Mindjet launches new idea-mapping tool for online collaborators

There are lot of companies using the web to improve collaboration, but Scott Raskin, chief executive of a company called Mindjet, says they all seem to be offering “the same old stuff.” So Mindjet is taking them on with a just-announced product called Mindjet Catalyst, which he says will boost collaboration in a way the competitors won’t.

Like companies such as Box.net, Mindjet Catalyst is an online application that includes tools like document management. And like Huddle, it includes a web conferencing service. But there’s one feature in particular that sets Catalyst apart, and gives Raskin’s boasts some credibility — a visual collaboration tool, which is basically the online version of Mindjet’s “mind mapping” software. Rather than writing out a list of ideas or action items, Catalyst lets you diagram them visually, like on a white board. That means you’re not just swapping documents, but actually working together to develop ideas, Raskin says.

I saw a brief demonstration of Catalyst last week, and even though I’m not really a visual thinker, I was impressed by the richness that can be hidden by the mind maps’ simplicity. Each branch on the map can contain an intricate diagram, so that a list that it would have taken pages to write out can be contained in a single map. The map can also connect to outside content through attached documents or web links.

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Raskin showed me a business plan created with Catalyst, where clicking on one of the major sections would let you see new branches with more details. He also brought up one of the maps he uses to organize Mindjet board meetings, where board members can download financial spreadsheets from the relevant part of the map. And just for fun, he showed me a map planning a weekend getaway, which was filled out with links to destinations and menus.

In Catalyst, multiple team members can work on a map together, and it updates in real-time. You can also chat about the maps as you’re working on them, or hold a web meeting to build the map together. And if you’re not sure how to get started, Mindjet includes templates for different kinds of maps.

Catalyst costs $25 per user per month, plus an extra $25 for the web conferencing. (One reason you might hesitate before paying the extra money: For now, Mac users can only host or join web meetings by using a simulated Windows environment.)

Mindjet is a private company headquartered in San Francisco and says 1.5 million people already use its existing mind mapping software.

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