Tools & Technologies

Notes from a Discussion with Shelley and Harlan (and Eric) on PersonalBrain 4.0

TheBrain is an associative information organization system-any piece of information can be linked to any other piece. The power of TheBrain lies in the flexibility of these links. You can quickly create structures of information that reflect the way you think about your information. Each item triggers related items, bringing relevant information together as you need it.

A couple of days ago I had a briefing with Shelley and Harlan from TheBrain Technologies, purveyors of an information management and visualization tool. We were primarily speaking about the new Version 4.0 of PersonalBrain, the tool aimed at individuals, although we also entered BrainEKP territory a few times–that’s the corporate version. I also had the benefit of Eric Mack on the call.

Some of the key ideas that I took away from our discussion are:

  • Current information management tools are very linear in layout and structure, which makes it difficult to quickly express thoughts and show the relationships between them. Mind mapping is a step in the right direction, but TheBrain takes it a step further: any item can be linked with any other item, thus creating a brain-like network structure of associations.
  • PersonalBrain supports three types of associations between thoughts or ideas: parent associations (this thought is a descendent of that one), a child thought (the new thought is a descendent of this one), and jump thoughts (there’s an association between these two thoughts, but it’s not parent or child).
  • By default, the PersonalBrain stores information and provides a visual navigation metaphor of that information. However, for many people, there are data sources that they need to connect to. PersonalBrain offers one additional connectors for other data sources: file folders. This means you can drag-and-drop a Windows Explorer or Mac Finder (or Linux equivalent) folder onto a brain, and the contents will be read and displayed. There’s a persistent link set up between the brain and the folder: when items are added or removed from the folder, the brain will automagically update.
  • PersonalBrain 4 provides ways for users to quickly go back to a previous place in their brain – “pins” allow you to put a thought at the top of the screen for a single click return, and there’s a scrolling bread crumb trail at the bottom of the screen for seeing where you’ve been recently.
  • Sharing of brains is enabled through various ways. You can send a brain file to another user to open in their PersonalBrain. You can put a brain file on a shared drive for access by many people, albeit one at a time. You can export a brain to HTML and publish it to an internal or external web site.
  • There are new ways in PersonalBrain 4 for navigating your information set. By default, you see the current central thought and one level of associations, but there are two additional navigation alternatives. One builds a bigger and bigger brain as you navigate through what you’ve got; it doesn’t hide previous things. The second shows two levels of associations, rather than just one.
  • PersonalBrain includes an “ESP” mode. This means that your brain sits off to one side on your screen, and monitors what you are typing in any other application. When it finds a match between what you’re typing and entries in your brain, it will automagically shift the brain to the right place. I really liked the concept of this feature, as it aligns very nicely with Pillar 7 in my 7 Pillars model.
  • Basic search works on text in the thoughts, whereas advanced search works on text across all items, documents and attachments in the brain.
  • Using the “Reports” capability in the brain, a user can quickly see what has changed in their brain.
  • Mac and Linux platform support are new in PersonalBrain 4. Harlan said there’s about 99% equivalency between features on the three platforms.

There was a lot more, but those are the highlights for me.

With respect to BrainEKP, the corporate version:

  • There are additional connectors for linking to enterprise data sources. Eg, you can link to an enterprise directory and visualize the HR reporting relationships (similar in some ways to NetAge’s OrgScope). There’s also a connector for Lotus Domino databases … in this case the data storage is separated from the data visualization. If I understood correctly, you describe a database structure and the interrelationships between items to BrainEKP, and then it will visualize that for you. The same concepts work for SharePoint sites too.
  • Collaboration capabilities are part-and-parcel of the system.

Our discussion on BrainEKP was merely cursory; Shelley and Harlan are arranging a subsequent call so I can explore this more fully.

After the discussion, I had a few questions for Shelley and Harlan about features and futures, including RSS in and out, automatic suggestion of associations, mobile device synchronization (so you could use PersonalBrain for GTD, for example), and different ways of delivering notifications and alerts.

In conclusion, many thanks to Shelley, Harlan and Eric for a fascinating tour of TheBrain.

Categories: Tools & Technologies

4 replies »

  1. Hi Michael- I have been playing around with theBrain for the last couple of weeks and find it to be a fascinating and rich tool for mapping information. Thanks for your review of the product.

  2. This is a terrific review. Based on this, I’m going to give the software a try for my work on suicide assessment. I’m curious…have you used it at all for presenting information or just for tracking your own brain for yourself as you work?

  3. Thank you for bringing this tool to people’s attention. I personally believe that when The Brain (and its derivatives) catch on, they will revolutionize how every day human beings store and retrieve knowledge – and knowledge is power.
    As a philosopher and author of 2 non-fiction personal development books, I have thousands of pages of notes and an elaborate hierarchy of folders to keep them in, which evolved into MindManager mind maps. I used a strategy of “say something once and put it in its appropriate place so that you can find it when you need it.” To keep everything straight in this system was both time consuming and constraining.
    With TheBrain, however, I can create multiple connections, which sets me free from my hierarchical limitations. You didn’t mention “types” in your list, which adds yet one more dimension to the way that you can organize, filter, and connect thoughts.
    It has only been a month since I have started using The Brain, but it has quickly become my favorite and central knowledge management tool. It is not just better, it offers whole new possibilities. I have been suggesting to everyone who takes their knowledge system seriously to download the free version of the program to test it for themselves.
    I see a whole new possibility for storing knowledge that transcends the limitations of 3000 years of linear writing have created.
    Mark Michael Lewis