Help me organize this concept map
October 31, 2011 6:57 AM   Subscribe

I have a fairly complicated concept map that I need some help laying out. Omnigraffle Pro's auto-layout isn't superb...please help me find alternative software or wrangle Omnigraffle a little better.

After tweaking Omnigraffle's settings and manually overriding as best I can, here's what I have. Still pretty messy, and I have a few nodes left to add. The map will eventually have to be published in a scientific journal, so I'd like to make it as straightforward as possible before it gets printed on a small page.

Is there a (free or paid) program that does a better job laying out complex concept maps? I don't want fancy graphics, but would like a better layout. I'm running Lion on a relatively old Core 2 Duo MacBook Pro, but have access to Windows if necessary. I looked at Visio, but it didn't seem that impressive.

Alternatively, are there books/articles/websites that have good information on how to diagram something this complex? I can make several, smaller diagrams if I have to, but I don't want to do that until I've exhausted my other options.

posted by griseus to Computers & Internet (8 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I don't typically deal with concept maps like this, but my colleagues who do talk about how great Microsoft Visio is.
posted by rancidchickn at 7:10 AM on October 31, 2011

Yeah, I'm afraid Visio's your best bet here. Don't know why MS hasn't gotten around to releasing an OSX version yet, because it seems like there's very little competition for it on the Mac side.
posted by McCoy Pauley at 7:41 AM on October 31, 2011

Make smaller maps or find a better way to organize your data. The problem isn't the tool; it's that you are trying to cram in way too much for that type of visualization.
posted by dame at 7:53 AM on October 31, 2011 [2 favorites]

Have you tried Mind Mapping software? Freemind, for example, might help you out here.
posted by Jacob G at 7:57 AM on October 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

Have you tried CmapTools made by the Institute for Human Machine Cognition? I've seen some pretty huge concept maps created with it. Great software, free for any use...
posted by machinecraig at 8:01 AM on October 31, 2011

You could try iThoughtsHD if you have an iPad/iPhone/iTouch. It has the sort of features that you want. It is also quite good at "communicating" with your desktop machine and various products on it. From what I understand, iThoughtsHD exports as OPML, so any product that supports that on the desktop can import your map. You can massage using your chosen product then send back to iThoughtsHD; repeat as necessary. You can checkout the website at The author welcomes suggestions for improvement, enhanced features and other products to interact with so you may get good support from him. The FAQ also discusses limitations and supported products (on the desktop). I would give this a close look.
I have the product and am quite impressed with it.
posted by PickeringPete at 8:30 AM on October 31, 2011

A bit of searching got me to Graphviz which looks like what you want.
posted by euphorb at 8:57 AM on October 31, 2011

Inspiration is my go-to mind mapping software. You can group clusters and move them around -- everything else moves out of the way. It has auto-arrange, but I find it easiest to move small clusters of concepts.
The website has a rather cheesy set of examples - in fact, it has the standard shapes that you use with most charts, you can size the canvas to any dimensions you want and print the output to a PDF or JPG. For an academic, probably the best deal is the household pack ($99), that allows you to install this on up to 3 computers.
The only downside is that it uses a proprietary format that is not compatible with Word. But as you can export into a couple of useful formats, this is not a big deal. I use this software for working with problem-solving groups -- when people see how flexible it is, they always ask me what the package is (and several of my subjects have bought a copy). They have a 30 day free trial offer for you to try it out.
posted by Susurration at 6:01 PM on October 31, 2011

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