For our June Project of the Month, the community elected Freeplane, an application for mind mapping and project/knowledge management that helps you develop, organize, and communicate your ideas most effectively. One of the project’s lead coders, Dimitry Polivaev, shared his thoughts about the project’s history, purpose, and direction.
SourceForge (SF): Tell me about the Freeplane project.
DP: For users, Freeplane is a free and open source software application that supports thinking, sharing information, and getting things done at work, in school, and at home. For the community and its developers, it’s a place for discussing and realizing ideas about knowledge representation and information analysis.
SF: What made you start this?
DP: In 2003 I discovered FreeMind and was fascinated by the potential of mind maps. I was contributing to it over a long time. In 2007, I forked it and started Freeplane with a vision of creating a more efficient software design and building a team with good rapport between the team members.
SF: Who can benefit the most from your project?
DP: The software can be used for organizing and analyzing information of any kind. When information is structured you can more easily see existing relations, notice gaps, and find new questions and answers. Engineers use Freeplane for note taking. Students use it for better learning. Scientists use it for developing logic of their papers and presentations. Storytellers use it as a database of ideas, characters, places, and phrases for writing stories. Managers use it for managing project tasks and teams. There are so many areas where analyzing information can lead to new understanding and better communication.
SF: What is the need for this particular mind-mapping program?
DP: Freeplane is fast. It can display, search, filter, organize, manipulate, and export thousands of pieces of information. It can be completely controlled with the keyboard. It is also highly configurable (e.g. it allows easy definition of own shortcuts and has very good support for scripting). Groovy scripts and installable add-ons that provide additional functionality can be written and shared by users.
SF: What’s the best way to get the most out of using Freeplane?
DP: Visit our forum and become a part of the online community. Here you can share questions, answers and ideas, or help other and ask for help. You can also get the deep inside answers and influence features even if you are not a developer yourself.
SF: What has your project team done to help build and nurture your community?
DP: We all believe in the value of communication with the community. I see the community as an extension of the team. In our forum, we discuss coming features and get feedback. I think that it increases developer motivation and also makes our work more efficient.
SF: Have you all found that more frequent releases helps build up your community of users?
DP: More frequent releases are rather important for happy developers because they do not like to wait too long for features that they develop to be used.
SF: What was the first big thing that happened for your project?
DP: New impulses to the project have always come with new people and their ideas. In 2011, a group of young scientists working on new academic literature software called Docear, which is used to search, organize, and create academic literature, decided to use Freeplane as the foundation for their work.
SF: What helped make that happen and what was the result?
DP: The main arguments were the quality of our software design and the way we supported their work, so now there is a strong collaboration between our two projects and teams.
SF: What is the next big thing for Freeplane?
DP: We just released the final version of Freeplane 1.3.x, and we are presently working on a new user interface and new features for the next version 1.4.x. And every day there is a chance that somebody comes with a new great idea and starts to implement it with us. For example, there are many requests for Freeplane for mobile devices; people want to take their mind maps with them. Although several free and non-free apps support Freeplane’s format partially, there are none with full Freeplane support.
SF: How long do you think that will take?
DP: I hope we release 1.4.x later this year. The mobile version or a more fancy Freeplane based on JavaFX technology are likely to take more time.
SF: Do you have the resources you need to make that happen?
DP: We work as long as it takes and usually set no deadlines. The most important resources are confidence and passion.
SF: What would you do differently for Freeplane?
DP: Recently I have learned about software craftsmanship, clean code, and appreciated test-driven development. Applying these principles to Freeplane development is a new challenge.
SF: Is there anything else we should know?
DP: We are eager to welcome new guys (and their ideas) to join our team!