Getting My Brain Around PersonalBrain

By | June 22, 2007


 This week’s column for The Wall Street Journal (subscription only) is about PersonalBrain, a topic I find hard to write about:

Here’s a heads-up on some organizing software that may take some getting used to. Frankly, it’s taken me nearly 10 years to appreciate its power. But now that I do, it has become something of an obsession. I even have dreams about it.

It’s a defiantly different kind of thought-mapping program called PersonalBrain, and a new version (including versions for Mac and Linux users) will be launched next month by U.S.-based TheBrain Technologies LP. Users include scientists, soldiers, inventors and others who have used it to marshal their collections of thoughts, projects and even databases on criminal syndicates. I find it so useful and absorbing, there’s nothing — be it a Web site link, a random idea, a contact, a document, a scrap of information — that I don’t add to its spider-web-like screen, knowing it will throw up links my brain had never considered or had failed to remember.

 I love the program with the passion of the newly converted but often feel I’m not getting the most out of it. I also feel a failure in my efforts to convert friends to its power. It’s almost painful to see them writhing with information that would reveal so much to them if they spent a bit of time getting their brains around PersonalBrain.

What tipped it for me? I think it was when I stopped trying to use it like a mind map and just trusted it enough to throw things in there and not bother too much. With PersonalBrain there’s no right or wrong way to use the thing, and its tendency is to startle with surprising connections, rather than build a perfectly formed tree of connections. It thrives on connections, so the other lesson is that adding links is good. It’s not, as like mind mapping, a sign of a confused mind, but a recognition that creativity and association is born out of the seeming chaos of our brains. Or something.

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11 thoughts on “Getting My Brain Around PersonalBrain

  1. Jonathan

    I have also toyed around with PB for a number of years. I had a lot of hopes for it but never quite grokked the value. Your post had me dusting off my 3.0 version and I might check out the v4 beta. The question for you is if the latest version is all that different than previous versions. Worth the cost to upgrade?

  2. Jeremy Wagstaff

    Jonathan, others will disagree, but I would stick with PB 3 until you feel yourself really getting into it. Altho version 4 has the ability to see more context in a sort of ‘floating’ mode, I don’t use it that much. I think if you feel you’re becoming a power user it would seem to be a natural progression to upgrade. But the old version still rocks — at least for Windows users.

  3. Greg

    I began using PB 3.0 shortly after the product was introduced. Initially I was very enthusiastic for the product, but over time my use of the product diminished considerably–although I never stopped using the product for activities. I have been beta testing PB 4.0 for two or three weeks now and my view is that the product is light years ahead of PB 3.0. I considered the lack of an expanded view and poor search capabilities of 3.0 to be major drawbacks, both of which are overcome in 4.0. I am a bit of a software junkie (I own three mind mapping programs and have tried virtually all of the PIM type products–Zoot, Info Select, Asksam, EverNote, etc.) and I think this is the finest upgrade I have ever seen–the new version is simply loaded with important new features. 4.0 is a bit slower and I am not crazy about the new HTML based notes window, but these are minor annoyances. I strongly urge anyone with the inclination to test 4.0. But hold onto your hat because you are likely to be blown away.

  4. speaker

    I started using PB3 last year and became a beta tester for PB4. I’ve used MindManager Pro for Mind Mapping, OneNote and EverNote to manage information. I just purchased a license for PB4 Pro and I’m enjoying building my “brain” using information and links from these other applications.

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  6. Mike Burnside

    I’ve been using Personal Brain – going back to pre-3.0 versions – with varying levels of intesity over the years. I could not understand why they didn’t invest in development of PB for so long, since I felt it could be a killer product. (Yes, I know, they were concetrating on the “Entierprise” version, where the $ are.) Then finally they announced the PB4 development and I jumped in as a Beta tester. My ONLY disappointment with PB4 is that is is slower than PB3, but that’s understandable, as it does SO much more! I agree with most of the comments above, but I would also add that one of the reasons I went for the Pro version is that your brains are now publishable to the web. Oh, one thing more – I had some difficulty installing a few of the Beta releases, and discovered first hand that TheBrain support is personal, VERY courteous and knowledgeable – a real pleasure!
    This is a deceptively simple product – simple in concept, but so flexible that it can be used to manage exceedingly complex projects, concepts and, well.. BRAINS!

  7. Mike Schell

    Count me as another on-again, off-again user of Personal Brain 3.0. Like others, I had also been disappointed by the company’s lack of development on such a next-level product.
    By seeming coincidence, I discovered the development of 4.0 just after I switched from Windows to Linux. Brilliant. Not only is Linux supported, but now we have so many new features.
    I still have lots to learn – I have a feeling that there’s a ton of power under the hood if I start making better use of tagging and searching.

  8. Jeremy Wagstaff

    Mike, thanks for the comments. I must confess I don’t use the search and tag features but you’re right: there must be a lot of power in there.

  9. GeorgeT

    I have PB 3.0 and have not made much use of it. I thought I would see if V4 was any better. But I cannot get the website to let me do anything; all I get is a big flashing sign saying “User has not signed in yet” with no indication of where and how to do so. Can anybody help me?

  10. Shelley Hayduk

    George, there were some issues on today that are now resolved.

    Go back and you should have no trouble.

    You can download the software at

    FYI in addition to version 4.0 we have released version 4.1 with even more features and our now in beta on 4.2.

    So you can expect to see alot of new development and even more releases from us this year!


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