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Blogs > Office Jotter

Working with a wiki - Part 1 of 2
Roger Whitehead By: Roger Whitehead, Director, Office Futures
Published: 22nd March 2012
Copyright Office Futures © 2012

In November 2011, I reported on some of the software I use to manage the inflow of information from the Internet. The article, “Some free tools for informavores”, looked at distilling information and organising it pending action. For me, that action is mainly writing.

I recently began wondering if there is a more efficient way to collate captured words. The QuoteURLText add-in is handy but leaves me with the equivalent of lots of scraps of paper littering my disc. I needed something that would link those scraps with one another as well as to their Web sources.

Looking for a notekeeper

There are several possibilities. Microsoft’s OneNote consistently gets good ratings and handles multiple media types, on a wide range of devices. I don’t need that versatility; even less do I wish to spend nearly £50 to buy the software.

I have Evernote, which is as versatile as OneNote and free in its basic version. As I mentioned last time, I’m not keen on the newer releases’ reliance on the Web. Unfortunately, the old, desktop-only version doesn’t work well with modern software.

Looking around for other possibilities, I discovered the helpful alternativeTo site. Here is the Evernotes page. (Click on “Show all applications” at the bottom of the page to see the full – and very long – list.) I considered most of the more popular products listed and tried half a dozen of them.

RedNotebook looked promising but it allows only one text entry a day, which doesn’t suit my needs. Also, it doesn’t appear to have a Web clipper.

The one I liked best was CintaNotes, which I used for a few days. It comes with a clipper, so links to Web sources well, and tags notes easily. What CintaNotes doesn’t do is cross-link those notes, which is essential to building a fully interwoven set of sources. Shame.

A wiki is an answer

Wikis can offer both internal and external linking, as well as tagging. The wiki is a popular structural form, so there is a wide range of products available. Here's Wikipedia on its history and use, and here's Ward Cunningham’s original wiki.

Again, I tried several. wikidPad [sic], for instance, had possibilities but doesn’t have a Web clipper. The more sophisticated ConnectedText looks too elaborate for my needs and, besides, is a commercial product.

What I settled on, and have been using for three weeks, is TiddlyWiki. This is a small, fast and adaptable product — open source and free. It consists of an HTML file containing Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) and JavaScript. The file can run on any device that supports a modern browser.

When downloaded, TiddlyWiki (TW) is just under 400 kb in size. After three weeks’ use, mine occupies 850 kilobytes. Running it off a USB stick or camera card is clearly possible.

TW stores its (text only) contents in sections called Tiddlers. (The daffy nomenclature is none of my doing.) Unlike many other wikis, it lets you display several entries at once. Lists within entries can appear in columns, making further efficient use of screen space.

The wiki’s behaviour is managed by scripts and by plug-ins, which are a special class of Tiddler. Another special class is the journal, which has that day’s date as its header.

All Tiddlers can contain the URL of the source (if copied from a Web document), can be tagged and can link to one another. Together they can form the “fully interwoven set of sources” I referred to above. (Linking is done by writing a relevant word or term in CamelCase or by surrounding it in paired brackets, [[thus]].)

There is also a clipper – TiddlySnip – available as a zipped Firefox add-in. TiddlySnip has several options you can set, affecting content and behaviour.

In part 2, I talk about how I have set up TiddlyWiki and how I use it.

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