Archive for the ‘Software’ Category

Putting the Cart Before the Smart: 4 Ways to Bend Technology to Your Favor

 

The smart cart has been dumbed down.

More than a decade ago, retail pundits were practically breathless over the possibilities of magical smart carts that would transform the customer experience. In reality, they were putting the cart before the smart.

While the path of the American shopping cart has been a storied one, its most compelling chapters may just be arriving now, through beacon technology and on-demand home ordering. Still, with everyone holding their own little smart carts in their hands in the forms of smartphones, the key for retailers is not making the cart – or phone – smarter, but designing the technology they deploy with the shopper experience in mind.

Those experiential opportunities are increasingly plentiful. Nearly 70 percent of consumers use their mobile devices to find a brand or product before they go grocery shopping, while 86 percent use their devices to plan their shopping trips, according to research by NinthDecimal, a mobile intelligence consultant. Almost 60 percent of consumers use their phones while grocery shopping.

Still, while the possibilities are plentiful, they are not without limit, as a look into the fleeting opportunities of the grocery cart reveal.

A rolling history

The first grocery carts rolled into the aisles of Piggly Wiggly stores almost 80 years ago. In less than four years, entire supermarkets were being planned around them, with wider aisles and larger checkout counters to accommodate the increased amount of products people were buying. One could credit the shopping cart for 64-ounce detergent packages, and 16-roll toilet paper bundles.

Over the years, the basic design of the shopping cart has not much changed, though its technology – or technological potential – has. From tracers that showed grocers how we shopped to LCD screens that could map out the store and alert us to sales, the cart had been earmarked as a central device for improving the shopping trip. Consider this excerpt from a 2003 USA Today story:

“The smart shopping cart looks like a normal one except for an interactive screen and scanner mounted near the shopper. Once the shopper swipes his store card, his shopping history is available for all kinds of purposes, from presenting a suggested shopping list to alerting him to discounts or reminding him about perishables purchased a month ago.”

Sound familiar? It turns out that hitching the customer experience to the shopping cart is expensive. Instead we have smartphones doing much of that work for us, pretty affordably. They enable beacon technology that can identify a shopper in close range of a specific product, map out a store and deliver a host of other in-the-aisle features.

A central problem remains, however: Retailers have yet to enable the phones to deliver the kinds of relevant experiences that elevate the task of grocery shopping from featureless to fun.

New shopping list

Can a phone, regardless of its smarts, transform the task of selecting just-the-right banana bunch and bone-in chicken breasts into something one can look forward to? The resolution exists not in how much technology a shopper really needs to get the job done, but in what specific experiences the technology can deliver to make the job a pleasure.

At a time when grocers are competing with drug stores, gas stations, mass merchants, online merchants and even some department stores for the grocery dollar, technology alone will not give the supermarket an edge.

However, all the pieces are there to reshape the in-aisle encounter to an event that includes an element of happy surprise. It is up to grocery retailers to build the infrastructure and test what will bring this journey to fruition. My simple suggestions:

Learn how to connect: Let’s all assume we can bypass the smart cart and go straight for the smartphone. How will you use it to connect with the customer in a way that is personally relevant? Beacons are popular, but note that in-store promotions do not necessarily translate to a happy experience, especially if the shopper is in a hurry. Perhaps a greeting at the beginning of the trip that asks, “What brings you here today?” can be used to inform the rest of the trip communications.

Be brand true: A grocer’s personal shopper communications, whether by smartphone or cashier, should hinge on its brand promise, mission and why its shoppers choose that brand. Once this is determined, the company can build a platform so its specially appointed team can hear customers in real time and then craft appropriate experiences to reinforce the brand promise.

Pass it on: A customer message that sits with the marketing team is a message in a vacuum. By developing an in-house system for sharing what the customer says throughout the organization, it can discover unexpected potential in its marketing efforts, product placement and customer interests.

Deliver: As with any experience-enhancing endeavor, the company should ensure it has the budget to deliver on the initiative’s promise. It sounds simple, but sometimes customer reaction differs from what we might expect. A recent case in point involves British grocery chain Waitrose, which offered free coffee or tea to its myWaitrose loyalty members, and ended up getting hordes of free drinkers who bought no groceries – irritating lots of paying customers.

No cart, or phone, can outsmart that sort of oversight.

This article originally appeared on Forbes.com, where Bryan serves as a retail contributor. You can view the original story here.

Why is CRM the ideal solution for every small business?

CRM is a great tool for customer management!

However, unfortunately, many small businesses have still not started using it. Reason – A myth that CRM software is designed only for the large businesses.

And this is what is keeping most of the SMBs away from using CRM and improving their customer service.

Why is this a frightful situation?

Experts have predicted that by the year 2020, customer service will beat price and product quality and become the first brand differentiator.

That means only those businesses will survive who will be able to understand the Voice of the Customer through the CRM and provide exceptional customer service, along with good product quality and low price.

If now the SMBs do not take up the CRM then, nothing will be able to save them them from meeting the doom after a few years.

What do the small businesses need to understand?

CRM is not just a tool only for the BIG BOYS.

Although earlier CRM was designed to just meet the enterprise needs, today most CRM vendors have involved small business’s growing needs to shape up their solution. In fact this is exactly what Brent Leary, popular CRM thought leader has also commented in Software Advice

“There are a lot more CRM choices for small businesses today than there were a few years ago. These products are more affordable, easier to use and the subscription pricing terms are in line with what small businesses are looking for.”

In fact the few small businesses that have taken the CRM have admitted of a hundred percent satisfaction.

According to Software Advice online survey (conducted over 304 large, medium and small businesses who use CRM software) – small businesses (those with 100 employees or fewer) are “very satisfied” (37 percent) or “somewhat satisfied” (33 percent) with their current CRM system.

This clearly proves how well is the CRM performing for the small businesses.

What kind of benefits do the small businesses get from CRM?

  • Customer Data Management
  • Customer Relationship Management
  • Customer Interaction Tracking
  • Lead Management
  • Sales Forecasting
  • Sales & Marketing Automation
  • Project Management
  • Workflow Standardization
  • Internal & External Team Collaboration
  • Social Media Management.

It is interesting to see that CRMs are delivering on so many more areas (such as project management, team collaboration, sales and marketing activities) other than customer relationships.

The reason behind this is the objective to expand the scope of CRM from just a Customer Management Tool to a full-fledged Business Management Application.

That is why, sales, marketing and project management features have been integrated to the system. This has made CRM a more significant tool for every business as it has more features and benefits that result into revenue generation and growth.

The right choice of CRM

In order to get the benefit from CRM, it is important to select the right technology. However, due to so many different types of CRM solutions available – it can get confusing for small businesses to make the right selection.

Some of the factors to take note while choosing a CRM are:

1. Ease of Use

2. Mobile functionality

3. Customization

4. Training

5. Frequency of CRM upgradation

6. Open APIs

7. Cloud or On-premise

8. Security Measures

9. Support Service.

In addition to these elements, small businesses should also consider their own goals that they wish to fulfill through the CRM.

Example: if they are looking for CRM to automate most of their routine data entry work, then they should look for a CRM that has a robust automation module.

Michael Kristian, CEO of Asuret (business consulting firm) also has the same point of view-

You need to get a package that’s tailored to your company’s size. At the most basic level you have simple contact management. Then you have contact management with a shared database. You can have sales tracking or opportunity tracking or customer service functionality. Match the capabilities of the software with what your business goals are.”

Final Thoughts

Once small businesses have CRM by their side, they will automatically develop a tight grip over their business process. Customer relations will improve which will result into a better and continuous flow of ROI.

It’s just that small businesses need to opt for the CRM that is correct for their business. Right? Or do you think that there is some other factor also that plays a key role in ensuring the success of a CRM

Review: TheBrain 8 offers new options for visualizing, organizing information

Several months ago, TheBrain Technologies introduced the latest version of its powerful mind mapping and knowledge visualization tool, TheBrain 8, which provides new ways for you to classify, organize and manipulate your information.

For this build, the developer has focused heavily on the user experience – helping you get started faster with templates, making it easier to apply tags and thought types, a new timeline view and all-around faster performance make TheBrain 8 a pleasure to work with. In this review, we’ll take a closer look at what’s new and improved, and what it means to you from a business standpoint.

Quick-start templates

One of the challenges of getting started with a tool like TheBrain is that it’s a blank slate. It’s hard to know where to start, much less what’s possible. To help users get a jump-start on the development of their brains, the developer has thoughtfully added 5 templates to this new version. Each one contains an existing set of thoughts, thought types and tags that you can edit, delete and customize to meet your needs. Templates included in TheBrain 8 are:

One Brain For It All: A complete brain structure that contains thoughts, tags and types for business and personal information organization. I opened this brain and played around with it for a while. It’s pretty comprehensive, and really gives you a sense of how TheBrain can be used to visually represent large quantities of information. Looking at the thought types tab below the map, I was delighted to see that you can not only create a hierarchy of them, but also color code and assign an icon to them, which adds more meaning and context.

Business Brain: Exclusively the business portion from the One Brain for It All.

Business Types and Tags: This option is designed for users who have an existing thought structure but want to augment their classification with just new thought types and tags.

Education Brain: A helpful brain for students to organize projects, courses, career goals and capture their ideas.

Brainstorming Brain: This brain features thoughts on goal directed thinking, David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) methodology and Alexander Osborn’s (the father of brainstorming) brainstorming rules.

You don’t have to start a new map when using these templates, either – you can import any of these quick-start brains into your existing brain at any time.

Thought types vs. tags

In version 8, the developer has added a new tab in the tools area at the bottom center of the workspace for thought types, where you can more quickly and easily activate, modify, create and delete them. In the previous version of the program, you had to manage thought types via a dialog box that was only accessible via the program’s menu. It’s nice to see that this feature has been brought front and center.

As I explored TheBrain 8, I got a bit confused on the differences between thought types and tags. So I asked my contact at TheBrain Technologies, Shelley Hayduk, to help me understand what’s unique about each type of map content, and the best ways to use them:

Thought types are a single attribute for a thought; you can only have one thought type per thought.  Thought types are an additional classification of meaning you can add to your information; they are useful for grouping large amounts of information. Thought types can be used to define the thought color and icon of each thought so that each of them has a consistent look. In other words, let’s say every topic that’s related to your direct report Bob is colored green with a green icon of a person. This enables you to visually scan your map and see every project Bob is managing.

TheBrain 8 lets you quickly filter your map’s contents and display them in groupings by thought type. This gives you a powerful view into the ways in which you have classified information. I clicked on several thought types in my One Map For It All brain, and was impressed to see how this giant map instantly rearranged itself around filtered views of the thought types I selected.

One of the exciting aspects of creating new thought types is that you’re not limited to TheBrain’s set of icons. Using the program’s “capture thought icon” command, you can capture a screen shot of any image on your screen, using a resizable selection box. The program automatically converts it to a thumbnail image and displays it next to your new thought type.

Why is this a big deal? Whenever I’m using a mind mapping program, I often add some topics where I can envision the type of image I’d like to use as a symbol or icon to accompany it. But inevitably, there is no such visual in the program’s icon library. It’s very frustrating to me, because I have a particular feeling I’m trying to capture with a specific icon or symbol. TheBrain 8 does away with that limitation by enabling me to use any image I choose – and I don’t even have to save it to my hard drive. I just select it and go. This is very cool!

In contrast, tags let you assign additional attributes and contexts to a thought to further define or classify it. You can have as many tags per thought as you like. If you want to aggregate items that are scattered throughout your map but share a common tag, you can do that by simply clicking the checkbox next to the tag name. That displays the corresponding tag next to thoughts that contain it, but it doesn’t filter your map’s contents.

This blog post on TheBrain Technologies website goes into greater detail about tags versus thought types, if you’re interested.

Timeline view

One of the things the developers of the brain have tried to do in this new release is to provide users with new ways of looking at the information in their brains. For example, the program enables you to look at a time-based scale that displays the 1,000 most recently created and modified thoughts. Clicking on a clock icon next to the program’s search box displays a list of topics added to your map, grouped by date. When you click on a topic in this view, TheBrain automatically takes you to that topic within your map.

I don’t think I’d ever use this feature, but I’m sure that certain types of users who bill their time (attorneys and consultants, for example) may find it to be of some value.

New icon library

Another way in which the developers of the brain have added semantic value and meaning to your maps as with the addition of 1,500 new icons or symbols. This enables you to add context to your map topics. Categories of icons in the library include technology, business, art and education. You can also add your own icons, or paste one from the Windows clipboard into the icon tool dialog box.

Improved access to local and online brains

In the last version of TheBrain, the developer made it fairly easy to save local brains to your online file repository and vice versa. But in this version, they have made it absolutely seamless. You can now open both local and online brains right from the open file dialog box – which now incorporates a keyword search to help you find maps faster.

Quick create thoughts

TheBrain 8 contains a new capability that enables you to add new topics to your maps more quickly than ever before. To do this, you simply begin typing a new thought name into the search box. If a thought with that name already exists, you can click on it to view it. If not, you simply click on the “create” button adjacent to the search box, and the program will add it to your map as an orphan thought, which you can then link to any thought in your map.

I like the idea of being able to check for duplicate thoughts before adding a new one to your map. But I found the way the program added my new idea as an orphan to be confusing at first. It looked like it created a titally new map, with my new thought at its center. I found myself asking, “What just happened?” I had to refer to TheBrain 8 Transition Guide to figure it out. Hint: In order to link your new thought to an existing one, you must use the program’s “pin bar” below the workspace.

Twitter search integration

TheBrain 8 now enables you to create and save Twitter searches as topics in your map. When you create a search, the dialog box gives you the options of “all” (a conventional Twitter keyword search), a hashtag search or to view the latest tweets from a specific Twitter account. Once you have created a search, clicking on a topic’s Twitter icon opens that search in your web browser. Search results do not appear in your map. As a way to maintain links to your favorite Twitter views, it has some value. But I would have liked it better if it enabled you to integrate selected tweets into your brain.

New online menu

TheBrain 8 adds a new “online” menu to its toolbar that enables you to quickly access your cloud-based maps easier from your desktop and to streamline the process of sharing thoughts with others. The online menu allows you to synchronize the currently opened brain with your cloud account. You can also launch a web browser to display your settings in TheBrain Cloud, so you can quickly change the access rights to the online version of your map or grant a new team member with access to it. In addition, a new “copy web thought URL” enables you to copy the URL of your currently active thought to your system clipboard. In the previous version of TheBrain, you had to open your map within your cloud account in order to obtain its URL. Now you can do this from the desktop.

Under the hood

At the code level, TheBrain 8 has been streamlined significantly, making the program faster and more responsive. It incorporates enhanced multi-threading technology, which means that you can continue working on your brain while doing other things, such as synchronizing a large map to your Cloud account. The developer says these speed and architecture improvements now make it possible to manage brains of unlimited size – ideal for large knowledge management projects.

Conclusion

In many ways, TheBrain 8 is an incremental rather than revolutionary upgrade to this excellent program. If you haven’t tried TheBrain before, it’s worth a look. This new version is easier to use than ever, and I think you’ll find it a refreshing change from “conventional” mind mapping software. The big difference is that you can use TheBrain to define more complex relationships between topics, without causing a lot of visual clutter. It also offers streamlined collaboration via the developer’s Cloud service, which is easier to use from the desktop than ever.

If you’re already using a previous version of TheBrain, should you upgrade? My answer is, it depends. If you are working with  large brains (thousands of thoughts), then you will definitely benefit from the speed and performance improvements that multi-threading brings to the table. If you’re using the Cloud service to collaborate with a team, you’ll also benefit from faster synching and one-click access to your account, map and sharing settings.

If you’re using a recent version of TheBrain (6 or 7) on a stand-alone basis with smaller maps (under 1,000 thoughts), then the case to upgrade is a bit less compelling. That’s not to take anything away from TheBrain 8 – it’s an impressive piece of software with lots of great information visualization options. I just don’t see anything earth-shattering in this new version that makes it a “must-upgrade” for the average existing user.

TheBrain 8 is available for immediate download at http://www.thebrain.com and is offered in two editions: Free and Pro. TheBrain Free does not expire and lets anyone link ideas and web pages on their desktops and in the cloud. TheBrain Pro offers unlimited file management, advanced search, secure cloud backup and much more. You can purchase TheBrain Pro as a desktop license only for US$219 or with both the license and one year of services for $299, which includes future upgrades and the full suite of online sync and other cloud services. TheBrain also offers an all-inclusive software upgrade and cloud services plan for $159 per year.

To learn more about TheBrain 8 and download the free version, please visit the product page on TheBrain Technologies website.

New MindManager 15 for Windows offers valuable ease-of-use enhancements

MindManager 15 for Windows, released today by mind mapping software developer Mindjet, offers some practical new features and enhancements that will help you to be more productive and well organized than ever before.

The most significant new features of MindManager 15 include a vastly expanded selection of map parts, project management improvements, a new set of hand-drawn icons and a reorganized and simplified template view. The developer’s objective for this new version was to make it easier for new users to get started with the program, while also responding to customer requests for enhancements to existing features.

Here’s what’s new in MindManager 15, and the significance of these new features and enhancements to business users of the program:

Expanded map parts

I’ve always been a fan of this feature of MindManager, because it makes it easy to build common types of mind maps using drag-and-drop functionality. My biggest complaint with it was that there weren’t enough map parts and they didn’t address enough key business uses of mind maps. In addition, the thumbnail images were so small that it was hard to see what each map part looked like.

Mindjet has remedied these past shortcomings in MindManager 15, which includes 50 new map parts. These “plus and play” map components are divided into categories, including brainstorming, project planning, business analysis and meeting planning. In addition, you can select any topic in one of your maps and save it and all of its child topics into a new map part. This could potentially save you many hours of work if you repeatedly create the same types of mind maps.

Improved templates view

In previous versions of MindManager, the templates view required a lot of scrolling. In version 15, Mindjet has regrouped them into six topic-focused folders – management, meetings and events, personal productivity, problem solving, project management and strategic planning. This gives you a concise, high-level view of the types of templates that are available. You can then open a folder to view all of the templates it contains.

In addition, it displays blank templates for creating radial, right, tree and org chart maps, and continues to give you access to Mindjet’s online MapsForThat gallery. Any templates you have created are stored in a new My Templates folder. This new compact layout makes MindManager’s templates view much easier to use.

Hand drawn icon set

In addition to the standard set of icons that ships with previous versions of MindManager, version 15 now includes a set of over 600 hand-drawn icons. They are available in four colors. Mindjet VP of Products Michael Deutch says he was inspired by a post on this blog about the Vector Doodlekit, a third-party collection of hand-drawn icons and symbols, to include a similar set of resources in MindManager 15. The goal is to enable users to create mind maps with a more organic, hand-drawn look.

Project management enhancements

In previous versions of MindManager, if you had a project that was going to start significantly earlier or later than you planned, you had to manually change the start and end dates of each task. In version 15, a new “move project” command simplifies this process. By changing the start date of the overall project, MindManager 15 automatically adjusts all of the task date ranges. You can also use a new command to eliminate slack time in the GANTT view of your project. This can help you to ensure that your project gets done at the earliest possible date.

New topic “quick add” buttons

As part of Mindjet’s goal to improve the usability of MindManager for new users, version 15 now includes small nodes, each containing a plus sign (+), that stick out of the top, bottom and side of each topic. Clicking on one creates a new linked topic in that direction. Deutch said that new users sometimes get stuck trying to figure out how to add new topics to their mind maps. These quick add buttons make it easy to see what to do next. In addition, they enable any users of MindManager 15 to quickly add topics without having to mouse back up to the program’s ribbon toolbar each time – nice!

These new buttons each require a small amount of extra vertical space, however, which can potentially cause printing and page fit problems for some users. If you don’t want them to be visible, you can turn them off in the program’s options. Very smart!

Auto-creation of slides

A new command in MindManager 15 enables users to have the program auto-create slides. If you need to quickly present a mind map to your colleagues, this can be a big time-saver. A new map theme included in this version contains font sizes and settings that are optimized for display on a screen, too.

Whither MindManager 15 for Mac?

Deutch said a Mac version is now under development; Mindjet hopes to release it by year-end. He said the company is driving toward a new development platform that will make it easier to develop one set of code and deploy it to all platforms (Windows, Mac, mobile and web). That sounds like an ambitious goal, but Deutch believes it’s achievable in the next year or two.

MindManager + SpigitEngage?

During Mindjet’s briefing for MindManager 15, I asked for an update on the company’s acquisition of Spigit, a developer of enterprise idea management solutions. Can we expect to see some connections between MindManager and SpigitEngage? Deutch said the Mindjet team has done some research to figure out where the two applications could potentially connect. Clearly there are steps in the innovation process where visual thinking could have a significant impact. The next step is to determine where such integration will offer the greatest benefit to Mindjet and Spigit customers.

Conclusion

MindManager 15 for Windows represents a well thought-out evolution of the program’s comprehensive feature set. The usability enhancements – such as the new templates view, quick-add buttons and the expanded map parts gallery – will be especially appreciated by new users. Experienced users of MindManager will appreciate some of its more powerful new features, like move project and remove slack time for projects.

For more information about and pricing for MindManager 15 for Windows, please visit Mindjet’s product page.

Watch this blog for a review of MindManager 15 in the next month or so, where I will take a deeper look at the new and enhanced features of this excellent program.

iMindQ 6 debuts strong presentation and project management tools

The new iMindQ 6 from Seavus features a well-designed new presentation mode, enhanced project management tools and other improvements clearly aimed at the needs of busy business people.

When iMindQ was launched only three months ago it was an impressive mind mapping program, worthy of your attention. But its developer hasn’t rested on its laurels. It continues to add new functionality to this well-designed visual mapping tool, while also maintaining its ease of use. The latest release of iMindQ, version 6, was launched in mid-October.

Here’s what’s new and notable in this new release:

Rich presentation mode

This new version of iMindQ offers a rich presentation mode that enables you to present your ideas with style. Best of all, Seavus hasn’t followed the lead of many mind mapping programs in moving to a slide-based presentation view, which displays topics in isolation and makes it hard for audiences to follow where you are within the structure of your mind map. Rather, it uses the superior model of “flying” around it, which helps the audience better follow your flow of ideas and information.

To access the presentation mode, simply click on the “from beginning” button in the “present” tab of the program’s ribbon toolbar, and iMindQ 6 immediately launches a full-screen view of your mind map. You can advance to the next topic using either your mouse or the space key. As you progress through the child topics of your map, they are highlighted in a different color, making it easy for the audience to follow along. Child topics “pop” open with a pleasing animation.

In addition to an automatic mode for generating presentations, iMindQ 6 enables you to manually “roll your own” using what the developer calls “Smart Presentation Mode.” You can use iMindQ’s default settings to generate “scenes” (the equivalent of slides in PowerPoint) and then tweak them to suit. You can also manually create new scenes by dragging and dropping one or more map topics onto a blank scene.

The animations panel to the right of the program’s work area displays each step in the selected scene’s animation at the top of this panel; controls to adjust the animation type, effects and timing are located at the bottom. Once you’ve adjusted the scene’s properties, you can preview it in the presentation view of your mind map in the middle of the screen – it’s nice to be able to do this without having to play your presentation. A “show panels” button can be used to display them so you can tweak your presentation, or they can be toggled closed to give the screen a cleaner appearance, ideal for thinking about how you want to present your ideas.

Whether you’re working with a mind map, flow chart, concept map or GANTT chart, the process works exactly the same. You can let the program create a set of scenes for you and then tweak them to meet your needs, or you can add your own using the process I just described for mind maps.

I played around with the default mind map that opens automatically in iMindQ 6 and found the presentation view and controls to be very easy and intuitive to use. It’s nice to see a mind mapping program that gives you this much control over presentation settings and which uses the “fly around” presentation mode I mentioned at the beginning of this review.

New project planning options

 

In iMindQ 6 you can now manage and set working hours according to your project’s needs by using the 3 new calendars that are included in iMindQ 6: Standard, night shift and 24 hours. These are accessible via a “working time” command, which displays a dialog box that enables you to first select one of the three the base calendar types and then lets you designate days as working, non-working, exception and non-default work weeks. For companies that have people doing shift work or flexible time arrangements, these customizations will be quite welcome.

You can mark non-working days in the calendar, such as holidays, and input details about them. I created an exception day; its date on the monthly calender immediately changed color to indicate it’s a restricted day.

Summary tasks appear in the GANTT view as brackets, while individual tasks are displayed as gray bars. When you define a relationship between two task topics in the mind map view, a line depicting that dependency is automatically added to the GANTT view. Clicking on a small box in the middle of the relationship lines enables you to quickly change the direction of the dependency.

Expanded map templates library

iMindQ 6 also includes an expanded collection of mind map templates, including 26 business, 4 educational and 2 personal. You can also save mind maps as templates for future use. The business maps are colorful but very professional in appearance, and really make the greatest use of iMindQ’s ability to shift seamlessly between mind maps, concept maps and flow charts. In other words, they enable you to create more complex relationships between topics, as depicted in the screen shot of the templates at right. Business templates include:

  • Business plan
  • Balanced scorecard
  • Fishbone diagram
  • Employee performance evaluation
  • Business Model Canvas (nice – a first for a mind mapping program!)
  • Project plan
  • Promotional plan
  • Risk management matrix
  • WBS chart
  • Stakeholder map

Clearly a lot of time and thought went into the creation of these map templates, which are not only focused on key business needs but also get the blend of color and content just right – not too boring but not too gaudy, either. Just attractive and functional.

Here, too, you see the true benefit of iMindQ being more than just another mind mapping program: Its ability to also produce flow charts and concept maps means you have a variety of options for depicting and connecting your ideas. How else could you support visual business tools as diverse as a fishbone diagram, business model canvas and balanced scorecard? These templates are truly impressive, and showcase what’s possible with iMindQ.

The growing iMindQ family

In addition to desktop versions of iMindQ for Windows and Mac OS X, Seavus has launched apps for the iPad and iPhone, and recently announced an app for Android and an online version of its mind mapping tool. Both of the mobile apps and iMindQ Online support popular cloud-based storage services like Dropbox and Box. The next step will be for the desktop programs to be able to open files stored online, which will enable you to start creating a mind map on your mobile device and then continue working on it with your PC or Mac.

Conclusion

In my first review of iMindQ in July, I told you I was very pleased with this capable mind mapping program. It continues to get better in version 6, adding some well-designed capabilities that should increase its appeal to business users. Seavus continues to walk the fine line of adding features and functionality to their flagship mind mapping program, while at the same time not making it overly complex to use.

iMindQ 6’s layout is clean, well-organized and intuitive, which makes it a pleasure to use. As you know from reading my reviews on this blog, if a program contains features and functionality that cause me to scratch my head or which aren’t easy to use, I’m not afraid to tell you what I think. Everything I’ve seen in iMindQ so far has met my expectations and then some.

A perpetual license for iMindQ 6 is US$149 for Windows and $99 for Mac; a subscription payment model is also available at $67 and $45, respectively. Considering that some of its competitors retail for up to $350, iMindQ 6 is an excellent value, based upon a comparison of functionality and cost.

With so many announcements coming out of Seavus in the last 6 months, it will be fascinating to see where the developer takes its family of mind mapping tools from here.

iMindMap 8: An awesome new tool for creating and presenting your ideas

ThinkBuzan has placed brainstorming front and center in iMindMap 8, the latest version of its popular mind mapping software program. It features an excellent new free-form ideation mode, improved Windows ribbon toolbar and branch target tool, as well as a redesigned presentation view that contains some great new capabilities.

In this review of iMindMap 8 Ultimate, we’ll take a closer look at the most relevant business-focused functionality of this new version, and I’ll give you my opinion on the program’s pros and cons.

A significant improvement in usability

When I reviewed iMindMap 7 a little over a year ago, I praised its many new features, but expressed some reservations about its overly-complex toolbars and contextual tools, which I thought could overwhelm first-time users. For version 8, ThinkBuzan has succeeded in fixing these issues and helping users get oriented and get down to the task of creating mind maps.

One case in point: When you first open iMindMap 8 Ultimate, you’re given three choices: Create a new session in brainstorming view, create a “professional” mind map or a Buzan mind map (see the screen shot below). What’s interesting to me is the distinction between the latter two map types. The thumbnail image of the professional mind map shows skinny, angular connector lines and rounded rectangle topic shapes, while the Buzan mind map has colorful tapered branches with words upon them – what we’ve come to expect from iMindMap. Apparently, it’s developers have recognized that business people tend to be very pragmatic, and want map designs that look more professional and less “creative.”

Brief on-screen instructions are clear and easy to understand, and should help new users understand the basic concepts of creating mind maps and brainstorming with iMindMap 8. Nicely done!

To give me a better sense of what changed from version 7 to 8, I opened up a map I created last year in iMindMap 7, and compared the two. The differences are striking! iMindMap 7 looks cluttered, with tabs and buttons everywhere – in the toolbar above the workspace (which has two sets of text menus above it) and in the properties panel on the left side of the workspace, which displays 6 tabs, with several more hidden from view.

By comparison, iMindMap 8’s user interface is simpler, more businesslike and efficiently designed. Its menus and options are all still available, but they are better presented in ways that don’t overwhelm the user. Kudos to ThinkBuzan on an excellent user interface!

Brainstorming view rocks

iMindMap 8’s new brainstorming view (only available in the program’s Ultimate version) resembles a cork board; ideas and images can be placed on it and are styled to resemble Post-It notes. It’s a perfect representation of a brainstorming wall in your cubicle, office or in a meeting room.

Using the program’s contextual brainstorming toolbar, you can easily add ideas, small ideas (think of half-sized sticky notes) and images to its canvas, and move them around at will. A playful-looking font gives you the impression of hand-written notes, adding to the authenticity of this creative thinking environment. Images appear as if they have been affixed to a sticky note at the top edge with a piece of transparent tape – a nice touch, in my opinion.

One key to capturing ideas in a program like this is the ability to do so quickly. That means keyboard-only input. I experimented a bit and determined that the INSERT key doesn’t work, but the spacebar creates a new idea in your brainstorming workspace. You can also create a new, regular-sized idea by double-clicking in a blank area of the workspace.

Adding a group to your brainstorm causes iMindMap 8 to add a white box to the corkboard surface. Like images, groups appear as if they were taped to the surface. Adding items to a group is as simple as dragging and dropping them into it. The box automatically resizes as you add more ideas to it.

This is an ideal setup, because it enables you to engage in free-form brainstorming, without regard to the structure of your ideas. You can then switch from ideation to evaluation, grouping your ideas in ways that make sense to you. In doing so, you’re creating a hierarchy that will drive how they are arranged when you switch to mind map view.

Another way to visually classify your ideas is by color; iMindMap 8 enables you to select from 8 colors for ideas. The virtual Post-It notes can also be toggled between full and half-size, if you need to squeeze more ideas into the space of your screen. In addition, you can drag with your mouse on a blank area of the workspace to access additional screen real estate, giving you almost unlimited room to capture your inspirations.

I played around with brainstorming mode while evaluating iMindMap 8, and was delighted with its functionality. I’m an avid student of brainstorming tools, technologies and techniques, and I’m not easily impressed. ThinkBuzan definitely got brainstorming mode right in iMindMap 8!

Simplified branch target aids new users

In iMindMap parlance, the branch target is a set of buttons that pop up as you hover over the end of a map branch. They enable you to complete common tasks without needing to move your cursor back to the ribbon toolbar each time. In version 7, the branch target was like a Swiss Army Knife, with a myriad of commands clustered into a two-tiered set of icons. In iMindMap 8, it has been considerably simplified to do four things:

  • Adjust the branch’s shape
  • Add a new subtopic
  • Add a new box topic
  • Add a relationship line

ThinkBuzan has wisely limited its functionality to one essential über-task: Adding content to your mind map. This should make iMindMap 8 much more intuitive to use, especially for first-time and occasional users.

Another simplification: In previous versions, when you selected a branch, control points were visible, which enabled you to reshape the branch. These are now turned off by default, but can be toggled on via a command in the layout menu. I think this is a wise decision; the average user will probably never used this feature. Advanced users, who want precise control over branch shapes, will appreciate that it’s still there and can be turned on as needed.

Presentation view gets a facelift

The presentation view of iMindMap has been significantly improved in version 8, and contains some very cool touches. You can auto-create a presentation with a single mouse click, or “roll your own.” You can then make adjustments in the slide viewer panel on the left side of the program’s workspace by dragging and dropping them into the order that makes the most sense to you. You can even rotate the view, to add more visual interest (don’t overdo it, though!).

You can also group slides in presentation view. How does this work? Let’s say you have a pair of topics at the lowest level of one of your map’s branches that the auto-create function has interpreted as two separate slides. Simply multi-select the two slides and group them. The result is a single slide with both topics displayed. Two slides have become one using a simple, intuitive process. If you change your mind, iMindMap 8’s presentation toolbar contains an ungroup button, which returns the topic to its previous state.

As you view a slide in the sorter, a blue box appears over the mind map that corresponds to the amount of it that will be shown in that slide. If you want to adjust that to zoom in, zoom out or reposition that slide’s view, you can do so by manipulating the blue box. Nice! The updated presentation view in version 8 now enables you to add notes to each slide. During a presentation, these notes appear to you but not to your audience.

When you give a presentation using iMindMap 8, your presenter view displays the current slide with a timer below it; to the right are smaller views of the next slide and any notes you have added to the current one. Your audience only sees the current slide.

You can also open a vertical sorter panel during a presentation, which enables you to immediately move to any slide in your presentation – ideal if a member of your audience wants you to go back to a specific slide for additional discussion about it. Best of all, this all happens “behind the scenes” – only on your screen. I love the intuitive way this works!

Best of all, iMindMap 8 “flys” you from one topic to another during presentations, rather than just displaying a series of map “snapshots” as some competing programs do. This latter approach is inferior, in my opinion, because it causes your audience to lose sense of where the currently-displayed topic resides within the overall structure of your mind map.

One of the keys when presenting information to an audience is to include your company or brand logo on each slide. iMindMap 8 makes this easy. All you do is click on the “branding” icon in the presentation toolbar, and the program lets you select an image from your hard drive. You then have the option of placing it in any one of the four corners of your slides. It may take some experimentation to get the logo to display at the size you want it – you can’t scale it up or down within iMindMap. Perhaps ThinkBuzan will add this capability in a future version.

Presentation view also includes an intelligent group of settings that give you more finite control over how it handles animations, transitions and how the program traverses from one slide to another. Kiosk mode enables you to set up your presentation to auto-run and loop continuously, unattended. This is ideal for trade show booths, lobby displays and other applications where you want your presentation to run continuously.

Contextual menus reduce visual clutter

In iMindMap 8, ThinkBuzan has adopted a user interface technique that Microsoft Office has used for years to help manage complexity: Contextual menus. These are additional tabs that only appear in the ribbon toolbar when you’re performing certain functions – such as branch tools, brainstorming and presentation mode. This helps to decrease toolbar clutter and once again, makes iMindMap 8 easier to use.

New icon library and properties panel

iMindMap 8 features a new icon library and properties panel, nestled in a set of buttons that expand into tabbed panels on the right side of the workspace. Seven buttons/tabs provide fast access to topic notes, the image library, icon library, attachments, flowcharts, snippets (segments of mind maps that can be added to your map at any time) and task data. The design of these tools is clean, uncluttered and intuitive.

Conclusion

It’s common for mind mapping programs to fall victim to “featuritis.” Under pressure from customers and salespeople to “just add this one more feature,” software often becomes bloated and harder to use as more features and functionality are added.

That’s why iMindMap 8 is a breath of fresh air. Its clean, intuitive design makes it a pleasure to work with. As I’ve said in previous reviews on this blog, there’s a real art to keeping what’s visible in a user interface simple enough so new users don’t get overwhelmed, while also keeping advanced functionality close at hand to meet the needs of power users. ThinkBuzan got this balance right in version 8.

I’m an especially big fan of the new brainstorming mode, which helps you get into a creative mode with its corkboard background and colorful sticky notes to capture your ideas. I’m glad to see it supports keyboard-only input, so when the ideas are coming hot and heavy, you can keep up, whether you’re facilitating a group brainstorming session or ideating solo.

The presentation mode also includes some thoughtful touches that elevate it above many competing programs. I especially love the group/ungroup slide and branding capabilities. In addition, the “flip screen” command is very useful – since most times you’re going to be preparing presentations at your desk or at a laptop, without the benefit of a second screen. Being able to toggle back and forth between your view and what your audience will see is a real plus. Compare that to what you would otherwise need to do – run your presentation, exit from it, tweak and repeat. This is much faster!

Best Blog Software for Both Beginners & Developers to Use

To select the best blog software for our readers, we have reviewed dozens of blog applications mainly from feature and support. As a result, we found that the ones introduced below are the best, coming with a large number of highlights to enable bloggers to get started easily and manage their blogs effortlessly.

The most common and efficient way to set up a blog is to utilize blogging software. Doing this way, normal bloggers, especially beginners, can either save the time and energy of working on building a blog manually or save the budget spent in hiring a web developer to handle the code-related process. There are dozens of choices, and we only select the best ones to introduce here. All of them are backed by a large community of developers and contributors, and come with great ease of use.

In below, we have worked out a comprehensive review to list the main information of them to explain why they are the best. Move on to the details.

WordPress

Website: http://wordpress.org/

WordPress, which is both free and priceless at the same time, is PHP open source software that can be used to create a beautiful blog. It is easy to install and upgrade this software. If you want to use an FTP program, you are able to create a database, upload WordPress using FTP and run the installer. If you are not familiar with FTP, you need to choose a web host offering 1-click script installer to help you install this application with a few clicks.

WordPress is the most widely-used blogging platform as well as CMS around the world that has over 60 million loyal fans including some large and well brands like eBay, Metro UK, Variety and BBC America. Starting as simply a personal blogging tool, now WordPress is adopted for all kinds of mainstream purposes, such as education, technology, e-commerce, etc.

WordPress is backed by a huge community consisting of millions of users in all levels of knowledge on this software – from beginners with nearly no technical skills to web developers having been devoted to the online development for years. With the contributions of so many people, WordPress comes with excellent customizability, with which users can make any changes they like to give a new look or add new functionality to their blogs.

Reliability is the most important factor to evaluate software. According to our experience, most software complaints come from mass of bugs and problems, and meanwhile, most happy experience come from reliability. In this case, WordPress has been proven to be a reliable software for many years so far.

More highlights of this blog software are listed in below.

  • Simplicity & flexibility.
  • Available in more than 70 languages.
  • Built-in comments & search engine optimization.
  • Thousands of free elegant-designed themes & plugins.
  • Textpattern

    Website: http://textpattern.com/

    As a reputed blogging tool, Textpattern has great flexibility and extensibility which are loved much by web designers, developers, publisher, and bloggers (the largest part of its customer base). The powerful and sophisticated engine makes this CMS a suitable choice for whatever types of blog and other website that you can imagine.

    Textpattern is a flexible, elegant and easy-to-use, with numerous built-in tags and reusable code partials that enable you to fully control the presentations of the content of your blog. With a browser-based interface in more than 40 languages, excellent support and full range of features, this software is suitable for publishers, designers and developers to establish a blog.

    The admin interface of Textpattern is minimalist, efficient and clearly labeled, with which bloggers can easily get on with publishing and managing content. Built-in tags and textile are also coming with the software, which enables users to have complete control over the content and presentation, as well as get the ability to transform plain text into fully-formatted web content in seconds.

    What’s more, if you want to go beyond the software’ default capabilities, you are allowed to quickly install any of hundreds of available plugins or create your own in PHP. Moreover, In the Textpattern’s wiki, technicians and engineers have worked out a pile of in-depth articles with a lot of information about software installation, administration, themes and plugins. If you can’t find the answers you need in the wiki, you can check the official forum or contact the company’s community.

    b2evolution

    Website: http://www.b2evolution.net/

    b2evolution is a popular CCMS (Content + Community Management System) that is mostly used to set up and manage multiple blogs. Being free and open source under GNU GPL, you can freely download and install this software to fully power your own blogs.

    b2evolution can run on any web hosting platforms supporting the recent versions of PHP and MySQL, and it is another state-of-the-art publishing system besides WordPress, with a focus on aesthetics, web standards, and ease of use. Besides, b2evolution comes with many features including an extensive plugin and skin system.

    Nucleus CMS

    Website: http://www.nucleuscms.org/

    Nucleus CMS is a self-hosted fully featured content management system that comes with the largest advantages in blog management. Now in version 3.65, it is one of the lightest, most flexible and secure options for maintaining one or multiple weblogs with a team of authors.

    Nucleus CMS has a large number of helpful blogging-related features which can be used to schedule works, boost search engine rankings, managing comments and categories, and so on. Also, there is a built-in backup system which allows users to create a backup version of the database contents with a simple one click to significantly reduce the risk of unexpected data loss.

    Weebly

    Website: http://www.weebly.com/

    Starting a blog with Weebly is very simple, because you have the ability to use flexible drag and drop interface to build your blog content quickly and easily. Moreover, the powerful design and publishing elements enables you to focus on your content while the Weebly services pull all the weight in the background. In addition, there are a plethora of widgets and media options in your blog dashboard, so that you can make it all work with ease, no matter you blog is about photo journal, video diary or literary review.

    More highlights of this software are :

    • Full control over layout and post structure allows you to create exceptional blog sites.
    • Complete category, tag and sidebar customization provide the key navigation and interaction elements modern blog visitors crave.
    • Free blog templates are able to work as standalone sites or pieces of a larger website.
    • RSS and social sharing feature are built into every blog to help amplify your message across the channels that matter.

    Typepad

    Website: http://www.typepad.com/

    Typepad is one of the most famous blog software, with which you are able to publish quickly and easily from your computer, mobile or even via email. In addition, this application allows you to tweak a theme with custom CSS. You just need to use the Theme Builder to easily build your own design or design your own template from the ground up. Moreover, you are able to use your blog built with Typepad to sell your products or services, run ads and join their effective affiliate program.

    In addition, you have the ability to see what is going on with your blog since the smart stats of audience integrated with Google analytics is on your blog. Furthermore, you are capable of using the beautiful templates and user-friendly design tools to handcraft you own special blog. If you had any problem about blogging, you are allowed to contact the professional Typepad team for help anytime.

    Drupal

    Website: http://drupal.org/

    Some people might be surprised at the selection of Drupal for blogging, as it is not commonly used for this purpose. But in fact, according to our review and experience, Drupal is a quite good CMS for building and maintaining fully featured blogs due to its user-friendly user interface and built-in blogging features.

    The functionality and customization possibilities are unlimited with Drupal because there are over 24,000 modules and themes available at Drupal.org, let alone the numerous ones at other marketplaces. The active community is still working on the development and extension of Drupal core.

    Wix

    Website: http://www.wix.com/

    Being a beginner, if you have sufficient ideas about PowerPoint presentation, then Wix is an appropriate tool for you. It is ranked as one of the best website building software available presently because of its versatility in the operations and simplification of tasks.

    Wix appreciates the fact that you are a beginner in the field of website building and provides you with a simple user interface. The drag and drop feature is one of the most attractive features of Wix because it allows you to upload content or images within minutes.

    One of the highlights of this website building tool is a series of templates facilitating the design and appearance of the website. However, the templates once applied cannot be changed after the project has initialized. To make it possible, the user has to start all over again.

    Wix offers a manageable storage and bandwidth limit of 500MB each.

    SquareSpace

    Website: https://www.squarespace.com/

    It is one of the most versatile website building software with some premium features for the prospective website makers. It offers a sleek design to the website that is full of attractive features and functions. Being premium website building software, it has several plans for its clients that help the clients choose the most appropriate one for their websites.

    When it comes to the technical specification, SquareSpace provides its remarkable service in various packages starting at $8 per month. Under the cheapest offering, SquareSpace allows 500GB of bandwidth, a mobile-compatible website with up to 20 pages and 2 GB storage. Adding to it, the client gets a custom domain and an all-time support. In its best plan, SquareSpace allows you to enjoy unlimited bandwidth in addition to other premium features.

    The best part of SquareSpace is that it allows the website to transform into WordPress in the long run to enjoy its highly customizable features.

    uCoz

    Website: https://www.ucoz.com/

    uCoz is a website building software having the simplest user interface. It is the software that builds websites for free. It offers many features to the users who choose to make a website using this software.

    Being a template-based website building tool for beginners, uCoz consists of about 250 default templates and 22 modules. Adding to it, it is compatible with tons of widgets and gadgets that can be customized into the website. It supports data backup and allows unlimited disk space to all its clients.

    Jimdo

    Website: https://www.jimdo.com/

    If you are looking forward to having a remarkable user interface on your website, there is no better solution than Jimdo. It is a website building software that consists of Dropbox integration and many attractive features. The Dropbox integration allows you to share or use the photos easily, thanks to the Dropbox account!

    Being a paid website building software, Jimdo has some very attractive features to offer. It has the ability of produce coupon codes which are required in multiple fields. Apart from it, Jimdo has an automated system of email where purchase confirmation emails are generated automatically.

    When it comes to the specification, you get about 20 custom email addresses which you can use for different legal purposes. Adding to it, Jimdo allows you to get unlimited storage.

    Conclusion

    Based on our review on the blogging tools’ features and users’ votes, WordPress is the deserved winner of the best blogging software that can be used to build a rich-featured, easy-to-use, and search engine friendly blog. However, as WordPress needs a server to reside on, we recommend the following 3 best web hosts for WordPress companies for their ability to well serve WordPress blogs with excellent reliability and high performance.

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