[FGJ] Organizing your ideas

By YopY on Thursday 27 May 2010 23:00 - Comments (6)
Category: -, Views: 3.766

First off, my WoW subscription just expired, so I should spend more time on this blog / development thing. If you've been following my series (all two episodes of it), which I'm probably going to prefix from now on to make it more recognizable from the blog (and site) index, you'll know that this series is about building an application, from the initial phases to the actual running of it.

Long sentence, excuse me.

In this post, I'll get to the first thing that you really should do before getting down to coding. I know that a lot of people - including myself - have an idea for a website or -app and just start hacking away in code, building up their program incrementally, slapping on features whenever they feel like it. I'm not saying that is a bad thing, by the way, just making note of it.

For this project, however, I'd like to work on it in a structured and organized fashion. To apply structure to a project however, one first needs to define the project, to make a list of Things It Should Do. For this particular project, it's been milling around in my head (and on various forums) for probably years now, but I never got around to putting it into words.

...Alright, I'm lying here, I did write a two-page document in half an hour or something early this year. But for the purpose of this document, let's pretend that didn't happen, alright?

In any case, back in the old days in uni (or the Dutch equivalent of that, HBO), I 'discovered' a technique called brainstorming. Or, to be more accurate, I found a piece of software written for the purpose of brainstorming. I played around with it a few times, read around the internets (or well, Wikipedia, the rest of the internets doesn't matter much about such subjects), and even applied it to a few smaller projects.

Brainstorming is, as Wikipedia puts it, "a group creativity technique designed to generate a large number of ideas for the solution of a problem." But of course, and for my own purposes, this can also be applied to just yourself.

Now, one of the key things about brainstorming - or, that thing I like to do to think about a project to be done - is that you need to be able to write your ideas down quickly, without being bothered with things like formatting or things like that.

The particular piece of software I referred to three paragraphs ago is called Freemind, an open source, visual mindmapping software kit. In itself, it's really not that great of a program - it lets you make graphs, and add pretty colors and fonts to it. See the screenshots I stole from their own site.

http://freemind.sourceforge.net/FreeMind-computer-knowledge-thumb.png http://freemind.sourceforge.net/FreeMind-my-health-thumb.png

The thing that made it work for me though is that it's easy and quick to use, with just your keyboard. You create a new (sub)node with insert, and add a node on the same level with enter - that's it. You can navigate with the arrow keys, too.

Now, with the softare installed, we go to the actual storming of ye brain. It's important that you can spend some time on it - half an hour to an hour should be enough time to get a lot of ideas out there, but try to take as long as you still get ideas. Also, if you're easily distracted, turn off all of your IM and email software (or the internet in general), put on some music (that doesn't annoy you into skipping it too often), whatever you need to be able to concentrate for a little while.

Second, one of the key rules of brainstorming is: Don't judge. Ideas only, write them all down, do not delete anything. Nothing. Thinking about an idea beyond adding some more in-depth ideas about them will destroy your creative high. Or well, can destroy it.

In any case, let's start with the actual process. Open up Freemind, and put The Word in the center. This 'root node' is the central idea, the central concept of the thing you're trying to create ideas for.

Next, enable Automatic Layout, it's under the Format menu. This'll give the nodes colors and styles automatically, so you can differentiate between deeper levels without having to manually edit the formatting - because that'll distract you, and break the flood of ideas.

Then, it's time to get busy. Write down the first things that come to mind when you look at the first word. Key words, random ideas - just spew out anything. Don't worry about it being in the wrong place - you can easily move it once your ideas crystallize.

I blurted out 'Community website' and 'Music news from various sources' (simply typing those words and pressing enter) after a few seconds. When typing down that last one, the 'sources' came bubbling up, so then I pressed Insert to add nodes to the 'sources' node. Here's an image of what it looked like after blurting out a few ideas.


'WTF', quoth I, 'Automated?'. Well yeah, it's not very likely you will be able to gather a team of editors that spend enough time writing up articles to fill your site with content, especially not if your site pretends to have a wide audience and coverage of most genres, does it? Or that's what the random idea was. So, the minute your original train of thought is derailed by ideas and thoughts popping up about that 'automated' thing, you insert into that node, and spew out key words - 'crawlers', 'automatically gathered, manually checked and edited', 'daily / continuously / regularly', as well as questions that suddenly arise, such as 'permissions?', about whether it'd be legal to crawl certain pages on Myspace to effectively copy content.

Oh, and don't worry about technical implications at this point - you're spewing ideas instead of being realistic. Besides, in this day and age, almost everything is possible - at least, technology isn't as much a factor anymore. I can cook up a simple crawler in a few minutes if I need to. In fact, I did a few years ago, for the heck of it and because I didn't want to shell out hundreds of dollars to get a database dump of my free-hosted forum, wrote up a multithreaded forum crawler thing in an afternoon (or two?) and had it backup the 250.000 posts gathered over the years.

But I'm distracting myself. I should get back to properly finishing that mindmap now. Be right back.

There. I probably didn't follow some of the things I said in this post, but I don't listen to myself, nor should you - do what you feel is right, there's really no rules in this thing besides being creative and listening to yourself.

I was going to format the map I cooked up in just a few minutes (ran out of ideas then), but then the program crashed (I used the most recent pre-release version). Do make sure to save regularly. I was lucky that Freemind automatically makes backups, in your user profile folder, subfolder .freemind. Better save it properly this time around.

Below is the image of the mindmap. I'm too lazy to upload the .mm file for you to play around with at the moment, so it'll have to do.


I think that about wraps it up. The next step is to copy the ideas and put them into a proper word document, put the random ideas to writing. It's preferable you don't wait too long with this, or that you at least go over the mindmap and add enough things to it so the random words and sentences make sense, and that you go 'Oh right that's what I meant with that' when you see it again later. I'll try to do that for next time, but won't bore you with a post about that. Instead, I think I'll write up The Plan itself, or what the site should do for a first version. Based on that come requirements, and from there on I can start thinking about the technical side of things - technical requirements, to be precise. And based on that, and I know all of you are more interested in that than this overly long paragraph, I can look into programming languages, frameworks, databases, webservers, etcetera. I'll try not to be biased in that.

tl;dr, see you later. C&C is welcome, I probably should add more images and actually re-read my post before posting it, but I'm lazy.

Volgende: [FGJ] The Value of Social 05-'10 [FGJ] The Value of Social
Volgende: Installeren van Trac, voor geweldige justitie 05-'10 Installeren van Trac, voor geweldige justitie


By Tweakers user Xghost, Thursday 27 May 2010 23:14

Interessante blogpost! Ik kan dit ook best wel goed gebruiken. Structuur wat dat betreft ligt niet heel erg goed bij mij.

By Tweakers user Afvalzak, Friday 28 May 2010 09:13

Wordt bij mij op het HBO ook vaak aangeraden bij mensen die leren lastig vinden vanuit het boek.
Bij het maken van een mindmap maak je natuurlijk goede categoriën en kan je voor jezelf alles duidelijk onderverdelen.

By Tweakers user YopY, Friday 28 May 2010 09:17

Xghost wrote on Thursday 27 May 2010 @ 23:14:
Interessante blogpost! Ik kan dit ook best wel goed gebruiken. Structuur wat dat betreft ligt niet heel erg goed bij mij.
Dan is dit echt iets voor jou, en ook iets dat je kunt oefenen. Natuurlijk kun je ook een dikke brij maken van dit, maar het is tenminste een brij met structuur, ;).

By Tweakers user himlims_, Friday 28 May 2010 09:37

ps; host je images volgende keer bij t.net zelf, jouw externe host is vrij tr a a ag

By Tweakers user Jesserr, Friday 28 May 2010 10:06

Mindmappen kan je echt overal voor gebruiken! Vooral voor chaoshoofden zoals ik is het erg praktisch. Voor mij voelt het altijd een beetje bevrijdend als ik alles overzichtelijk heb neergezet in zo'n mindmap. Ga ik veel minder piekeren.

Hier nog een fijne site waar je kan mindmappen, kan je geloof ik ook samen met een groep aan een mindmap werken: http://www.mindmeister.com

Verder is er ook software van Mindjet, maar dat is betaalde software. Weet niet of dat toegevoegde waarde heeft. Mindjet Mindmanager heet het :)

By Tweakers user YopY, Friday 28 May 2010 11:56

himlims_ wrote on Friday 28 May 2010 @ 09:37:
ps; host je images volgende keer bij t.net zelf, jouw externe host is vrij tr a a ag
Dat krijg je met gratis hosts, :(. Ik zal het de volgende keer even op t.net of m'n eigen domein zetten, thanks.

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