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I am working on a series of episodes that will be made into individual videos to explain different technologies and how they interrelate at different levels within a specific application domain (the aim being to produce something that is similar to a video-based Wikipedia). To try to keep this engaging and manageable (both to create and consume), I want this to have an underlying structure (kind-of a story). My reasoning being that episodes will frequently cover topics that are in some way a 'gateway' or 'foundation' topic for understanding another episode.

So, I want to be able to say within each episode if there is any prerequisite knowledge for the episode ("Before you watch this episode, you may find it useful to know about..."), and also to be able to give jumping-off points to related topics at the end of each episode ("If you found this episode interesting, you might also want to watch..."). Ideally I want to approach this mapping task graphically. Which is now my problem: How to describe the domain in a way that lets me map, understand and communicate dependencies, and other relationships, between topics and episodes?

A mind map doesn't quite work, as I don't have a single thing with radiating spokes. Also each relationship I need to capture/express might be directed (e.g. a dependency) or undirected (e.g. an alternative technology that could be used in place of the one discussed). There will be a web of episodes where each node (episode) has nested 'key points', each of which might be individually relevant to one or more episodes, or one ore more other key-points (in other episodes).

Why a mind-map doesn't fit my needs

A simple example to show this, starting with four possible episodes: Let's say I have an episode on candles, one on oil lamps, an episode on gas lamps, and an episode on electric lamps. These are alternatives to one another (one kind of relationship), and also the electric lamp made the combustion-based lamps mostly obsolete (another kind of relationship). Then there's the temporal aspect, oil-lamps and are really old, gas-lamps relatively new, and electric lamps the newest.

Oh, and by the way, both candles and oil lamps make use of a wick, so I might also need an episode to explain how wicks work, and link that to the oil-lamp and candle episodes (as something that "might be interesting")?

So even with very few episodes, there are a lot of links of different types and at different levels making a highly interconnected web. I think I need around 40 episodes in total all of which will have clusters of relationships.

A class-diagram alternative?

As I have a software engineering background, this is starting to make me feel a bit as though I need a UML class-diagram to describe everything, and I'm trying to avoid that though, as I want to be able to colloborate with non-software people in building and reviewing the episode plan!

Does anyone know of a diagramming type that would fit to what I'm trying to do please? (This may not be the best SE site for this, it seemed closest though)

3 Answers 3

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There is no type of diagram that is able to visualize the complex stucture of reality in a comprehensive manner.

Diagrams usually focus on one kind of relationship: a city map shows the spacial relation of buildings, a subway map shows how a subset of buildings (stations) are organized along subway lines but disregard their spacial relationship for the sake of facilitating navigation, a timetable shows the chronology of arrivals and departures in one station, a train route table lists the stops a train makes (and skips the stations the train doesn't service), and so on. Attempting to put, for example, all the information about a subway system into one graph will be overwhelming and impossible to comprehend.

You can represent the complex relationships by explaining them in the narrative of your video. That is what documentary films commonly do, and it is easy to follow and understand. You can also create different diagrams for different kinds of relationship, though they might be more helpful for you, when you attempt to keep track of what you need to mention, than for your audience.


Whether you agree with my view or not, the first step you need to undertake is to write down or draw all the relationships that you want to convey to your audience. At the moment you seem to seek a solution for a problem that you don't yet completely grasp. As you write down or draw the relationships, you will come to an understanding of them that will immediately present to you the solution to your problem: If a diagram can be drawn, you will have drawn it in the course of attempting to understand the relationships. If at the end you don't have such a diagram, it is highly likely that the relationships are too complex for a (single) graphical representation.

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  • Hi, thanks for your answer, and +1 for the suggestion of using different diagrams for different aspects. Something that wasn't clear enough in my question is that these diagrams are only intended for use within the production team to help us keep track. FWIW I ended up defining an ontology that allows me to model the needed relationships (with a relational database in the background) and then display them according to different viewpoints. [There's that software engineering background again...] Sep 27, 2021 at 15:10
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I don't know of a specific way to diagram your structure, but I have a few ideas. My ideas aren't perfect, and most of it requires you brainstorming stuff, but I hope it helps nonetheless (or at least gives you a start).

The best option would be to download a complex software to help you with this (I won't point you to any, but there are lots out there).

I would recommend first making an overall map to cover episodes in general, as a simple and easy-to-understand starting point. All you need to do is connect the basic structure of the domain together.

mindmappingsoftware.com explains this as:

  1. Break off large, self-contained sections into linked sub-maps: When all else fails, use your program’s ability to divide a large map into several smaller linked maps. Look for topics with a lot of detail that are fairly well self contained. When you invoke this command, the topic you selected remains, but a copy of it and all its child topics are saved to a separate mind map; a link is created that enables you to quickly and easily navigate to it.

This way you can connect episodes and ideas together, like this example from mindmeister.com:

enter image description here

And then I would set up links for each episode that leads you to more complex charts to connect ideas and relationships per episode while also leading to more graphs.

Keep graphing and linking until you think you've got it all down.

Then, go through and look at your information. Is there a different way to organize it? I'm sure there will be, but I don't know what, it would be helpful to be looking at your info. Just pick the first map that comes to your mind and works for you and your info. Base it on what you've already created, how could it be better?

Using that map, if you suddenly see two things that could be connected, maybe drag them over to a separate visual or take notes on a physical paper.

Then, once you're sure you connected all the necessary info, get out a poster-sized paper and jot away as complex a chart you'd need! (this can also be done online but it sounds easier the old fashioned way)

This may include connecting ideas with lines, listing bullet points under connections, etc...

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  • Thanks for following-up. My problem is that there are not really any self-contained sections (the technologies have many interrelationships), which is why I already discounted mind-mapping. Also relationships that I need to express are of different types due to the use and evolution of techology [e.g. electric light made oil lamp and gas lamps obsolete ==> obsolescence relationship; while electric light requires electricity ==> dependency] Apr 1, 2021 at 16:34
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The way I chose in the end was to approach this as though it was a Systems Engineering task, and then develop some software (Android app) to match:

  1. Construct an ontology that describes how episodes can interrelate, with bidirectional relationships between the nodes in the ontology (ref: https://tomgruber.org/writing/definition-of-ontology)
  2. Based on the ontology, build a database layer (model) that can hold the needed information and relationships (I used Room, other DBs are available)
  3. Build a simple app with which to add entries to the model and to query it and thereby show either past or future episodes that are related as a simple list (one day I might try to render a graph of the query results)

(I realise that this answer gives a solution that is unique to me)

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