In this interview, Liam Hughes, Biggerplate.com’s founder, shares the story of the world’s largest mind mapping community and library, plus the latest mind mapping trends.
Recently, Biggerplate has been more and more in the news, highlighted by its:
- Growing library of mind maps and templates for the leading mind mapping software programs.
- Biggerplate Unplugged events like in San Francisco, London, and Paris
- Publications like it’s Annual Mind Map Report 2014 based on the preferences and experiences of over 700 mind mapping users around the world.
Interview with Liam Hughes,Biggerplate founder
I recently asked Liam Hughes to share some of Biggerplate’s background, goals, and observations about mind mapping in general.
What were some of your interests and employment experiences before you started Biggerplate?
I started Biggerplate in my last year at university, so my employment experiences up to that stage were fairly limited.
However, I had been involved in a start up business beforehand, and it really awoke a few key interests for me, primarily around entrepreneurship, and the creation and development of brands. I became engaged learning more about how brands are built over time, and the ways in which the Internet was creating positive shifts in consumer-brand interactions.
That interest laid the foundations for what we have tried to do with Biggerplate in terms of brand creation and community engagement over the years.
Did you have any membership site or direct marketing experience?
None at all, and certainly no experience of building websites! I am not a technical person, and don’t know anything about writing code. I just map out what I think the site needs to do, and someone smarter than me builds it!
In terms of marketing, I had a lot of interest, but not much experience. I immersed myself in studying marketing principles and concepts, and focused in particular on trying to understand the world of brands and community engagement.
When and how did you discover mind mapping?
What were your initial impressions?
As a result of getting involved in someone else’s start up business at university, I largely ignored my academic studies for the first two years of my degree. The result was that when I arrived at the “make or break” exams, I had very little knowledge or understanding of my subject. I faced the threat of failing and being politely asked to leave…!
By pure coincidence, at around the same time, my father encountered mind mapping software through a client, and suggested I might like to experiment with it.
As a last roll of the dice, I decided to try mapping out the key concepts for my course, and something clicked for me.
I managed to pass the exams (which was quite remarkable given my lack of studying). I credit my success entirely to the role mind mapping software played in helping me to break-down, organize, and absorb complex concepts.
When did you begin Biggerplate?
The university experience gave me the idea of creating an online study resource for students, where they could get academic content (which is often thick, heavy, boring text), in the form of mind map files, which would make it more manageable, making it easier for students to adapt, edit, and personalize.
I spent the last year of university working on it alongside my degree. After graduating, I started engaging someone around building a prototype site. The site was eventually launched in January 2008.
Where did the Biggerplate name come from?
In the very early days of Biggerplate, I had a couple of my friends helping me think through the concept, and the website as a whole.
Late one night, after brainstorming with friends, one said he had to leave, as he had several large piece of work to do for university that week.
When we tried to persuade him to stay, he said, “I can’t, I just have too much on my plate!”
As a joke, and without thinking, I told him, “You need to get a bigger plate!”
He left, but the phrase, and the concept of having too much to handle coupled with the need to take control, stuck with us. We wrote the words Bigger Plate in a corner of the whiteboard.
The more we thought about it, the more we realized that mind mapping software really is a great way of taking control of things if you have a lot going on.
In essence, when you have a lot on your plate, mind mapping software can help it seem more manageable, almost like you got a bigger plate. We merged the two words into one, and Biggerplate was born!
What were your original goals?
To be honest, in the very early stages, I didn’t really have any clear goals. It was all a bit of an unstructured experiment. I had no idea whether this was something that people would engage with, and even less idea about how it might eventually make money!
So the primary goal in the early stages was to test the hypothesis that making content available in mind map form would prove interesting to some people somewhere!
How long did it take you to establish Biggerplate’s presence?
A long time! Biggerplate has existed as a website since 2008, but in reality, it was a part-time endeavour up until 2011.
There simply was not enough of a commercial model built into the original website to enable me to work on it full time.
After the site had been online for a couple of years and reached about 10,000 members, we reached a critical juncture. The choice was either to leave the site as it was, with no further development, keeping it as a part-time hobby, or committing 100% to the project and invest in developing the whole site/brand properly as a full-time venture.
I chose the second option, and we’ve never looked back!
How did you originally promote Biggerplate?
The original site was launched just as sites like Twitter and Facebook were starting to gain traction outside the tech world, but really were not widely adopted. Facebook had only just opened up beyond universities, and things like ‘pages’ had not even been started. Twitter was really not on many people’s radars.
Essentially, the mechanics that we came to rely on for building visibility did not really exist yet!
Thus, we were relying on things like Yahoo user groups to try and raise awareness of the site. This was a slow process, because the mind map community was not nearly as easy to find, plus, of course, we were completely unknown!
How would you describe the past year?
In a word? Busy!
We really went up another gear in 2013 in terms of trying to create momentum for ourselves and for the mind mapping community as a whole. There was a lot going on, both in public (things like our Unplugged events), but also behind the scenes (e.g. laying the foundations to translate the site into multiple languages in 2014).
But it was a great type of busy – we had close to 20,000 new people sign up to Biggerplate, which represented 43% growth! We’re quietly (but not very quietly) confident that this is going to continue in 2014, which makes for a very exciting year ahead!
What were the trends you saw taking place during 2013?
From our viewpoint, it felt like the first year that people really started to refer to our site as the go-to place for mind mappers, and referenced us more often as a resource worth visiting, so that was a good indicator of how the brand was now viewed.
In the wider mind mapping world, we saw a continuation of the innovation in the field of tablet and cloud-based mind mapping, which is where we think much of the innovation will be seen in 2014.
Our newly published annual mind map report 2014 shows some of the key trends and innovations in the mind map world over 2013, including a poll showing which organizations were voted as the most innovative by over 700 mind mappers! The report can be downloaded here.
What were Biggerplate biggest accomplishments in 2013?
Probably the biggest and most visible success was the launch of the Biggerplate Unplugged – a conference series dedicated entirely to mind mapping, which was held in London (UK), Paris (France) and Utrecht (Netherlands). This was a big undertaking for a small business like ours, but we felt it was absolutely the right thing to do.
People have been talking online about a mind map conference ever since I first entered this arena in 2007, yet nothing had ever happened!
When the conversation again rose, then fizzled in 2012, we decided we would take on the challenge!
Our plan was (and is) to develop a genuine global conference dedicated to mind mapping, and the first events in Europe last year were a great success. The next stop is San Francisco on March 20th, and this is shaping up to be a fantastic day!
How have your goals changed?
Overall, the goal remains the same: to become the best source of mind mapping content and community in the world.
What has changed, or rather emerged, is a realization of why we exist, and why we are excited and energized by this goal.
In essence, our core belief is that mind mapping software is the missing link for modern information workers.
There are people in business, education, and government all over the world who are trying to tackle information complexity with the wrong tools.
For many/most of these people, mind mapping could be the missing tool that helps them unlock their challenges, in the same way it unlocked my university studying.
We now realize that our role at Biggerplate must be to show how real people are using mind mapping in different contexts all over the world, in order that others can more easily understand where the tool might fit in their own world.
If people can understand the use of mind mapping in a context that is relevant and meaningful for them, then they are more likely to use the tools, and feel the same benefits as many mappers feel.
Biggerplate therefore has to be the best place in the world for people to see mind mapping in context, and this is why the goal remains the same. If we achieve this, there will be a far greater chance of us helping more people understand why, and how, mind mapping could help them.
What are Biggerplate’s goals for 2014?
Our overall goal for 2014 is to make significant progress on several key projects that fall under the banner of “Integration”. Specifically, this covers the following areas:
- Software integration. We’re fortunate now to be in a position where several mind mapping software developers want to integrate Biggerplate into their software, in order to enable people to more seamlessly upload/download to/from the Biggerplate library from within their software. We’re making good progress on this, and hopefully we’ll see Biggerplate appearing inside some of your favorite desktop software and tablet apps during the course of 2014!
- Mobile integration. The world is going mobile, and we need to keep up with this, by optimizing the site for mobile visitors. Again, a big task, but something that simply has to happen if we are to provide the best possible platform for mind mappers.
- Content integration. This is about connecting mind maps to their context, by building more contextual content into the Biggerplate ecosystem, such as user mind mapper case studies from around the world. Our aim is to provide a connected content plan, whereby a person interested in sales (for example) can see map templates and examples for sales, but also see case study articles, tutorials, groups, and other mappers that share the same ‘sales’ focus.
Do you have any mind mapping questions for Liam Hughes?
As you can Liam Hughes and Biggerplate share a unique, in-depth, unbiased perspective on mind mapping and its growing importance around the world. If you have any questions you’d like to ask Liam, submit them as comments, below, or submit them to the Biggerplate.com blog.