Every once in a while, I come across a site that just rocks my world. This week, I found two – Addictomatic.com, a search aggregator with a nifty interface (Mike G. reviewed it) and Spinscape, a site I learned about through a comment on my previous posts about mind mapping. After a flurry of emails to get past the closed beta gates, I was in and mapping away in no time.
If I had to describe Spinscape in one word it would be: Elegant.
From the dramatic dark gray and black backgrounds that makes the colored bubbles or “nodes” pop to the subtle tool buttons placed strategically about, Spinscape looks great. But elegant goes beyond looks. Spinscape functions well, too, with some features that were unexpected and surprisingly useful.
The Good Stuff
1. Building a map is easy. Just add nodes from an option in the menu or use the Insert button (must be a PC thing – heard it in one of the screencast tutorials).
2. Editing nodes is robust. You don’t just have the ability to edit the text, color or shape of the node but you also can add annotations with links. For example, a node can represent the hotel you will be staying at on a business trip and when you open the node, you can click on the link and launch a new window leading to the hotel’s web site.
3. Manipulating maps is cake. Moving your map around is as easy as dragging it up and down the screen. You can also select Balance Map from the Layout option on the main menu and your map pops into shape.
4. You can collaborate. Once the closed beta is over, you can invite others to collaborate on a map with you.
5. You can share maps. You can choose to make a map public or share with specific colleagues of friends.
The Really Good Stuff
The feature that really impressed me was their auto-discovery buttons to Amazon S3; Del.icio.us; Google; Google Documents and Spreadsheets; and Wikipedia. By clicking on the Google auto-discovery button, you can enter a keyword – such as “virtual world blogs” – and then choose which results from Google you’d like to add as nodes on your map.
In the tutorial, clicking on the Wikipedia button and searching for guitars gave you the option to choose “All” entries. The map instantly expands with nodes representing each type of guitar, from classical to electric. You can then see a visual representation of the content about guitars contained within Wikipedia. While that particular search won’t help me in my work, it does give real meaning to the site’s tagline “mapping your digital landscape.”
The Not So Good
Given that the site is still in a close beta, I don’t really have a lot of complaints. One hiccup I encountered was not being able to figure out how to zoom in and out of my map. There is a slidebar that says “Zoom Sensitivity” but there’s something I’m missing in terms of how to actually zoom. The tutorial says “use your mouse trackball to zoom” but what if you don’t have a mouse? The trackpad doesn’t work. Strangely, I did accidentally zoom in at one point and zoom out at another but could not reproduce how I did it again.
Also, when I tested out the auto-discovery buttons, I got an error message with the Wikipedia one, however, I saw how it works in the tutorial so am waiting with baited breath for the fix.
All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed tooling around Spinscape, not just because it made mapping fun but because it really inspires me to use maps to stay organized, visualize work flow, collaborate with colleagues, illustrate ideas for clients, and so much more. Maybe they’ll let me give out a few invites. If you are interested, let me know!