In Part 1, I described what I wanted from a note-taking tool and how TiddlyWiki (TW) fits my needs. Here, I talk about how I have set it up, how I use it and some points to consider.
Choosing a version
TW is open source software, offered under the BSD licence. This essentially means you can do what you like with the software, including using it in a commercial product, but can’t sue if anything goes wrong. Copyright in it rests with The UnaMesa Association, a charity.
One result of TW’s open source status is that there are many versions of it, some potentially aligned to your needs. It also means that everywhere you look there are dead links, abandoned projects and orphaned Web pages. This is both the strength and weakness of open source working.
Tracking down a version suitable for a particular purpose can be time consuming and frustrating. The same is true of finding out how it works. I talk further about these points at the end.
There is a range of ‘oven ready’ versions available. It’s like a kit car. You can buy the blueprints and all the parts separately and do everything yourself, or you can buy a part-assembled version and customise it (except there’s no money involved here). The latter choice might possibly restrict your design freedom but it gets you a working machine quicker.
I went for a part-assembled version — Simon Baird's MPTW (formerly MonkeyPirateTiddlyWiki). This comes with some pre-formatted layouts and colour schemes, and a set of add-ins that aid tagging especially. I’ve imported further add-ins.
My TiddlyWiki — main screen
This is the main screen as it appears in my Firefox browser. (It’s the same screen grab as in part 1 of this article.) The top Tiddler contains a rudimentary tag cloud, listing the topics I’ve been tracking so far. As with most tagging systems, any entry can have as many tags as you find useful.
I’ve set the topics Tiddler to open when TW does. My computer runs Windows 7 and I have put a shortcut to TW on the action bar.
The lower entry is the result of clicking on the “OJ” (for Office Jotter) tag from the "Tags" menu in the right column. It lists the entries that carry that tag. I can open any of them with a further click. Alternatively, I can click on the OJ tag in the cloud listing and select from there, including opening all the entries.
Adding new content
There are two main ways to add material to a TiddlyWiki. You can create a new Tiddler or use TiddlySnip, the clipper.
Making a new Tiddler
Here I have opened a new Tiddler, by clicking on the third menu item at top right. It needs a title and some content, either from typing it in or by copying and pasting.
Content is text only and can be of any practical length. (Just to see what would happen, I imported all 1.3 million words of Samuel Pepys's diary into a Tiddler. TW choked a little but swallowed the whole file. Performance thereafter was understandably slow, so I've since deleted the diary.)
At the bottom of the new Tiddler is the space for tags. I use the intelliTagger add-in, which offers a clickable list of existing tags (shown) and other refinements.
Once you click to close a Tiddler, TW immediately updates its lists of Tiddlers and associated tags. I use a further add-in that auto-saves the whole wiki and backs it up.
The other way of entering content, which I do nearly all the time, is via TiddlySnip. Here is a typical 'snip'.
You can add tags immediately or wait until you save the snip. Either way, the result is a new Tiddler, marked up and ready to use. There is a wide choice of options for managing TiddlySnip's behaviour. It works only in Firefox, which suits me.
TiddlySnip will automatically record the URL of material gathered directly from the Web or stored on a browser. I sometimes use it to link to a Web page I have captured in ScrapBook Plus. It’s a handy way of combining offline and online content.
How I use TiddlyWiki
As I said in Part 1, I was looking for a tool that would collate captured words in a way that links each capture with others as well as with its Web source. TiddlyWiki does this simply and efficiently.
When writing this article, for instance, I collected 20 extracts that I thought would be relevant. I then expanded all of them on one screen (not something possible with many wiki-based tools).
From that set of canvases, I selected and ordered the ideas and information I liked. That formed the framework to which I added words, links and pictures (using WordPress and MS Word).
The process is close to what I would have done when using paper. That would have entailed lots of printed pages, each containing circlings and annotations in multicoloured inks, and much copying and pasting from electronic originals. I’m not sure the TW way is much quicker but I know it’s less wasteful.
It’s ironic that I have used a hypertext-based tool with hypertextual raw material to produce something linear (with a few links). That’s not necessarily a bad thing, since most people are used to ingesting written information presented that way.
Is TiddlyWiki right for you?
I like TW’s plasticity, speed and compactness but it comes at a cost. That cost is a combination of the difficulty in finding a suitable version and relevant add-ins and the almost inescapable need to do some fettling of whatever you choose.
This is no iPod app. Indeed, one tester described it as:
…something a sadist should recommend to masochists.
I offer here some help with the first obstacle but can do nothing about the other. Only you can say whether the need to do some code twiddling would put you off. I’m not a programmer but I have become familiar with self-hosted WordPress for this and other blogs. TW is no harder to learn or use.
One thing WordPress has done well, which helps account for its success, is to create and maintain a single source of approved code, add-ins and tools. I think that would be overkill for TW but a move in a similar direction would be helpful.
TiddlyWiki is the brainchild of Jeremy Ruston and first appeared in 2004. (Wikipedia has a history on its page about TiddlyWiki.) After nearly five years running Osmosoft, a small group within BT, in November 2011 Ruston returned to independent consulting. He says he hopes to modernise and upgrade the core of TiddlyWiki .
On his Quora page, Ruston light-heartedly describes himself as “Master of the Tiddlyverse”. He might now usefully devote some energy to bringing a little order to that universe.
Meanwhile, I suggest you look at these pages if you think a TiddlyWiki would interest you.
Those should get you going. And if you'd like a shareable version of TW, try TiddlySpace.