SCAPPLE: How to Make It Amazing

Love your software, and I think Scapple has a lot of potential to becoming the top brainstorming app. In fact, the way I found about it was by typing “freeform text editor” in Google. Little did I know that some smart guys have already solved this problem. :slight_smile:)

Here are the few desperately needed features that will make me a raving fan:

  1. PLEASE allow URL parsing: make hyperlinks blue and clickable as every other piece of software on the planet. I know you like things to be plain text, but this is essential.

  2. GROUPING notes. Freeform writing is fantastic initially, but once you have put most of your stuff down, you need to start making sense of it. There must be a way to quickly group notes. Stacking, unfortunately, needs improvement as it leads to unpredictable results. Say I want to reorder two notes. The moment I change the position of one note, it gets out of the stack, while the others move up with no way of just reordering them within the stack itself. I.e. There is no STACK-LEVEL REORDERING functionality. Furthermore, if I select a bunch of notes and stack them, they get ordered seemingly arbitrarily with no way for me to enforce a logical structure unless I select them one by one very carefully. Background shapes come with similar issues too.

  3. HIERARCHY & ON/OFF COLLAPSING. I understand you don’t want to create another mind-mapping app, but it is impossible for me not to ask for a way to create parent-child relationships. Again, at some point you have to structure your scribblings, and most of them will belong to categories or will have members. On top of that, a project can also easily get cluttered unless you have a way to temporarily hide some parts of the content. Collapsing already established groups on/off is thus painfully missing. A hierarchy would also significantly improve exporting and compatibility with other software, which leads me to:

  4. Export with at least some resemblance of a tree structure. If I simply jot everything down and export without any parent-child relationships between notes, I will have to go through exactly what I’m trying to avoid: slowly reordering notes in a traditional text editor, which has no freeform controls the way Scapple does. This defeats the whole purpose of freeform text editing, where you can quickly order things without worrying about page dimensions. In the User manual, you state that Scapple cannot order things logically, because it is not a human. This is EXACTLY why a Scapple user must have a way to structure notes within Scapple before exporting.

These features alone would make your app indispensable in my book. Thank you! :slight_smile:)

Hmm, none of my text editors do that… can’t say I’d want them too either. :slight_smile: I’m just giving you a hard time though. It does make sense, but I’m not sure if Apple’s URL detection works at the plain-text level. I see TextEdit kind of does, but it’s pretty flaky. My guess is, Keith tried it an it wasn’t a satisfactory mix with the built-in linking. Well, on that score, just select your URL and hit Cmd-L + Return. That will make a more reliable link code, not just an auto-detected overlay.

This is covered on pg. 30 of the user manual, 4.5.5. Basically, click the note you want to stack the item(s) under, then Cmd-click to select the rest, then hit the Stack command. This can be done to items in the same stack, re-ordering them.

Selection order, save for the first, doesn’t have anything to do with it. The algorithm uses radial distance from the initial item. So you pick what will be the head of the stack, then everything else at once. No need to do it one by one. You can use Shift-Marquee drag and such. Even selecting the head note and then hitting Cmd-A will work.

From there it is all distance from that note.

As for hierarchy, you’re asking for the whole architecture to change. There can be no hierarchy in a system that allows you create a ring of notes linked together. If you make it so you can’t do that, then you’re reducing one of the central premises of the software.

That said there is one thing that can kind of be used for hierarchy, background shapes. We do honour those relationships in OPML export and Scrivener drag-and-drop. It’s still not cut and dry though, since notes can overlap multiple shapes, allowing compound relationships. The export will suffer a loss of abstraction by having to choose one parent for the note.

I would argue that it in practice does.

On pg. 64 there is a list of the internal guidelines it uses to determine output order. If you use those to organise your work for export, doesn’t that solve the problem? Basically I hear you asking for a way to organise things so they export in a linear fashion, but following these guidelines you can do that visually, and more easily than in a text editor afterward.

What I’m thinking is, if you need this output, just duplicate the board so you can use a temporary copy to export from without messing up the original. Organise everything top-down left-right and use links to build output routes (you may even want to blow away all of the links first if they are more associative than linear).

That just seems to me a more intuitive and easy to use approach than any kind of management UI would give you, or some big outliner tree on the side that you had to manage in addition to the map. That stuff can be useful, don’t get me wrong, but it works better when there actually is an outline to follow in the first place. If you add an underlying outline to Scapple’s formula, you diminish a good chunk of why it was made in the first place—to have a tool that lets you freely get away from that kind of thinking. Naturally, it isn’t going to be gangbuster at something it’s intentionally trying to avoid and open up new thinking space beyond. :slight_smile:

Or, if you use Scrivener for writing, dropping your notes into the Binder leaves them as individual pieces that are easy to organise into a linear and outline-centric fashion. Since Scrivener lets you organises pieces of a document like an outliner, it seems a good place to do what you are referring to.

AmberV, thank you for taking the time to address these points. Much appreciated.

I tried the Cmd-L method, and it works, but I need plain text URL parsing to save me from having to manually do this every time I copy-paste a link from outside the program – I do this a lot.

Probably, I didn’t explain myself quite so well about stack ordering. It is highly dependent on the idea of GROUPING. What I’m envisioning is this:

  1. grouping a bunch of notes envelops the notes like an invisible background shape (similarly to the way Photoshop allows you to group elements)
  2. clicking any note in a stack moves the group together now
  3. once in a group, notes can be reordered between one another like in an outlining application or an Excel table (i.e. when you pull one note, it doesn’t break the stack, it just reorders it WITHIN the stack.
    4: If a hierarchy is impossible to implement, groups/stacks can be made to expand/collapse, which is VITAL for bigger projects.

This explains why the stacking doesn’t work very well. I don’t believe using radial distance to determine the importance of a note relative to another is always a reliable measure. In fact, without groups it messes everything up. Radial distance works when I have notes outlined one below another (because the lower it is, the higher the radial distance), but not when I have them all over the place.

Imagine you have a stack A in the middle of the page and another related stack B positioned higher on the page. Both stack A & B are already ordered, but should you decide to stack B under A, stack B would break and get messed up, because radially items placed lower in stack B were closer to stack A. In other words, higher stacks structure gets destroyed when stacked under lower stacks.

I agree with a lot of your points, and as I take your comments into account, I think I can distill my frustrations to ONE missing feature, and that is: GROUPING. See, even if there is no hierarchy, if we could at least group notes quickly as a unit, that would increase productivity immensely. I would no longer have to select already stacked items every time I want to move them; groups would simply move collectively, they could be expanded/collapsed, and most importantly radial-distance stacking would work as expected regardless of where a group is positioned on the page. Stack B is higher than stack A: no problem; stacking B under A will not destroy stack B’s order. Instead of background shapes, grouping I think would be far, far more valuable to the user, and just might solve most organizational problems without introducing nesting and traditional mind-mapping.

Please share your thoughts on grouping notes as units and consider radial distance in the context of the problem I presented. This is critical I think. Thank you.

Here is a video illustrating the problem of stacking based on radial distance and the lack of grouping functionality:

http://youtu.be/tkJrSVGfcec

Hope that helps! :slight_smile:

On the matter of grouping, I think Scapple’s selection tools address some of the things you are wishing for. The good stuff is in the Edit/Select/ sub-menu. You can already easily drag stacks around together, because all you have to do is select the top item and hit Opt-Cmd-A. Now it can be dragged around like a cohesive group. You can do the same thing at any point in the stack to effectively split it, just click at the note you wish to split off, and Opt-Cmd-A will only select downward from there.

Another consideration from that menu is Shift-Cmd-A, or “Connected Notes”. With that simple command, you can effectively treat any cluster of connected notes as a single entity for movement and focus purposes. This command is cumulative, you can select notes connected to those notes and on and on.

If you just want to select every single note connected to the current selection, all the way down the chain, then use the cluster option in this menu.

While not under the selection category, I also think Magnetic Background Shapes do part of what you are looking for as well. Just click anywhere in the shape to drag along all of the notes overlapping it. Overlap is assignment in Scapple. Consider that because of that, shapes do not necessarily have to go all the way around the notes. They can occupy a spot in the middle, or be shaped as a thin, tall handle along the left side of a bunch of attached notes, just to mention a few ideas.

I understand you are looking for a more fluid approach, but again this can be done by selecting the location you want to move the item to, then it, and hitting Cmd-'. The integrity of the entire stack is maintained when you do this. It was designed to work this way so you could move items around within a stack.

What you’re describing would probably be more direct, like OneNote lists, but we don’t exactly have the kind of resources to pull off really fancy stuff like that. At least not in a 1.0. These things take time.

Of course not, nothing is going to be always reliable in a freeform environment, when attempting to automatically generate order out of something completely lacking in it, from a logical standpoint.

When you have notes “all over the place”, how can an equation deduce what you intend from it? It can’t, so it falls back on things it can comprehend, like simple math.

That aside, I do take your point that if two stacks are merged, they should do so in a manner which keeps the originally stacked notes internally relative to one another. I’ll put that on the list, it shouldn’t be too hard to do that in my estimation, but it’s up to Keith to decide if it is viable and worth it.

I’m happy to hear that this will be taken into consideration. I’d be very grateful, if expand/collapse stacks can also be put on the table. Obviously, I have a lot more to learn about the software; some of the solutions you suggested didn’t even occur to me. That said, like most users, I look for quick-n-easy. I don’t want to have to go through repetitive & multi-step procedures in order to achieve very simple goals. E.g. When I click on a stack, I expect it to move as a stack, stack under stacks as a stack, get reordered as a stack. After all, traveling extra distance with the mouse & multiple keystrokes really hinders your productivity when you start using a program heavily.

Finally, one nuisance that emerged after doing a few projects with Scapple are OVERLAPPING notes. When you click around the board and make a number notes/edits, overlaps become commonplace, which requires me to reorder notes frequently. Stacking & aligning notes helps a lot, but I wouldn’t have to do this if I could prevent overlapping in the first place. Is there a way to turn note overlapping on/off like in some mind mapping apps?

@yesto:
Some of what you wrote evoked the question for me whether you’re maybe looking for a software like Tinderbox instead of Scapple?

Keith has already stated he has no intention of adding any kind of “hiding” to the design. This concept is so strong that there was even debate over whether to include background shapes in the design at all, since it might lead to more people asking for hiding and true grouping. :slight_smile: It intentionally forces you to face the bulk of your ideas. You can fade items to reduce their visual impact and focus on other elements, but fading doesn’t remove them from the map, it doesn’t disturb the existing layout of everything else around it. Everything always stays put.

I’m not sure what to say in regards to select and move being too difficult to use repeatedly, as this strikes me as there being too much left to preference and variation in efficiency per usage type to have a clear answer of superiority to either method. There are pros and cons to either method.

The selection model allows a fluid approach to your data, with no constraints. A few convenience tools on top, like the select menu stuff, is just there to make it nicer. It respects that while thinking, things are going to shift all of the time, and thus pulling apart compounds by their parts is simple and direct. No unlocking group objects or fiddling with draggers and a hierarchy of modified click controls—just select the pieces you want from five different compound objects and drag them out into their own space together.

No form of auto-layout is planned for this software. Again it comes down to the principle mentioned above: the software is for spatial thought capture, so functions that hide things or move things around automatically as you type, have no business in its model. If your mental map of the thought is being built and is in part informed by the position of the elements within it, the software should not move items around behind your back. Those systems are better for the modelling of data. When you are building a model, you don’t so much care about the placement of each node, only that you get everything “hooked up” right with 15 different line styles and all that. So auto-layout is great for that kind of task. Just because Scapple kind of looks like programs that let you model data doesn’t mean it was built for that purpose.

I was thinking similarly; what you’re describing sounds an awful lot like standard mind-mapping software. While they don’t necessarily support drag-and-drop compatibility with Scrivener, they can almost all export to OPML, which Scrivener can import.

There are a number of very impressive mind map apps out there, as well as browser-based ones, at various price points from “free” to “ouch!”. Since Scapple isn’t going to take up hierarchical relationships, collapsing of notes, etc., I’d suggest researching what’s out there and using one of them for your more intensive needs.

I AM using mind mapping apps, and that’s why I grew frustrated with them. The main problem with them is that they are frequently too rigid & restrictive. E.g. You can’t freely reposition items the way you can in Scapple and branches and boxes can get messy really quickly. Scapple is a breath of fresh air as it is exactly what I’m looking for when brainstorming: a freeform text editor. I only wish for some order. I think this is a natural progression once you have a few dozen notes spread around. Don’t you want to organize them in at least some basic way? :open_mouth:

That’s why I asked about Tinderbox. Tinderbox is not a mind-mapping software, but a kind of Scapple on steroids, with all kinds of automatic collection and ordering mechanisms for those who need it.

Yes, and I have. Last year I plotted a novel in five acts using Scapple. I don’t know how many notes there were at the end, but I imported about 60 of them into Scrivener.

I used colors, magnetic shapes, & stacks to organize, lines to connect, fading & strike-through to de-emphasize ideas I wasn’t ready to throw out. I appreciated the free-form nature of Scapple, and didn’t miss the hierarchy of mind mapping software. It was far simpler to just lay things out in a way the naturally implied relationships between one note and another than having to tell a computer program that THIS note is a “bigger” idea than THAT note. It’s very much like an infinite white-board, only my handwriting is legible.

Scapple is set apart from mind mapping applications partly because it lacks most of the features that make MM apps so rigid, and that’s why I find it so much more useful. I do understand that you just want a couple of ideas borrowed from those apps, but the sum of what everyone wants to add to Scapple = Mind Map App.

[quote=Last year I plotted a novel in five acts using Scapple. I don’t know how many notes there were at the end, but I imported about 60 of them into Scrivener.

I used colors, magnetic shapes, & stacks to organize, lines to connect, fading & strike-through to de-emphasize ideas I wasn’t ready to throw out. I appreciated the free-form nature of Scapple, and didn’t miss the hierarchy of mind mapping software. It was far simpler to just lay things out in a way the naturally implied relationships between one note and another than having to tell a computer program that THIS note is a “bigger” idea than THAT note. It’s very much like an infinite white-board, only my handwriting is legible.[/quote]
As the young folks say, Dude, you should totally do a web-animation (or whatever it is young folks call it when computer pictures move about on the screem) of this whole process. It would be, like, totally useful and stuff. Like Three-Card Monte with a better end-game.

Ha! I don’t really have the patience or motivation to produce one of them moving picture thingies. 8) But when I get a chance, I could upload a copy of the Scapple “template” that has areas for each of 5 acts, and maybe a copy of a work in progress which used that board.

Yes please. 8)

After a long absence, I revisited my WIP yesterday.
Now I remember why there was a long a absence… :confused:

Here you go, Nom:

The template has a star-field background and white text. You probably want to strip that out and change all the colors back to defaults. It includes my notes on the 5-act story structure in outline form, using the original article’s Romeo & Juliet examples, distilled to the basics.
5 Act Scapple story board.scap (744 KB)

Here’s a map/board that uses the same arrangement. I’ve added lots of detail around the edges, and shunted an older version of Acts 1 and 2 off to the left instead of deleting them. I never got around to act 4, but jumped to Act five to give myself a target to aim for. This story is well beyond my current writing abilities, as you can probably tell from the way I’m flailing around, but if I continue with this ‘world’, the story structure and characters will morph quite a lot. In fact, they have already before I abandoned the project to work on something that doesn’t twist my brain up so badly.
Scions of Sol, Book 1 Scapple.scap (111 KB)

Cool. 8)
My first thought was, “Wow! How big must his screen be?” :open_mouth:
As I explored some more I began to feel woefully inadequate; ashamed of my own ineptitude, disorganisation and lack of vision. :blush:

My problem is I look at something like the 5-act structure and freeze. However, I am mightily impressed by your Scapple boards (and I like the starry background). Part of what inspires me is the inclusion of plot ideas, brainstorming, character, POV, etc, in addition to the main plot points in the various Acts. Still intimidating, but I can see how I could adapt aspects in ways that won’t scare me too much.

Many thanks. :slight_smile:

I make frequent use of the “z” key for zooming out. Each of the Act rectangles fits nicely on my 13" screen (and is even better on my 20" external monitor). As for organization; that’s just how deal with complex problems: break the big problem down into manageable chunks and work on those, then assemble it into something bigger later. It’s how I work as a programmer.

But my organizational methods haven’t helped me write believable characters (yet), and my plots often fall apart about 30,000 words into any given story, so take what you see with a grain of salt; I’ve since changed or thrown out much of what you see, and that Scapple map is not the first iteration of my ideas for plot and character.

The thing that works for me (kind of/sort of) is to just brainstorm scene ideas with no cares as to where they should fit. Once I have 20 or thirty such scenes, I start sorting them into the appropriate boxes. Then I look at each box and see if there’s enough material for that act. If not, I focus my brainstorming on what is missing, and keep what fits best (or I throw it all out if a better set of ideas occurs to me). I move on to whatever part of the story which has me excited, and then later I move to the acts which give me the most trouble, having built much of the story structure on either side. Then I go over the whole thing, throwing out parts that no longer work, adding in new possible alternatives or sub-plots as they occur to me. It’s an iterative process. One that I should note has resulted in zero readable novels so far.

For me, the 5 act structure is helpful because it leaves less air between all of my chapters/scenes and plot structure. The 2nd of 3 acts being “rising action” is too vague for the mass of words that fit there. I need more scaffolding to hang my ideas from than that. And while each of the 5 acts of a story are not as clear to me as I want, it’s easier to focus on chunks that should be 20% (on average) of any given novel than an undifferentiated swath of chapters that might make up 80%. Other story structure ideas make my head swim with too many possibilities though, so I understand the feelings that this kind of thing can induce.