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15 Effective Tools for Visual Knowledge Management

Submitted by on May 10, 2009 – 2:13 pm 85,364 views 59 Comments

Since I started my quest a few years ago searching for the ultimate knowledge management tool, I’ve discovered a number of interesting applications that help people efficiently organize information. There certainly is no shortage of solutions for this problem domain.  Many tools exist that offer the ability to discover, save, organize, search, and retrieve information.  However, I’ve noticed a trend in recent years, and some newer applications are focusing more on the visual representation and relationship of knowledge.  I believe this is in part due to the wider adoption of mind mapping (and concept mapping), and leveraging concepts and advances in the semantic web community.

Most traditional personal knowledge management (PKM) or personal information management (PIM) applications offer the same basic set of features:

* Storage of notes and documents
* Search functionality and keyword/tagging capability
* Outline view in a traditional hierarchy, or user-defined views
* Task management, calendar, and contact management (mainly PIM, not KM)

These are essential features, however don’t offer too much to the more visually-inclined knowledge junkies. For visual learners and information visualization fans, having a graphical representation of knowledge and seeing how things relate is a must have feature.  Luckily, in the past few years there has been a rise in the number of knowledge management applications that offer this capability.  The following is a list of interesting /unique / effective tools for knowledge management and information visualization (not listed in any particular order):

15. DeepaMehta

Link: http://www.deepamehta.de/
Platforms: Win, Mac, Linux
Cost: Free (Open Source)

DeepaMehta is a “networked semantic desktop” that replaces the traditional computer desktop. DeepaMehta rids the user from dealing with applications, files and directories. Instead, the DeepaMehta user arranges information of any kind and origin into supportive topic maps. Topics may be e.g. projects, emails, webpages, notes, articles, contacts, or meetings. Users define their own topic types. Old-fashioned applications, windows and files are no longer in the sight of the user, but the meaningful relationships between real world topics.

14. Tinderbox

Link: http://www.eastgate.com/Tinderbox/
Platforms: Mac
Cost: $179

Tinderbox stores and organizes your notes, plans, and ideas. It can help you analyze and understand them. And Tinderbox helps you share ideas through Web journals and web logs. Tinderbox maps your notes as you make them. Build relationships by arranging notes, organizing them with shape and color, linking them. Tinderbox lets you record ideas quickly and keep them where you’ll find them again when you need them.

13. Vue

Link: http://vue.tufts.edu/
Platforms: Win, Mac, Linux
Cost: Free (Open Source)

At its core, the Visual Understanding Environment (VUE) is a concept and content mapping application, developed to support teaching, learning and research and for anyone who needs to organize, contextualize, and access digital information. Using a simple set of tools and a basic visual grammar consisting of nodes and links, faculty and students can map relationships between concepts, ideas and digital content.

12. eyePlorer

Link: http://www.eyeplorer.com/eyePlorer/
Platforms: Web
Cost: Free

EyePlorer allows you to explore and process knowledge. Search engines help you find links and documents – they require you to follow these links and open the respective document in order to access information. eyePlorer.com, powered by vionto, provides immediate access to facts. It visualizes facts as well as relationships between facts. Furthermore, eyePlorer.com allows you to collect, process and publish interesting bits of information. eyePlorer.com is a visual knowledge workbench.

11. BeeDocs Timeline

Link: http://www.beedocs.com
Platforms: Mac
Cost: $65

Bee Docs Timeline is software for Mac OS X that makes it easy for you to present historical events in a way that reveals connections and clarifies relationships.

Make timeline charts of world history, family trees, fictional events or business deadlines. Timelines can help you understand and present history with new perspective!

See: http://eric-blue.com/2009/04/14/how-to-create-stunning-3d-timelines/

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  • This is a great article and fascinating blog. I ran into it after searching twitter for #mindmap and #mindmapping. I’m a mac user exploring MindMap and Personal Brain and hoping to glean more from other peoples’ experience. My Twitter name is @gardenwiseguy.

    My first love is Mindmapper.com, which I use at work while chained to a PC. I’m a landscape architect and writer. When I come home to the sanity of my Mac environment, I have to compromise the software, hence MindMap by ConceptDraw. Adequate but not as robust as Mindmapper.

    Nuff rambling. I’ll bookmark and find my way back.

  • ericblue76 says:

    Hi Billy,

    Welcome to my blog, and thanks for your comment! Also, thanks for sharing what applications you use. I’ve never checked out Mindmapper, but it looks interesting. And, I have used ConceptDraw and thought it was a decent product. I’m obviously partial to Mindjet’s MindManager, but it’s good to see other mind mapping products to compare.

  • Andrey Lipatkin says:

    Hello Eric,

    Nice review, thanks. I’ve tried some of this apps before, but found a couple of new names. Still in search of a ideal KMS…

  • ericblue76 says:

    Hi Andrey,

    Thanks for your comment. I’m still building and refining my KMS. Check out my Personal Memex project. The approach I’m taking know is turning the historical, single Knowledge Management System and turning it into a Knowledge Management Stack. The stack includes a number of applications (primarily open source), and a handful of them were featured on this post.

  • Great list! Just tweeted about it!

  • Hi Eric

    Very interesting post and great compilation of tools! As an educator you may also want to take a look at Inspiration for creating graphic organizers and concept maps.


  • ericblue76 says:


    Thanks for the Re-Tweeting! Twitter’s a great way to spread the word.


    Thanks for the pointer to Inspiration. I was aware of the name, but haven’t yet checked it out. I plan to do so in the near future.

  • stephen says:

    I guess this may miss two other good tools: FreeMind and XMind. :)

  • ericblue76 says:

    Hi Stephen,

    Thanks for your comment. I also just replied to your tweet:

    @stephenzhu Hi Stephen. I actually like (and use) FreeMind and XMind. In truth,I only had room for 1 mindmap app, and MindJet was my pick.

    Believe it or not, I use all 3 tools almost on a daily basis. I use MindManager 8 for corporate use and most of my research and learning projects. I use FreeMind (via my MindMapviewer project: http://eric-blue.com/projects/mindmapviewer/) for embedding mindmaps into my website and wiki. And, I just started trying out XMind on my Mac. In fact, I just recommended it to my development team as a great alternative to FreeMind. The Eclipse plugin is a killer feature!

  • Andrey Lipatkin says:


    I follow your blog for several month and do know about Memex project. ;) Actually I have a similar idea for a long time. The truth is that there is not single instrument I can be happy with. At the moment I use Evernote a lot. Wish it also have an alternative visualization support (conceptual map or at least mind map). As for the mind mapping tools I like XMind, but still prefer FreeMind as it has the best support for pasting HTML among all similar tools (and I tried many of them).

  • ericblue76 says:


    Glad to hear you’ve been following. I’ve also experience the “single application unhappiness”. This is what initially drove me to start meshing some open source projects together.

    I briefly tried Evernote and I was fairly impressed. I tend to gravitate towards web-based products, but I’m not fond of the concept of other people hosting/owning my data.

  • Andrey Lipatkin says:


    Evernote saves all information in local database and uses web to backup and synchronize between several clients you may have. Web interface seems to me like an auxiliary way to access your data in case of no desktop or mobile application available. It is hard to say what is more important: to have free reliable backup+synchronization or to keep everything securely. These objectives contradict generally each other and final choice will depend on what data you are going to store there.

  • [...] כותב בשיטוטים שלי על כלים טכנולוגיים. זהו יוצא מן הכלל. אני מפנה אתכם למאמר שסוקר 15 כלים שונים לויזואליזציה (visualization) של מידע. [...]

  • This is awesome.

    It’s always good to have tools listed in one place. I’ve bookmarked this site, and I’m working my way through the (free) applications as rapidly as I can.

  • KimberlyAnna says:

    Great post! As a consultant, I’ve used MindManager for years in brainstorming, project planning, and all kinds of model development sessions. My clients are always wow’d.

    One other tool you may want to add to your list is MindMeister.com. Very similar to MindManager, though not quite as robust. It was one of the first online and shareable mindmapping tools I had come across a year or so ago. It’s really nice to work jointly on a map with geographically dispersed teams in real time or asynchronously.

  • judibea says:

    Thanks—helpful blog, have to follow your links

  • Nerd Stalker says:

    I too swear by Mindjet Mindmanager, tried Personal Brain but can’t really get the knack of it. Evernote is nice but not really mindmapping app but could be used in conjuction with such an app. I too have heard good things about mindmeister.com and am giving it a go now.

  • Roger S says:

    I haven’t found a mind-mapping computer tool that I think is as effective as mind-mapping by hand. Consequently the tool I use most from your list is number 7, Cmaptools.

    But some that you include are entirely new to me and look quite intriguing, especially those shown on the first page. Thanks for putting all these apps in one place.

    Roger Sperberg

    PS: The most fabulous such tool I ever encountered is (was?) Ceryle but roadblocks prevented its moving into open beta or pre-release, not to mention release.

    PPS: Thanks to @davegray and @russeltarr, @paulawhite and @mcleod who pointed to this piece on Twitter; that’s how I got here.

  • ericblue76 says:

    KimberlyAnna & Nerd Stalker. Thanks for your comments! Yes, mindmeister is a very good web-based application. There are definitely a good selection of mind mapping products other there (including some others I mentioned in the comments).

    Roger, thanks for you comment. I need to give Cmaptools a more in depth trial. I used it for a little bit last year, but not too extensively. It’s one of the best concept map applications I’ve used.

    And, thanks for mentioning Ceryle(http://www.altheim.com/ceryle/)! I actually debated on whether or not to include it on the list, and was evening thinking about an honorable mention section. I email the author a couple years ago to get a hold of the beta copy, but never heard back. I really should try to ping again to see if there’s any likelihood of getting the project launched. It’s a very compelling looking project.

  • deutschprof1991 says:

    This is a very interesting article. Forgive me for being ignorant, but I can only see tools 15-11. I see the comment to click below for more of the article, but I can’t find where to click. Please help.

  • ericblue76 says:


    Thanks for your comment and no problem. There might be an issue with your browser, but you should see a box listing additional pages with the links(1-3). You can also access the links directly by going to:




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  • Claudia says:

    Hi Eric!:
    Your list is wonderful. I am sure I will be very useful. I have not tested much this kind of application, the only one I know is further CmapTools. I will go to review, gradually, the tools you free us. Thank you very much for your input, as it is now essential to build the knowledge to manage better. Each day we crammed more and more images, text, links, and one that is then lost and confused us into the sea of digital content that we accumulate. What else was using is delicious, which is great.

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  • Claude Basteret says:

    I think ConnectedText deserved to be in your list. It is mature and has many features you praised in your list.

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  • Interesting post. I thought I knew of all the PKMs out there, but you managed to introduce me to a couple. I know you where trying to keep your list to a workable number, but I just want to make sure you are aware of two other interesting, visual PKM tools:

    Curio (Mac) http://www.zengobi.com/products/curio/


    ConnectedText (Windows) http://www.connectedtext.com/

    Curio is basically a hierarchy of whiteboards on which you can stick most anything. It has built in mindmapping and outlining tools.

    ConnectedText is a personal wiki that has a graphic representation of the connections between notes.

  • ericblue76 says:

    Wow, I’ve also learned something new. I wasn’t aware of Curio or ConnectedText.

    ConnectedText looks very intriguing to me. In fact, after looking at the screenshots it reminds me a lot of MindRaider.

    Curio also looks very interesting. Great suggestions that i will surely check out!

  • stefan says:

    checkout http://tiddlytagmindmap.tiddlyspot.com. great tool for viualization of a standalone wiki

  • Eric Blue says:

    Another interesting application that was brought to my attention was amode by MindSystems.


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  • Charles Beauchamp says:

    Hi Eric. Fantastic site that cites a lot of programs I have used and enjoyed. Tinderbox is an incredible program for the mac that runs on 20 dollar, 300 mHz G3 macs in its earlier versions than the current version. Incredible program for low end to very high end macs. Very cost effective for school systems that have low end macs to teach students concept mapping, mind mapping, storyboarding and maybe even pseudo-topic mapping at a very advantageous price point for the software and hardware combined.

    Question: Do you think that DeepMehta could be used for “participatory design” over the web using topic maps and points of view of multiple participants? There is a program from a French technical university – Hypertopic (www.hypertopic.org) – that I was considering tryng to use but DeepMehta might be an alternative if it has a web collaboration capability.

  • Jan says:

    I want to inform you that eyePlorer has now its own blog – the eyeBlog. The blog we’ll keep you up to date with regard to new releases of eyePlorer.com and about new features.

    So if you are looking for further information about eyePlorer. Check out the eyeBlog – http://blog.eyeplorer.com/

    I keep watching your blog for more interesting posts!

  • Debra says:

    Hi Eric
    Thanks for the list I will be sure to try out the suggestions you made, and the suggestions made by others in the comments.

    I only came across your blog because I put in a random search for “knowledge visualization tools”. However I will be bookmarking the site for future reference.

    Thank You

  • Leland says:

    I think something like Compendium should be on this list.

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  • elisabeth says:

    Amazing how the visual mapping community for qualitative information has exploded in the last year.

    I have used Personal Brain for several years now and am very satisfied for it – for a personal application. I love its dynamic interface, which allows representation of complex relationships. However, I am convinced we need tools that can morph in and out of personal and shared spaces at reasonable cost. Personal Brain has a reputedly very expensive enterprise version; there’s a way of sharing personal maps on the web, but not of collaborating.

    Compendium and other tools for structuring discussion as well as knowledge management are moving in that direction. Cohere, based at Open University, seems to be an open, web-based version of Compendium: http://openlearn.open.ac.uk/course/view.php?name=Cohere.

  • [...] Eric Blue’s Blog » Blog Archive » 15 Effective Tools for Visual Knowledge Management Most traditional personal knowledge management (PKM) or personal information management (PIM) applications offer the same basic set of features: * Storage of notes and documents * Search functionality and keyword/tagging capability * Outline view in a traditional hierarchy, or user-defined views * Task management, calendar, and contact management (mainly PIM, not KM) [...]

  • Chris says:


    Great list. Some old favorites (CMaps and VUE) and a few new ones to check out.

    One non-negotiable feature for me when deciding on a new app is the ability to export to a usable format when I am using a visual environment for the beginning phases of a writing project or other “brain dump”. This essentially means OPML export capability so that I can use an app like Omni Outliner to then export to RTF for final creation of a linear word document. (I learned this the hard way after realizing that hours of work were locked into the app I was using (Freemind) and needed to then be manually exported.)

    After an extensive review (that I did not turn into a blog post, kudos to you for that) the app I selected for its feature/value (i.e. price) ratio was Mind Node Pro. I encourage anyone on a Mac to check it out. It also has an added promise of a highly anticipated iPhone app that will (I assume) integrate with the desktop version.

    On a final note (to current and future developers) one overlooked feature, IMHO is the ability to export these works into fully functional webpages (e.g. collapsible nodes, etc.) They exist in some apps, but usually at the tradeoff of the OPML feature, but more commonly only in a dynamic HTML format (outline only, no visual layout).

    Ok, end semi coherent Thanks again for this compilation.

  • Ian says:

    mind42.com is an online free mind map editor/repository that can import/export freemind, mindManager, it’s own format and export image/rtf/pdf…

    I’m pretty impressed with it’s javascript application – very smooth. I swap computers from time to time, so for me it’s pretty handy.

  • Dmitry says:

    http://thisislike.com is another visual knowledge management tool. It allows people to share their associative knowledge and connect related ideas, people, places, and things.

  • achmatim says:

    great list of knowledge visualization. i like SCAN, but can you share about it’s implementation example or review? for mind map i like free mind.

    great thanks

  • Barry Briggs says:

    and a +1 here for mind node too.

    even the free version has some really nice features for quickly and easily creating a fairly complex mind map. the gui controls are so simple to use.

    definitely worth a look if you’re a mac user


  • Ferryanto Situmorang says:

    thank you for sharing, the list have enrich me in constructing KMS

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