Human beings are a visual species. We mostly interact with the world through our eyes and that’s why they say a picture is worth a thousand words. But what if you want to use words to make a picture? What if you want to put these words in a visual space that is more easily comprehended by our large primate brains? That’s where charts, diagrams, mind maps, and flowcharts can be the answer.
Of course, you could whip out a blank piece of paper and start drawing out these diagrams using a ballpoint pen, but that’s not the smart way to do it. The paper and pen diagram isn’t easily modified, nor is it easily shared. It’s hardly reasonable to try and collaborate in real time on one of these diagrans with a friend who is in another part of the office, let alone another part of the world. Thankfully, the Internet has once again come to the rescue.
We previously discussed just five online flowchart tools, but we thought that list was well worth expanding. After all, there are more to mental pictures than flowcharts, so let’s have a look at a huge array of websites where you can create all kinds of digital charts and diagrams. Visualizing the mental process has never been this efficient (or fun).
Free Chart Making Tools
Flowchart – This web-based tool allows for real-time collaboration and provides free clip art images. While it is in beta, Flowchart is free but requires you to request an invitation.
Bubbl.us – Start right away with this bubble-based organizational chart tool without creating an account or downloading any software. The keyboard shortcuts make it easy to add additional nodes in different directions.
Barchart – As its name implies, this is a very simple tool designed specifically for bar charts, though it can also be used for line charts. Just define the data points and choose whether you want a 3D or flat look.
Google Drive – Formerly known as Google Docs, Drive can also be used to make a variety of charts including line, area, column, scatter, pie, and more. Create a spreadsheet and enter your data, then create a chart of your choosing.
Grapher – Generate bar charts with this incredibly simple tool. All you do is click on the up and down arrows to increase and decrease the values for each item.
Hohli – This free tool can be used to make line charts, pie charts, Venn diagrams, scatterplots, and more. The site is ad-supported and contains virtually no documentation.
ChartGizmo – Use this utility to create simple visualizations of your data. It can generate bar, pie, and line graphs.
DrawAnywhere – With no need to download or install anything, DrawAnywhere is a browser-based tool for flowcharts, org charts and network diagrams, among other types of data mapping.
FusionCharts – This is a Google gadget that you can then include on your website. The basic types of bar graphs, line graphs, pie charts, and so on can be generated, most of which in either 2D or 3D form.
Online Chart Generator – This is a free web-based tool hosted on a Blogspot blog, so don’t expect anything in terms of advanced functionality. Use it for Venn diagrams, scatterplots, pie charts, and more.
Chartle – The Java-based web app is currently in beta and can be used for free to create bar graphs, pie charts, and org charts, among other types of diagrams.
ChartGo – Simply enter your data in this web-based utility to create a range of bar, line, pie, and area graphs. It’s very simple and easy to use.
Google Chart Tools – Create interactive charts and data tools using this powerful and free tool, including the ability to make attractive org chart visualizations.
yUML – UML diagrams, class diagrams, activity diagrams, and use case diagrams can be generated using this tool. It is code-based rather than drag-and-drop, though, so it may not be as approachable for some users.
amCharts Visual Editor – A range of charts can be used when you convert CSV data into XML, generating HTML code to embed on your website. The SWF files are hosted on the amCharts server for free.
Chart Tool – Design and share your graphs online for free, including bubble charts, bar graphs, and radar plots.
Diagramly – The interface is almost like MS Paint in its simplicity, letting you create diagrams with boxes, lines, and clipart. Save your creations as an XML file.
Mind42 – Manage ideas through this browser-based mind mapping tool, which also allows you to attach notes to your nodes.
WiseMapping – This is an open source mind-mapping tool that lets you share your thoughts in mere seconds.
WriteMaps – Create, edit, and share sitemaps online with this free web-based tool.
Pie Color – Easily generate your pie charts on the web by simply defining the number of wedges, their relative percentage, labels, and colors. Export the chart as a PNG image.
Diagrammr – Rather than dragging and dropping your nodes, you create your diagrams here by writing out relationship sentences.
Free Diagram Software Downloads
Ajax MGraph – Download locally or upload to your server to generate pure XHTML/CSS user-interactive graphs with database integration.
Plotr – This was adapted from PlotKit and does not require MochiKit. Developers can use Canvas and SVG elements to render bar, line, and pie charts.
Graphviz – Create abstract graphs and networks, including flowcharts and engineering diagrams, with this open source graph visualization software.
yEd Graph Editor – Available as a desktop application, yEd Graph Editor uses automatic layout algorithms to arrange even large sets of data into diagrams.
FreeMind – This free mind mapping software written in Java can be downloaded as an executable file for Windows or as a .jar file for other operating systems.
Free and Paid Chart Tools
Mindomo – Share your mind maps online through the web or by using the available iPad and Android applications. Beyond the free version, paid versions start at $6 per month.
Cacoo – Offering Google+ Hangouts integration, Cacoo can be used to make sitemaps, wireframes, UML, and network charts. The basic plan starts at $49 a year, but you can try the free plan first.
Gliffy Online – This web app for flowcharts comes with an extensive shape library. The free plan includes up to five diagrams and 2MB of storage. Upgrades start at $4.95 per user per month.
SimpleSeating – Plan your next event with this online seating chart utility. The free version allows for up to 50 guests per event with the $14.95/event plan allowing for up to 500 guests.
Creately – In addition to the desktop app, this online diagramming tool is also available as a plugin for Jira, Confluence, or Fogbudz. Create flowcharts, wireframes, mind maps, and more.
Slickplan – Offering a quick and easy to create professional-looking sitemaps, Slickplan starts at $3.99/month for three active sitemaps. The free account allows for just one.
MAPMYself – Create mind maps with this free web-based tool that is also called Mapul. The basic plan is free, but you can upgrade from $4.60 per month to get extensive import and export options.
MindGenius – This mindmapping app integrates with Lotus Notes and has both XML imports and exports. Personal edition is free with standard edition starting at $101 per user.
TheBrain – Visualize your tasks and ideas and then synchronizing your diagrams across desktop, browser, and mobile versions. The pro license starts from $219.
Premium Mind Map and Flowchart Apps
SlickPlan – Offering one-click undo, Basecamp integration and one-click undo, SlickPlan makes for very attractive sitemaps with plans starting from $3.99 a month.
LovelyCharts – Available as a desktop program, online edition or iPad app, LovelyCharts can create attractive flowcharts, sitemaps, wireframes, organizational charts, and more.
MindMeister – Do your mindmapping and brainstorming online with up to three mindmaps for free. Plans beyond that start at $4.99 per month.
mxGraph – Drag and drop to create flowcharts and other diagrams. The online demo has unlimited diagram creation with no login, but purchase prices start at $4,000.
iMindMap – Multiple versions are available, including iMindMap Freedom with an online editor and mobile apps. Store up to five maps in the cloud for free.
Comapping – Take notes, plan and organize with this online mind mapping software. The monthly plan starts at $5, but you can save by paying for a year at a time instead.
i2Brain – Visualize information and its structure while assigning both status and priority to the various activities. Try the free demo before considering the $65 purchase.
Nelements – Create true 3D mind maps with shareable XML data formats. The evaluation version is available for free with the full version selling for $19.
Topicscape – Organize files, projects and information visually with a unique 3D conceptual appearance. Prices start at $49 with an available free trial edition.
Image credit: violetkaipa / Fotolia