Review: Mind-Mapping Software > Seavus Dropmind

Human beings use tools to solve problems. When a new type of problem comes up, either we search for an existing tool, or we create a new one. Ockham's Razor tells us that if more than one solution exists, the simplest one is correct. Once a correct solution is found, we humans tend to stop looking.

We inherited a partially-completed screenplay, adapted from a book I'd never read. (The others had.) In short, that meant we'd inherited parts of the minds of two people, the book's author, and the writer who had begun the screen adaptation. With far too many minds with which to cope, I went looking for a way to simplify the project, and this review explains why I stopped looking for solutions after I introduced myself to Seavus DropMind.

It works, and it works well.

As I'm not normally in the business of reviewing software, and I'm not what you would classify as a "power user", I offer this up as an example of how one person with a rather tricky job to do met a wonderfully simple solution to organizing and representing the minds of the author of the book and the first screenwriter and was able to get focused on my own contribution very quickly.

In the end, it comes down to the people at Seavus having a clear understanding how human beings want to see their thoughts, facts at hand and connections among them represented. Seavus seems to know how I think.

You can decide whether they know how you think for yourself.

Seavus DropMind comes in two flavours; one is a Personal Edition, which I used to sort out both the book and the partially-completed screenplay. The second flavour is a web-based collaborative interface, which we'll be using in this shop for the foreseeable future.

Here's a simple list of what Seavus DropMind Personal Edition delivered.
  • we have Mac, Windows & Linux boxes. DropMind runs on all platforms.
  • consistency: the same intuitively simple interface on all three flavours of OS
  • a wide variety of customizable widget containers to hold things; in our world, that involved locations, characters, objects, etc.
  • a similarly impressive array of customizable connectors to establish relationships among those things
  • boundary boxes, thank you Seavus. A very useful thing for our application here, boundary boxes can be used to depict the extent of an idea, either defining it's area of influence and even it's existence over time.
  • import and export functions for every component of Microsoft Office and for Microsoft Project; DropMind also imports FreeMind & MindMap files
  • export functions for all the above, plus PDF, HTML, RTF, & XML
  • a comprehensive set of interoperability tools for Google Docs
  • a very cool set of layouts, plus the ability to define your own: for the heavy left-brainers, there is a choice, a vertical or horizontal organizational model and for those of us who have to use both sides of our brains all the time, there is a four-sphere model that turns out to be highly stimulating when working with a book, because it enables an interplay between DropMind and the user such that the display becomes a creative-play tool, like a real sandbox. I ended up with a few fun models, one of which incorporated heaven & hell, another which I nicknamed "Earth, Wind, Fire & Water" both which I'm using to help define characters from the book. (It's a very cool feeling to be able to take a particularly loathesome character and banish them to the underworld.)
  • an outline window. Remember outliners? I don't know why or how they disappeared. Mine sits to the right of my 'sandbox' almost all the time.
  • truly flexible and robust support for images connected to thoughts. Visually, this is a dream for our work. At the moment we use it for attaching concept art to buildings, outdoor scenes and characters. One unexpected side-effect for us has been that as the story has come together, we've all begun casting suggestions. (It's hubris, because we don't get to make those decisions, but we're leaving the images in anyway as a way of possibly influencing the producers down the road. We live in hope.) I cannot overstate the usefulness of this feature to our project. The Gestalt of seeing a group of real people's pictures really pumps up the ability to write dialogue for that group.
  • flexibility in topic & sub-topic layouts; again, as a visualization tool, just as having the ability to focus on and resize an image at will with a simple click & drag is just indispensable to us at this stage, so it has become with the topic shapes and colours themselves.
  • multiple customizable callouts for each topic; a really useful thing when you have several people wishing to attach notes or ideas to a topic. The way we set this up, we use different callout background colours for different people connected with the script so I instinctively know whose mindless drivel I'm reading at the moment, including my own.
  • presentation mode. Hugely important because producers don't pay screenwriters to keep them in the dark. Once a week, they like to see what we've done & where we're headed, what we've changed from the aborted script effort from the previous writer, and we like the idea of justifying our own paycheques. With DropMind, we use the "Presentation' menu to take snapshots of the lowest level of detail, and step down to the lowest levels. Because we can reference that to the previous week's slideshow, we can demonstrate progress and lay the groundwork for a last-minute demand for a percentage of the gross if we like our own end product. (If it's straight-to-DVD/DivX, we'll be happy if the cheques don't bounce.) Here's the really cool kicker: DropMind offers the capability to generate an instant slide show which can be used as-is, or exported to PowerPoint.
  • "Boost creativity" That's an actual claim made by Seavus. It's my opinion the claim has merit. DropMind is a lot of fun to use, it most certainly allows you to treat your work as creative play. The design is friendly, just about everything is customizable, and what was once a daunting task seems to have become a welcome challenge.
In short, Seavus DropMind delivers for me on all fronts. It's pricing for the Personal Edition and its licensing for the web-based model make it a bargain from my standpoint.

Next Up? A 'first-look' review of the collaborative web version!