If you’re like me, you love finding new and innovative ways to make your life easier with technology. When I discovered Virtual Reality Mind Mapping with the Noda VR app on the Quest 2 wireless VR headset, I knew I had to share it with you! Mind mapping is a great way to brainstorm and organize your thoughts, and doing it in a VR environment makes it even more fun and interactive. Read on to get all the details!
What’s Noda and How Does It Work
I’m a big proponent of mind mapping as a technique that promotes understanding of content and provides a framework for deeper learning. I’ve developed many of my own methods for using a variety of mind mapping tools.
Among my favorite mind mapping tools are iThoughts and TheBrain. Both allow for productive mind mapping and presentations. However, I believe a third app is stepping into the breach for me.
Noda VR is a new tool for creating and using mind maps with an interesting twist: It enables experiences on the map because you can literally create a mind map in three dimensions in a virtual environment.
It launched on the Oculus Quest a few months ago and initially had a rocky start due to an unpopular subscription model where you only got access to the necessary features for a monthly fee.
That’s changed now, and you can pay a one-time fee to get access to just about everything (and certainly everything you need to use the app). That said, I was so impressed with the latest version of Noda that I signed up for a subscription (about $5 per month) to get access to all the environments, unlimited cloud usage, and the first look at new features. And, frankly, also to support developers.
When the 1992 Hollywood movie The Lawnmower Man showed the protagonist exploring ideas in virtual reality, the idea seemed like far-fetched science fiction. But now, in 2022, it’s a reality with relatively inexpensive VR technology.
The VR aspect of Noda allows you to manipulate the map in three dimensions, so you can physically move around the map and “see” your map.
The Advantages of Using Noda VR
The main advantage for a user of Noda is that it allows the representation of relationships between concepts in a virtual workspace.
It’s a bit like building a memory palace in a virtual environment that can feel very real in some cases. You can literally put certain mind maps, information, and concepts into certain rooms or to certain objects in those rooms to form associations that can boost creativity and memory.
Also, and this is a big advantage, the spaces you can work in are large. This means that you can have connected but separate mind maps in a virtually unlimited 3D canvas where you can navigate and work quickly and easily.
I found myself brainstorming 3D mind maps and 3D flow diagrams in virtual space with ease.
With many mind mapping apps, the size of the canvas is a big problem. As the number of nodes or thoughts in a mind map grows, they either have to collapse and expand the branches of the mind map to solve the space problem, or they follow TheBrain’s approach and focus the mind map on the “active” node.
Given the size of the environments in Noda, I can easily imagine packing hundreds of related ideas into any environment without having to collapse branches or focus on one area of the map.
Classic mind mapping theory states that mind mapping enhances creativity and understanding of information through the use of visual connections. You can use colors and images, and it’s a very good way to organize information.
For an app that’s in development, Noda already enables this kind of iconography in virtual space to a great extent.
You can attach emoticons to labels, drag images directly from a web page (there’s a built-in web browser), and resize different shapes in different colors in an intuitive way (by dragging the edges with the sliders from VR ).
This creates a visual map that reflects your emotions and inspirations, which you can access at any time in your virtual space. In practice, it takes me less than 10 seconds to jump from work on my desktop back to my map in Noda. Having a Bobo M2 Pro headset for the Quest and a spare battery is a big advantage because it allows me to work wirelessly indefinitely since the Bobo battery can be hot-swapped into the Quest – charging one battery while using the other.
Using Other Apps With Noda
As a writer, I’ve several apps that have become indispensable to my work. These include Plottr for creating outlines and plots for long novels. Aeon Timeline is also useful, as is TheBrain.
The great thing about Noda is that it’s a virtual web browser with a virtual keyboard – based on Firefox – that retains the login to my Plottr, Amazon Kindle Reader, Dropbox, Google Drive, etc. account so that I can:
- Use the browser to access textbooks, reference books, web pages, etc. as information and concepts for my virtual mind map.
- Use the large format option of the web browser to work with a plot in Plottr and mind map elements in Noda. This way, I can switch between the concepts in the mind map – e.g., links between characters, flashbacks, etc. – and the detailed outline in Plottr.
- If I’ve something useful in TheBrain (desktop mind mapping app), I can view and even edit it in Noda. Aeon Timeline is a bit more complicated because it doesn’t have a web page option – but you can export the subway view, for example, as
The Future of Virtual Reality and Noda
If you read some of the threads in the Discord for Noda, you immediately notice a couple of things.
- First, other app developers and knowledge base providers are interested in working with Noda to use it as a platform for exploring and presenting data. There could be a lot of potential in this, as Noda already enables collaborative work in a virtual environment.
- Second, there are plans to enable multiple browsers in one environment. This would mean, for example, that I could’ve one browser open on the timeline of my novel, another on a character description, and a third on the Work In Progress.
Other VR apps like Immersed already allow up to five virtual monitors; I see no reason why Noda shouldn’t be able to do the same.
It reminds me of the wonderful fantasy author Sir Terry Pratchett, who’d a stack of six monitors in his study – a sort of Star Trek arrangement that helped him put his books together quickly.
How to Set Up Noda VR
If you already have a Quest or Quest 2 headset, you can easily get Noda from the Oculus (now Meta) store.
The pricing structure has changed recently, and there’s a reasonable one-time option for around $30 for Noda Core, which gives you access to just about everything (and every functionality you’re likely to need – certainly enough to assess whether you need the unlimited Plus subscription).
After experimenting a bit, I decided to go with the Plus tier with a small subscription of around $5 per month. The unlimited cloud and voice-to-text usage make this option worthwhile for me. I also find the Glasshouse environment available with Plus a refreshing change from Sunhouse (see the video at the beginning of this article).
The Various Experiences Available on Noda VR
A 3D virtual mind map can be quickly assembled in Noda, as all you’ve to do to create a node is hold down the trigger on the VR controller and then dictate the node’s name.
You can use the controller’s grip trigger to move the mode to any location in virtual space.
In the mode’s settings (which you can access with one click), you can quickly assign a different shape and color. I found the notepad less useful, though, not least because there’s no note display on the nodes.
On the plus side, there are three environment soundtracks; in practice, I’ve found that running my own music in the room I’m working in and setting the volume on the Quest headset to zero works well.
The environments have a lot of potential. I like the Sunroom and the Glasshouse best, as shown in the video at the beginning of this article. There’s also an art studio, a hangar, a grid, and the standard room. I imagine there will be many more environments over time, perhaps through some sort of integration with other apps.
Ultimately, Noda should serve as a springboard for ideas and creativity, and rich and diverse virtual environments in 3D space will help with that. The virtual world is coming, fast, and Noda is a great and positive use case for it.
How Noda VR Can Be Used for Education and Training
As someone who’s already created online courses (e.g., The Story Course on Udemy), I’m excited about the potential of Noda for education and training.
I plan to use it as a teaching tool in some of my courses when illustrating the connections between concepts.
Later, I can imagine reaching people in real-time collaborative meetings in Noda with stories, narratives, writing, storyboards, filmmaking, etc. For example, we could explore story sequencing by literally dragging elements and scenes onto a virtual canvas – and having multiple scenes play in different parts of the environment. A truly interactive interaction.