moski
Ever since I started using PB I've never really understood how it's supposed to fit into the scheme of things, so began reading in the forum here and other reviews to see what others think.

MarcusV reviewed PB5 honestly, I think, in Best Tool For the Job, where he talks about "the mystery surrounding just what it's suited for". It's most likely someone else here has already posted a link to this article, but I couldn't find it by searching, so apologize for posting it again. For me it's still an unresolved issue as to whether PB is suitable for general mind mapping, though the GTD and other self-improvement webinars seem to imply it is.

Then I came across A personal journey in information management by Roy Grubb of G&A Management Consultants Limited. It begins with mind maps and similar 2D applications, then moves on to PersonalBrain before turning into a promo for Topicscape 3D, when it becomes apparent that Roy had a big hand in its development. Even though Topicscape doesn't appeal to me at all, I recommend this 11-page article as it sums up my feelings in looking for the best tool for my own needs, and so far I'm happy to say PersonalBrain is it.

The article is part of infotamers.com which also has an excellent mind-mapping wiki (WikIT) that should get your creative juices flowing.

It would be interesting to know the thoughts of other forum members on these articles and the issues they raise. There are times when I'd like to be able to use PersonalBrain more as a concept map than simply a reference file, but it doesn't make linking concepts very easy.

Michael Skurrie
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zenrain
Hum, I downloaded and tried Topicscape after reading the article. Wow. Not for me either.

This question comes up periodically in the forum. Here's some posts about usage, and what it's for:
http://forums.thebrain.com/post?id=3644258
http://forums.thebrain.com/post?id=2835400
http://forums.thebrain.com/post?id=3208644

I think that in the Topicscape article, the limitations around showing more data in PB have been somewhat resolved by Expanded View (especially with the capabilities to save views) and Outline view. However, it doesn't give the overall view of everything as well as normal Mindmaps, even Topicscape.

I think PB can do mindmaps, but they are not at the fixed map quality that dedicated mindmappers can give you. For personal use it'll do, but for presentations that specifically require a Mind Map, there are better tools. This is mainly due to the customization allowed in other tools, curvey lines, circles, fonts, colors etc.
That's not to say that PB can't do presentations. I think it can be an effective PowerPoint replacement, where you use the outline of thoughts to go through "slides". There's a forum topic that has more great info on this.

Using PB as a quick brainstorming tool works pretty well, as it's easy to move stuff around and delete things as needed. In this also, dedicated Mind Mapping software may be better, especially for groups. Once again, PB is improving in this area with Saved Expanded view, but if you want to be able to print out a pretty end result and present it to someone, a Mind Map program is your best bet.

Where PB shines is information management. Mind Maps quickly get clumsy with large amounts of information, however because of PBs focused display, you can put boatloads of information in there and not be overwhelmed.
It's search capabilities and reporting capabilities are robust, and have improved significantly in the 5x+ versions.

So I think it's area of expertise is the archival and display of data with related information. For the visually orientated, it's a huge leap over folder structure, as it displays related information as well as the topic at hand.

The Best Tool for the Job review is the best review / overview I've seen, and I agree with most, if not all of his points. I'm also really grateful for his button replacements, and I really hope that they integrate the look and feel over the rest of the tabs.
Windows 7
J-1.6.0_22
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OSX 10.6.3
Java SE 6
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moski
Thanks zenrain for your great response and that bunch of links which gives me plenty of stuff to study. Glad you found one of my links interesting.

Quote: however because of PBs focused display, you can put boatloads of information in there and not be overwhelmed.

You really made a good point there. I haven't found any other app that can do this as well.

Many thanks.



Michael Skurrie
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zenrain
Glad I could give you more food for thought.
Did more playing in Topicscape, even to the point of importing my Brain.
I really like the overview capabilities. Direct import and archiving of webfiles is nice, and the TopicBox is something PB users have wanted for a while. Unfortunately that's where it ends. It seems slow and clumsy to move around in. I also found the different views to see your data really divorces you from the topic content. I'm not even going to get into the UI.

Windows 7
J-1.6.0_22
--
OSX 10.6.3
Java SE 6
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JosefBetancourt
The information management site was great.  I too don't like that it seems to favor the authors solution, Topicscape.  If you go to cyberspaces archive site you see very similar approaches, in particular the MAPA product.  Seems these approaches just need too much screen real-estate to be useful.
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mkmuc
Thanks for posting the information management site. I liked PersonalBrain. I just tried Topicscape. Now, after trying Topicscape I can say only "I love PersonalBrain" Even they would give me money I wouldn't switch to Topiscape.
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mbaas
Wow, what a good effect the competition has
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moski
Thanks all for your frank comments which have helped me form a much clearer idea of PersonalBrain's true scope.

There's an interesting parallel discussion here on whether or not PB should have a "fourth connector", which would improve its ability as a concept mapping program. In this thread JosefBetancourt says

Quote: As to PB being eye candy.  I don't think so.  It fulfills a very narrow niche and does it well.  The concept mapping world can learn a thing or two from it, such as ease of use.

Very narrow? After all the hype about PB being useful for Brainstorming, Getting Things Done, Planning, Writing, etc., etc., this stopped me in my tracks. He's absolutely right, you know. It's now clear to me that PB's real and singular purpose is to find both expected and unexpected associations between small snippets of information, by collecting relationships between things.

When I first encountered PB some years ago (though didn't adopt it then) it was promoted, among other things, as being useful for law enforcement organizations (anyone else remember this?). Perfect for dredging up unsuspected connections between two or more shady characters, reinforcing guilt by association. PB has always been much better at Getting Thugs Done than Getting Things Done. Maybe times have changed.

If you don't know what an application is really meant to do, you could waste a lot of time trying to do the wrong things with it.

There's no point in waiting around for manual arrangement of thoughts in normal view (custom sort order), fancy fonts, or any other features taken for granted in planning or concept mapping applications to come our way. Such features have always been extraneous to PB's original brief. I'm surprised it even has a Calendar.

Someone should write a chapter in the User Guide on what PB isn't designed to do, rather than let each of us find out for ourselves. When that sinks in, its brilliance really shines.

Michael Skurrie
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mbaas
Hmm, this is interesting
Quote: PB's real and singular purpose is to find both expected and unexpected associations between small snippets of information, by collecting relationships between things.
Sounds good, but again this is so generic that it can mean much for many and maybe even GTD for some

Quote: There's no point in waiting around for manual arrangement of thoughts in normal view (custom sort order), fancy fonts, or any other features taken for granted in planning or concept mapping applications to come our way.
And the calendar, BTW, has just recently received major updates, so I'm not convinced the dev-team is following your interpretation on the purpose
(+ outline-view and probably even expanded view might not be neccessary from that pov).

I agree that there is a problem of categorizing PB in terms of "normal" software-categories. Which probably comes because it is one of a kind and creates a new category of its own. (i.e. if you were to write cooking recipes, novels, manuals, sales letters or short stories for your local newspaper, you know you would need a word-processor.) Now, what well established word do we have to describe PB? Which unfortunately is a major issue when writing PR-material, so I'd be really interested in any suggestions     Of course the Mindmapping-path looks interesting, because (on first view), the concepts looks so similiar and we can trust that a mindmapper will get to grips with PB probably quicker than anyone else. But I guess he might also find PB 'weak' in mm-functionality and a 'promise not delivered' might also be the result.

(BTW, just to illustrate the wide scope of PB: I recently did a pilot with a large agency that sells information on company- and ownership-structures, and PB's visualization made it very attractive for their marketing, as their standard reports would not attract anyone, i.e. to visit their booth at a fair. PB in wander-mode did )

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zenrain
Quote: PB's real and singular purpose is to find both expected and unexpected associations between small snippets of information, by collecting relationships between things.

I would agree with mbaas on this one. Maybe in the "early" days (ver 1 - 3, or even 1 - 4) this was true, but I don't think so any more.

I'm a one brain to rule them all user, and my one brain serves the following functions:
1. GTD organizer. Prior to the existence of tags, I couldn't get it to work for this. With the existence of tags and outline view, and especially after 5.5, I try other solutions but keep coming back to PB as my GTD database. I reference e-mails, projects, and documents and it's a one-stop shop. The Mastering your tasks and ToDo's webinar really gave me good information on how to implement a GTD system, and now I've started doing it, I cant' believe how much more focused I've become.
2. Work Log. Combine the GTD system with attaching tasks to weekly time period thoughts, and it doubles as a work log.
3. Government regulations database. This was one of my first uses for PB. I originally used MindManager for this, but as my information grew it became more and more unwieldy, until it was practically impossible to use. After transferring it to PB, and with a little investment of time, it has become a huge timesaver, effectively storing huge amounts of data but allowing instant access and advanced searching capabilities. I often cross reference this with my GTD system as issues arise. I also make this portion of my brain available to my department via brainzip, so they have access to the same information I do.
4. Project Management. I've been using PB to track large projects for a long time now. Similar to the government database, I tried doing this in MindManager first. I ended up with a large number of MindMaps with a central mindmap to use as a cross reference. Once again, it became harder and harder to maintain and associate information between projects. PersonalBrain handles it with ease.
5. Database information archive. I have to access and report on multiple databases, each with their own structure and fields. I use PB to store schemas, as well as information I accumulate as I work with them and determine the best ways of accessing and combining their tables and records. This is invaluable for complex relationships which I'd never be able to remember otherwise.
6. Snippet management. I store all kinds of tidbits and interesting information I come across and think I may need later.
7. Course notes. I'm in the process of taking several e-courses, and this stores the lesson material, and associated notes and thoughts on the subject matter. I use it to track themes between the different lessons, as well as cross reference personal thoughts with the lessons and other source material.
8. Book notes. Similar to the above, but with books I'm reading, I find it very effective to write down information on chapters and cross reference with other themes and sources.

Whew. All that managed in one central repository. So no, at least in my case PB doesn't have a narrow niche at all. It covers a wide range of uses, albeit with the main goal of storing, prioritizing, and making available chunks of information in an easy to understand visual format.

There is a wealth of information stored both in these forums, in the blog posts, and webinars done by PersonalBrain about different ways to use it. Unfortunately PersonalBrain is so open-ended and malleable it takes experimentation and a bit of research to find out how to optimize it for uses. I've been using PB religiously since version 4.0 (after a brief stint in the 3.x versions), and I'm still refining and learning about how to optimize my information.
Windows 7
J-1.6.0_22
--
OSX 10.6.3
Java SE 6
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moski
Thanks zenrain (and mbaas) for your detailed responses, which gave me plenty of food for thought.

I guess it boils down to one of two choices. On one hand, if one is really comfortable with PersonalBrain, it is natural to want to use it for every possible task such as GTD, etc. and, even better, keep it all within one Brain, as zenrain does. The convenience of using one application and one Brain to store everything outweighs the limitations.

On the other hand, if one believes that there are other applications which are more efficient or just plain better designed in their own way for planning, calendars, etc., then one must put up with duplication of data in return for specialization and ease of use.

I would gladly use PersonalBrain for more than a snippet repository at present, but I am frustrated by so many user-unfriendly aspects of its interface such as name shortening and link labels that aren't a problem in other applications that I will have to rely on other apps for most of my creative thinking until maybe one day PersonalBrain becomes truly easy and friendly to use. Strangely, I find Outline View (no name shortening) with link display turned off causes least irritation, but that's not making use of all of this application's potential. I envy zenrain for having found a way to use PB for all his needs.


Michael Skurrie
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jostber
TheBrain call PB a mindmapping application themselves:

http://www.thebrain.com/#-50
http://www.thebrain.com/#-55

I think if PB could get this feature it would be much more useful for mindmapping:

http://forums.thebrain.com/post?id=3518958
http://forums.thebrain.com/post?id=3576121






TheBrain 8.0.2.0 Slackware 14.1 KDE 4.10.3 Java 1.7.0_25 / (Windows 7)

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JosefBetancourt
moski wrote:
....  In this thread JosefBetancourt says

Quote: As to PB being eye candy.  I don't think so.  It fulfills a very narrow niche and does it well.  The concept mapping world can learn a thing or two from it, such as ease of use.

Very narrow?


Well, perhaps, my use of the term Niche is not too accurate.  In a more positive light, the brain presents a unique tool that no one currently matches (thus its a niche fulfillment).   Mind, context, conceptual, and other kinds of mapping tools do not approach its view and simplicity.  Of course, you can do everything with it, if so inclined.  I like the Unix concept of "piping", thus tools should not cook then wash the dishes.  Of course, were not their yet in computer land (in terms of ease of use and setup).

- jbetancourt


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JosefBetancourt
BTW, an interesting site called AlternativeTo has a page on PersonalBrain.  Perhaps, Brain people should comment on that site if it is incorrect.  It says MindMappers are alternative to PB.  I guess they can be based on their use?



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