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Biggerplate: Pointless, No?

A tweet this evening grabbed my attention, and compelled me to come to the blog to share my thoughts. The tweet read:

"A library of other people's mind maps - sort of pointless no? www.biggerplate.com"

My instant reaction was pure intrigue. I'm not sure if that was the intention or not, but I found this to be a most interesting perspective, and one that I have not encountered in the three years that Biggerplate has been online.

Is someone genuinely suggesting that a large collection of interesting ideas and information in a visually engaging format, shared by people from all over the world, is a pointless idea? Maybe. Perhaps someone had better go tell YouTube, Slideshare and Prezi. And probably the rest of the internet actually.

Let's not pretend Biggerplate is anywhere near the scale of the three names above, but the principle is exactly the same in many ways, and I would perhaps even suggest that Biggerplate has equal or greater practical use. A grand claim indeed. "How could a mind map library be more practical and useful than a video of a sneezing panda?" I can hear the incredulous cries now, so let me explain using some over-simplistic examples.

If you are a mind map user who is about to undertake the writing of a business plan, you might start from scratch and create a very nice business plan, using your mind map (created out of nothing) as the tool for structuring and collecting your thoughts. A time consuming process no doubt, but an invaluable one. Alternatively, you might visit Biggerplate, search for "Business Plan", download a great template mind map, and start the process by adapting, changing and personalising the information contained within the mind map template to your own personal situation. Probably a quicker process, but any less valuable?

A second quick example: You are a 16 year old school pupil studying the Second World War, and possibly feeling slightly overwhelmed by the amount of information you need to digest. Perhaps you search within Biggerplate for this topic, find a mind map, download it, and use this map as the starting point to guide your own research, information gathering, and learning. Suddenly you have somewhere to start (ever struggled to get off the blank page?) and an adaptable collection of useful information and ideas to guide/stimulate you. Pointless?

I'm guessing the thinking behind the tweet is that a mind map is only of use to the person who has created it, and therefore a collection such as ours is of no use to anyone but the map creators themselves. Let us ignore the fact that numerous mind maps on Biggerplate have been downloaded several thousand times each, suggesting that some people have found some use for them. Let us also ignore the fact that what people download from Biggerplate is not a static and unchangeable image of a mind map, but is a dynamic, entirely adaptable mind map file that they can do what they like with. Instead, let's focus on the idea that the collective ideas, thoughts, knowledge and work of others, gathered together in any format (let alone a mind map), freely available for others to view, download, absorb, study, adapt and utilise is essentially "pointless".

What a dangerous idea for the world.

Everything the human race has ever achieved has been the result of making imaginative associations and interpretations relating to information already in existence, whether that "information" has been presented through nature ("what if that roundish rock was more round..."), through man, through technology, or anything else for that matter. To suggest that either of the two people in the examples above would not have created their own interpretations of the mind map content they downloaded, and therefore derived purpose or use from doing so, is to essentially ignore how the human brain works.

If I asked ten people to write the first word that comes into their head when I say "Banana", do you think that each person will immediately think of exactly the same word? I suspect not. What is more likely to happen is that the entire history of each person, and everything they have ever learned/known, will influence the first word that comes into their mind. And I am likely therefore to get a few different answers.

Do we therefore think that ten different people who download the same mind map, are going to have exactly the same mental response and use for it? Again, I suspect not. A single mind map can contain hundreds of words, images and icons, but what it essentially contains is a huge number of ideas. And when has it ever been a "pointless" thing to share ideas?

I'm sure I'm not alone in seeing the irony of someone posting this thought on Twitter, which is after all a platform for sharing ideas, perspectives and information that are open to interpretation, re-interpretation and adaptation by others. Not unlike a certain mind map library I know...

I hope the tweeter will share the thinking behind their tweet (I have asked), as it does raise interesting questions whichever way you read/interpret it. And isnt that the very beauty and "point" of it?

Liam

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Liam is the founder of Biggerplate.com, and tries (with varying success) to write about key projects and progress at Biggerplate, as well as the wider world of mind mapping and our place within it.
London, UK Website