to me more that I’d be better off looking for another solution than that I’ve unearthed a well-kept secret worth sharing.


Hi md,

I’ve noodled around with Cmap. And it’s decent, but I much prefer a similar app
called Incubator available at

On the other end of the scale are Novamind from
and Mindmanager from I prefer Novamind, but
both are good. Novamind is in the midst of a major upgrade, which so far has
been first class.

So for me in terms of speed and simplicity, it’s Incubator. For a more robust tool,
it’s Novamind.



Search this forum for references to DevonThink products. All of them, including the lightweight DevonNote, store files, e-mails, and URLs, for easy grouping and searching. For me, they provide excellent research support for drafting in Scrivener.

DEVONthink? Isn’t that kind of—using a cast iron tea pot to mix up cookie batter? I don’t see how it has anything to offer in the realm of free-form data arrangement. The only thing it offers over Scrivener, in my opinion, is massive scalability.

md, I never did get a chance to play with Cmap too much. I had other priorities, and Tinderbox already fills the void where Cmap sits to such a degree, that looking at it would simply have been for the sake of curiosity. I’m not sure if I would actually recommend Tinderbox to you, because it is expensive and somewhat arcane. One thing it does excel at is putting large quantities of information into a map-like arrangement. It doesn’t have a lot of aesthetic control over the map, which reduces the urge to “tinker” about, but it does have a good set of visual variables which can be used to indicate meaning. Things like shapes, border colours, stamps, gradients, and so on—all of which are programmable and dynamic (you can make it so a note gets a red border if it has more than 1,000 words within it (or whatever), meaning it should probably be split, to name a simple example). I know, that all sounds like things you can tinker with, but if you see the way it is laid out, it really isn’t that conducive to playing around with aesthetics for no purpose.

NovaMind always struck me as not being very scalable. It got really slow whenever I put a bunch of stuff into it. It was pretty though, and that can sometimes mean something to visual people when it comes to stimulating creativity and understanding how information fits together.

Curio is another application that is extremely free-form. Curio projects consist of “whiteboards” where you can put down bits of information like text boxes, illustrations, hyper-links, and so on. They are arranged in an outline format on the left side in an area like Scrivener’s Binder. It has brain-mapping features, the ability to draw on the whiteboard with a “pencil” and so on. Very good for people who think in a non-rigid, fluid way. It comes in a variety of pricing structures. If you are not a graphic artist or art director, you probably won’t need many of the pro features. Size isn’t something to worry about with the whiteboards, they expand as you add content, and Curio has a handy quickzoom feature that lets you leap from one side to another really fast.

You might also want to give NoteMind a look.

Cmap is the most highly respected free concept mapping tool that currently exists and is used internationally in business, schools and academia. The individuals who developed the program at the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition (IHMC) include Dr. Joseph Novak, professor emeritus at Cornell University and developer of concept mapping some 40 years ago. Dr. Novak, now in his 80’s, is still active in the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition (IHMC). Bio at:

IHMC holds a biannual international conference on concept mapping which I had the good fortune to attend last September in Costa Rica. Worth every penny.

I have been involved in using cmapping in my college courses for several years now. My students all use CMap as we are fortunate to have been able to download the cmap server on campus.

Let me add…concept mapping and mind mapping are NOT the same thing. NovaMind and MindManger are mind mapping tools…NOT concept mapping tools. While the products look similar, there is a significant difference in the theory behind/execution of the two strategies. For a white paper on the theory behind cmapping, please see:

Thanks Tim, druid, Amber for your helpful replies - you’ve given me a number of different options to consider.

With regards to Tinderbox, if I was going to get it I’d probably have done so by now, on the strength of the write-up it’s received in these forums - along with DEVONThink, it seems to be central to the average Scrivernati’s workflow. Tempting though it is, the cost of the software makes me blanch; I can’t really justify the outlay, certainly when there are other apps that I can make do with.

DEVONthink is another app I’ve heard mentioned a lot in the forums, and have also avoided. Amber, I think you’re right that it’s not quite what I’m after, but at the same time it could come in handy for a helluva lot - and I kinda like the idea of making biscuits in a teapot :slight_smile:

From looking at the Curio website, the analogy that best represents it in my mind is that of a substitute desktop, or perhaps a mini virtual-machine, with several apps tied in to it (e.g. mind mapper, outliner, notepad, sketcher). I’ve downloaded the demo and I’ll monkey about with it to get a better idea of what it’s about, where it’d fit in, etc.

Incubator. To quote another member on the forums talking about TaskPaper: “Got it. Using it. Love it.â€

Curio is like the ultimate corkboard, in my opinion… or a desktop as you put it. But like either the desk or the corkboard, you wouldn’t want to store large amounts of text data in/on it. That is what the filing cabinet is for, and there is really no good physical analogy for what concept mapping tools (thanks for the distinction on that) offer. Though I did once hear of someone who attempted to recreate a hypertext concept map using nothing but cards and string on a very large board in his basement. It ended up being perfectly useless, except in that it illustrated in an exemplary fashion, what some of the good things about the digital era are.

Meanwhile, I intend to keep my precious teapot far, far away from you! :slight_smile:

I use Curio for my notes, both for school & for creative writing. I don’t like to be tethered to one structural methodology for note-taking, simply because certain subjects require the hierarchical flow of concept-mapping or mind-mapping, whereas others don’t fit into a stratified system of concepts/thoughts. I just can’t buy into how some people seem to subscribe dogmatically to one method for note-taking or brainstorming. Too restrictive & self-defeating, it seems to me. (Plus, sometimes, when I get into mind-mapping something, I start pointing arrows at everything until everything is related to every other thing; but that’s just me being really stupid.)

With Curio, I can either go the mind-map route or whatever the hell I want. I’m also a very text-y person, not so visual at all (like Amber), but Curio works for me, despite the fact that my Curio notes probably look aesthetically despicable compared to others.

Hi md,

If you’re using a graphical organizer approach to study, I think you’re right to consider concept mapping rather than mind mapping. The free-form graph allows for deeper analysis than a tree hierarchy. The descriptions of why concepts are connected, a normal part of a concept map, are harder to do with a mind map (impossible with most mind mapping software). I love mind mapping for planning and getting my own thoughts and ideas down, but it’s not so good for learning.

I agree with lynchem – cmap is highly respected, well established, and almost a default tool in academia. The problem with cmap, for many people, is that it’s just gone “no longer free” for anyone outside the education field or the US government. It’s now sold by Ceryph and it’s called Insight.

I would hope that once you’re officially registered with the OU, you would be able to get the free academic license.

The master list of mind mapping &
information management software

Sorry I meant to mention an alternative. There’s a slew of web-based mappers now, and at least one,, handles concept mapping. It’s in public beta, is free, runs in a browser, and claims to have no plans to charge. It is ad supported but as I’ve only browsed around the examples I don’t know if the ads are intrusive.

The master list of mind mapping &
information-management software

Amber, my teapot is always there if you change your mind! :slight_smile:

Hi Caspar. I’ve spent a little time (very little!) with Curio, and it touches on my basic fear of anything that simulates freehand on a computer - it looks too much like the notes I might take on an A4 pad, if I was a talented designer (my freehand notes are ugly). Besides, I feel as though I’ve got apps for everything Curio does that I’d use - Omni for outlines; Scrivener for more traditional notes; Incubator for mind maps; even Stickies, for… well! I’m going to work with it over the next couple of days nonetheless - I feel I should give it its due, if only to better articulate why I’m setting it up for a body swerve.

Hi VicGee. Mind mapping for notes and concept mapping for a more in-depth analysis, as you suggest, seems like the path I’m heading down. I’ll give a shot (shame it only supports certain browsers) - there was a scenario earlier this very day when such a thing would’ve been handy. Guess I should spend more time on these forums!

Thanks again.

Vic. Thanks for that update on CMap.

I had the opportunity to dine with several of the IHMC on several occasions while attending the conference in Costa Rica last September. They were bemoaning the fact that they had tried to maintain their free version, but like every other organization, were really feeling the pinch as they were expending large amounts of staff time on updating the program on a regular basis. And one of the benefits of the program has been that they are very responsive to users’ comments and that they do update it frequently.

They mentioned at that time that there was a high likelihood of a fee being attached to for-profit users of cmap and/or its server in the “very near future.” I guess the future is now!

Thanks again.