Zettelkasten Forum

Exploring Mind Mapping and ZK integration possibilities.

Maybe I'm barking up the wrong tree yet again.

Does anyone have ideas or samples that I could follow?

In the instance I'm currently exploring, OPML files are the intermediary between the ZK and, in this case, iThoughtsX.

The trick will be to get correct OPML file formatting as an output via Marked 2, python, applescript or Keyboard Maestro.

Check this out for a first rough go. So far only one level thick. But this was easy. Each link on the central node is a child node on the mindmap. The full text of each child node is attached. Links within the text are not hot, but we'll see.
I've attached the file so you can download, review, and explore the ideas. Requires an app that will read iThoughtsX files. This type of download might be a way of sharing a specific idea thread from my ZK with the world.

Will Simpson
I must keep doing my best even though I'm a failure. My peak cognition is behind me. One day soon I will read my last book, write my last note, eat my last meal, and kiss my sweetie for the last time.


  • Arranged like that, it looks very much like a Tinderbox file.

    I've been trying to find a way of combining mind map and text since the dawn of time. Never found anything that really satisfied me. Tinderbox is both interesting and frustrating, and I don't like the fact that it uses xml. I like to do Spotlight searches of my notes, and plain text is better for that.

  • I spend a few hours considering how I might use this, and I've hit a brick wall. This train may have wandered off the tracks.

    @MartinBB, you might consider looking at iThoughtX, which integrates mindmaps with markdown text. Any node can have associated text, and the text is markdown. The editor has a live preview and an edit mode. The editor works great but is not customizable.

    iThoughtX doesn't store the notes attached to the node as separate files, but Spotlight indexes the .itmz files and will search through them.

    Will Simpson
    I must keep doing my best even though I'm a failure. My peak cognition is behind me. One day soon I will read my last book, write my last note, eat my last meal, and kiss my sweetie for the last time.

  • edited March 2022

    I've used iThoughts for years, and I like it a lot, especially for brainstorming. But it doesn't really scale beyond about twenty to thirty items, unless you like a forest so dense you can't really see anything. That is when Tinderbox's hyperbolic view becomes useful, or the kind of display you get in TheBrain. I rather like TheBrain but it is too expensive for me. I probably ought to use Tinderbox more, but somehow I can never get into it.

    If you haven't seen them, you might be interested in Beck Tench's videos on Tinderbox and Zettelkasten.

  • I agree that the visualization of mind maps doesn't scale gracefully.

    My goal and what initially got me excited is to be able to publish a schema or idea thread from my ZK without the overhead of someone having to install software and configure anything. Initially, I'm thinking that this might be view-only but who knows?

    The web seems a potential answer but I'd like something more stable. Mind maps and outlines have a hard time displaying interconnection across branches. Converting a segment of my ZK to a wiki might be an option to explore.

    Will Simpson
    I must keep doing my best even though I'm a failure. My peak cognition is behind me. One day soon I will read my last book, write my last note, eat my last meal, and kiss my sweetie for the last time.

  • I don't have any suggestions, but I've been wanting a feature for a long time that allows me to work with my zettelkasten in a mind map form. I also thought it would be nice to have some sort of image/thumbnail integration in the mind map.

    I want this because I often like to initially map out my understanding of an idea or topic and than expand upon that map systematically.

  • Mind maps and outlines have a hard time displaying interconnection across branches.

    That is something you can do quite easily in Tinderbox, of course. At least, such connections can display very well in Map view, though much less well in Outline view.

    When it comes to publishing, Tinderbox can do a lot to export content in various formats, though it does take some work to assemble it as you want. Whole websites are created and maintained in Tinderbox, including the reference site for the program. That is over 2,500 pages of html. But you don't get the Map view. I seem to recall TheBrain allows you to publish your "brain" pretty much as it is. An example is this. But as I said, TheBrain is extremely expensive. Well beyond my reach. I think some people have used Curio for the kind of thing you envisage. I enjoyed using it for a while, but in the end it did not really suit me. And it would have been more money out of the door ...

  • Zettlr recently implemented a "graph view" capability. I have only played with it, but it looks promising. It allows you to filter and display graphics at the component level of the Zettelkasten. See their online documentation for a complete description.

  • I've mentioned in other threads my use of TheBrain software since December 2005. TheBrain for all practical applications is a mind mapping software. The plex can be viewed in various formats, including the traditional mind map, outline format, or the "normal" format for TheBrain.

    I prefer the "normal" format. Generally, I'm not particularly eager to discuss software. I have zero programming skills, and I agree wholeheartedly with Sascha's comment that "All too quickly, we believe that we need this or that software because it does something unique, something irreplaceable for us. This makes us dependent and puts shackles on our thinking. This is harmful to our minds."

    However, @Will , you ask specifically about Mind Mapping and ZK integration possibilities, and I will comment on my experience with TheBrain.

    First, I use TheBrain for everything; the only exception is daily appointments, which I use Todoist because of its portability.

    Predominant in my brain is a daily journal, which consists of Journal entries by the year (not pictured), hard-linked to a monthly format (pictured), daily posts in the YY-MM-DD form, and in some cases hard-linked to a Zettel note (UID format YYYYMMDDTTTT). I also hard link to specific locations I have visited that day as part of my hiking/climbing destinations by quadrangle project.

    A text editor (not pictured) allows me to add to do's, Pomodoro's, and journal entries by date. One fun item is my "Daily Unforgettable Journal" where I select a single picture for the day and a hard link to a date, where the format is MM-DD. This then highlights via a hard link, other Unforgettable Journal entries across the years. The above picture shows events from 2011, 2014 for example.

    Second, I find the hard linking of a mind map valuable when using source notes. Reference Material contains articles and books by topic or project; I capture Metadata for each source and create hard links to each Zettel note captured from the reference.

    My Zettel notes are in the standard format, and TheBrain offers a reduced version of Markdown for their text editor.

    One unique capacity TheBrain offers especially suited to the Zettelkasten is creating notes directly in a hard link. Highlight any link, and the text editor will allow you to make messages specific to the association. Created notes can be found using the search feature; however, I found this incredibly cumbersome and difficult to maintain. Primarily because if you break the link, the note is deleted.

    Despite the brain's ability for these mind map hard links between notes, I have found the use of hyperlinks to be most valuable in my Zettelkasten. In that sense, the Zettelkasten portion of my brain is no different from any other program which offers hyperlinks.

    TheBrain allows for multiple screens of the same database to be open, which is extremely valuable.

    TheBrain also allows the creation of a to-do's by creating a [] anywhere in the text. I tend to keep my to-do's at the top of my daily journal and my second screen set with the To Do List open for easy reference.

    In all, TheBrain works for me, and I think that is the bottom line of any software discussion. It works partly due to the 17-year investment I have made in understanding the software parts that work for me. It also works because of the dedication of TheBrain to providing the software and upgrades as needed to keep things fresh and up to date, i.e., something like hyperlinks, auto backlinks, etc.

  • @Steve625, wow, thanks for sharing. This is the first time anyone, to my knowledge, has shared a graph/mind map view that was easy to read. Others have been so massive as to be unintelligible. Graph view has a reputation of being a plaything.

    Limiting the scope is key. I wonder how these are created. Do you start from a single note? Could you start from a tag?

    17 years living in the same program must have created some powerful moments. I'm a bit jealous.

    Will Simpson
    I must keep doing my best even though I'm a failure. My peak cognition is behind me. One day soon I will read my last book, write my last note, eat my last meal, and kiss my sweetie for the last time.

  • edited March 2022

    I have to say that I have hankered after using TheBrain for a long time but I've been wary of the cost. It is certainly a very capable program, however, and it ticks a lot of boxes for me. I may have to give it a more extended trial.

    @Will there is a whole load of short videos on their website. It seems to be a very fluid and quick program in use. The ease of linking is notable.

    And yes, you can start from a single note. And you can build up a network in a matter of minutes. I've done that in previous trials.

  • @Will said: "Limiting the scope is key. I wonder how these are created. Do you start from a single note? Could you start from a tag?"

    Yes, you can start from a single note; however, having some pre-thought-out scaffolding helps. For example, the core of my brain follows David Allen's "Horizons of Focus," i.e., 50,000 ft. - Purpose and core values; 40,000 ft. - Vision; 30,000 ft. - Goals and objectives; 20,000 ft. - Areas of focus and responsibility; 10,000 ft. - Projects and finally Runway - Actions.

    You can start with a single note anywhere in the above altitude map and use the scaffolding to help complete the scope. An action can be anything from water plants to call bob or talk to the boss about... "Water Plants" can then be connected to "Kitchen," which links to "Home maintenance plan," related to "Home Owner," and finally connected to the value or purpose of "Comfort."

    Every 10,000 ft. project I create, I automatically add a link to "Reference Material" and "Resources." Reference materials allow me to add links to articles while connecting websites, etc., to the resources tab.

    Each area you create can be a separate mind map or a separate brain. As mentioned, I have one brain. Scaffolding in my Hiking/Climbing section includes state, county, quadrangle, cities, towns, highways, fire roads, hikes, peaks, OHV/ATV paths, etc. If I read about a trail, I'll find the coordinates for the trailhead, look up the quadrangle, add it to the county and state.

    I include tags and keywords in my scaffolding for "Reference Material" and divide them alphabetically.

    @Will said, "17 years living in the same program must have created some powerful moments. I'm a bit jealous."

    I am often reminded of this quote by Neal A. Maxwell when working within my brain and Zettelkasten.

    "...getting on with our impending mortal experiences, some of the most glorious of which will be adventures of the mind and heart as we ponder and explore new truths." [1]

    [1] Maxwell, Neal A. All These Things Shall Give Thee Experience. Deseret Book, 1980. p.2.

  • @MartinBB said, "I have to say that I have hankered after using TheBrain for a long time but I've been wary of the cost."

    I do not use the cloud feature that TheBrain offers on a subscription basis (my brain is more extensive than their stated maximum allowable backup). You can purchase TheBrain as stand-alone computer-based software and upgrade when you want. Therefore, I only pay for significant upgrades and only pay for new software about every five years.

  • @Steve625 said:
    my brain is more extensive than their stated maximum allowable backup

    Good point -- 30GB seems like a lot until you think of all the pics and pdfs that you might attach over the years. Sync would be important to me, so maybe it is not the solution for me.

  • @ctietze, I posted a comment here a few days ago but it seems to be stuck in moderation purgatory. Is there any chance you could approve the earlier comment and remove this one? Thanks!

  • There seem to be at least two different things mentioned in this discussion that can be called "mind mapping and ZK integration possibilities"; it's worth differentiating them and noting that both of them can be done in Obsidian:

    1. Visualizing a single outline note as a mind map: This can be done with the Obsidian mind map plugin, which visualizes the current note as a mind map within Obsidian, based on Markmap.js.
    2. Visualizing all or part of the entire note system as a diagram: This can be done with the Obsidian juggl plugin, which visualizes a set of notes as an interactive, stylable and expandable graph view with several automatic layouts, based on Cytoscape.js. Obsidian's default graph view is also available, but it is very limited compared to this plugin.

    Both Markmap.js and Cytoscape.js have demo web sites, so you can get a taste of what they do in your web browser if you don't have Obsidian installed on your computer.

  • @Andy
    That's one way of looking at using mind maps with a ZK - that is, for mapping the connections between zettels. However, I am also interested in other ways that a mind map might interact with a ZK, without the two being integral to one another. For example, I have used mind maps to define event paths for failure in an engineering system and then used a ZK to explore the science behind each step in the event path. Maybe you can think of other examples. The main point is that the two can act as complementary tools that are not necessarily integrated all that closely.

  • edited March 2022

    @GeoEng51, I mentioned not one but rather "at least two" things (categories) that could be called "mind mapping and ZK integration possibilities", so I meant to imply that there are other categories.

    A third one that easily comes to mind is having a manually created mind map in a sidecar file that separately diagrams some of the elements in the note system. I have many different kinds of diagrams in sidecar files. But that third option would not be tightly "integrated" with the standard textual note format—indeed it would be separate—and it would take more work to produce rather than being automatically generated from one note or from multiple notes.

    (All of this implies a very text-centric conception of a "standard textual note format", but that seems to be the conception that everyone in this forum endorses. I've never seen a discussion in this forum in which graphic files are considered to be notes. Have you? Point them out if I'm wrong.)

    So, if I understand you correctly, you're right that we could expand the classification into manually drawn and automatically drawn mind maps (and other kinds of diagrams if we wanted to expand the classification even further), and the two categories I mentioned in my previous comment (visualizing a single outline note as a mind map, and visualizing all or part of the entire note system as a diagram) would be subcategories of the automatically drawn.

  • @Andy there is a 3rd possible way to integrate mindmaps and ZK notes, which is that the mindmap does not just display existing note content and connections, but can also be used to create/change/revise connections between notes (by moving nodes to different locations in the map) and to edit notes themselves (by e.g. dividing one node into two).

    @Will and others: Freeplane is an free, open-source, cross-platform mindmapping program that I have used for 10+ years. The interface is horribly dated, it is poorly documented, and it has a steep learning curve. But, it has an active forum for questions and is more capable than almost any other mindmapping program, especially for programmers (which I am not). It can run scripts, add-ons, schedule tasks, etc. I have tried to figure out a way to integrate it with my ZK for a while but haven't yet succeeded.

  • @cobblepot, thanks. Let me try again to summarize the categories with your addition.

    Ways to integrate (more or less) mind maps and a note system:

    1. Manually creating a mind map outside of the note system: You embed or link a mind-map sidecar file (e.g., a Freeplane file) to a standard textual note file, or alternatively just use the mind-map file separately from the note system.
    2. Manually creating the note system itself via a mind-map (or other diagrammatic) interface to a database: The mind map (or other diagram) is the primary interface that you use to edit the database (e.g., Compendium or TheBrain).
    3. Automatically visualizing a standard textual note file as a mind map: You run code that renders a single textual note as a mind map (e.g., the Obsidian mind map plugin).
    4. Automatically visualizing all or part of the note system as a mind map (or other diagram): You run code that renders a set of notes as a graph view (e.g., the Obsidian juggl plugin).
  • A thread has just popped up in the Tinderbox forums that might be of interest to people following this thread. It involves a discussion of using TheBrain with Tinderbox and DEVONthink, and the different affordances and uses of those programs.

  • Writemapper might convince you for the draft and outlining work of a regular article or draw an index (note robust enough for Zettelkasten, though) and gives you ideas.

    It organises this kind of structure :

    # H1 - Note node 
    ## H2 Note node 2
    ### H3 Note node 3
    ## H2 note node 4
    ### H3 Note node 5 
    #### H4 Note node 6 

    Into this kind of map :


    When editing a node, you'll find an editor like this :


    And you can export it into HTML, PDF, MD, OPML, TXT, PNG…

    I found it fun at first. But a third node in a row would automaticaly be a "H3"title, which is limitating. It force you to adapt your writing workflow to produce "articable" production. There is no place for notes, this is the structure of your article.

    And… hem… I've broken this software as well… Without sweating, on the top of that. The software just ate its own belly in a scream of pain. I tested it on June 2021 and never touched it again, poor little thing.

    The other thing you can try is this thing :


    Now we talk, even if it is not "mind mapping" in a strict way, it has the merit of presenting visual cues.
    It is designed to outline a novel, but you can use it the way you like. Table, kanban board…

    The concept is about timelines, and you can create a lot of them. So you can create sequences of notes, show an evolution…

    When you click on the rectangle, an editor opens.

    It has other things to edit, like a story bible than you can adapt to your need with tag and color and… imagination :

    aren't those photostock pigs cute, seriously ?

    And it uses tags as well :

    tags and folder tags and colors

    The export is the weakest point : it export into .scriv or .docx format, but you can convert the later.

    And I've obsviously broken this one as well, but after a big epic crash test. Grandiose. I've tried to use the main timeline like a database for characters sheets. Chapters were attributs, timeline were characters… And the software did not like at all my 120 characters with epic characters sheets and my obsessive taste for useless details. In the place section… I've put everything about my world. The software just crashed itself. I understand it, it was like if I heard it cry in pain. Poor, poor soft.

    At the time I use it, I labelled it "Lonan's proof". You can manage a big collection of notes, for sure.

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