Responding to Amit and Brad: A Path to TiddlyWiki

(Responding to a thread on Micro.blog that included questions and interest from @amit and @bradenslen)

Amit said:

I see a lot of people exploring wiki, especially TiddlyWiki, as a way to capture thoughts these days. There must be some fun and efficiency in it for so many folks to enjoy it. I’m tempted to experiment a bit with it. But I am worried I may be sucked in for another project.

Hi Amit and Brad, I’m glad you’re curious about TiddlyWiki! Here’s my experience so far:

Yes, be aware that it could become a project. I’ve spent arguably too much time on mine, but I’m managing to keep it in control, at least this week. (If you really want to surrender your life, learning Emacs seems like a great project, and I can already feel the pull myself.) Here’s my wiki.

These various things led me to take a fresh look at TiddlyWiki after trying it out initially during 2005–2007:

  • Steven Berlin Johnson’s article about DevonThink. I don’t know if he still works this way, but it was illuminating and inspiring to see the process and results.
  • Seeing the examples in Federated Wiki from Mike Caulfield. The idea of breaking things into tiny chunks for reuse is very appealing to me. Transclusion! Why doesn’t everything have it?!
  • What Jack Baty and Andrew Canion have done with their wikis.
  • Eli Mellen’s Micro.blog wiki

What sealed the deal:

  • Hearing Jeremy Ruston talk about the philosophy and history of TiddlyWiki on an old episode of the podcast The Changelog. He’s a believer in making things that allow non-programmers to do that things that only programmers could do before.
  • The massive TiddlyWiki community, including the Google Group and Google Hangouts
  • The lovely look of the default TiddlyWiki installation 
  • I don’t worry so much about whether tiddler titles are filesystem-legal. I use the Node.js version and it handles converting characters like : and " in titles to _ in tiddler filenames automatically.
  • This line from the TiddlyWiki documentation:

TiddlyWiki is designed with the long term needs of its users in mind. Because it is OpenSource and needs no infrastructure, we can be confident that all we’ll need to access a TiddlyWiki file even in the far future is an ordinary HTML browser. If you’re starting to use TiddlyWiki at the beginning of your career you can be confident that it will carry you through to retirement.

So, it turns out:

  • I had a TW-shaped hole in my heart for years and didn’t know it. I almost went with DokuWiki because of its ability (like the Node.js version of TiddlyWiki) to store tiddlers as individual text files, but the layout and flow of TiddlyWiki just suits my brain better. I almost always navigate my own TiddlyWiki instance with the Recent tab, which shows the most recently edited tiddlers at the top. 
  • I tried using the Markdown plugin for a couple of days, but as Jack said:

Markdown is great, but it’s like swimming upstream using it with TiddlyWiki

  • I haven’t regretted adopting the TiddlyWiki markup language. I even caught myself today using TW markup for //italics// in something I was capturing in Notepad on my work computer, which I knew I would paste into TiddlyWiki later at home.
  • I started with a standalone HTML version, which is easy to do, and lasted all of two days before it started bugging me that the tiddlers weren’t stored in individual text files. I followed Jack’s example and got it running on Node.js and it’s been smooth sailing ever since.
  • I was afraid I “wouldn’t have enough to share” if i made my wiki public, but I have 117 tiddlers (not counting system tiddlers) in the public wiki right now. In contrast, I created a separate standalone HTML private TiddlyWiki on January 12 for stuff that I wanted to firewall away from public view. That wiki has two tiddlers in it as of today. I have stuff I want to put in it, but it hasn’t been as fun as posting to the public one.

What i use TiddlyWiki for:

  • Software installation notes, current discoveries in music/TV/film, a-ha moments, quotes, drafts of stuff I’ll post on my blog, links to websites and videos, notes on books and podcasts, favorite poems, snippets of prose I want to remember, tiddlers imported from other people, and of course: meta-journal entries about how I’m using TiddlyWiki. I saw Jack and Andrew doing that with their wikis and realized it was a great way to note my ongoing questions and to see how my use of TiddlyWiki evolved.
  • Scratching the coding itch. I’m not a developer at work, but I’ve always been drawn to programming and have dipped my toe in it here and there. At my company, you’re either a coder or you’re not, and there’s not much chance for me to play with languages other than occasional HTML and CSS tweaks. I’ve mostly had to limit my experiments with shell scripting, AppleScript, JavaScript, Unix/Linux/Raspbian sys admin, etc. to experiments at home. There is incredible power under the hood of TiddlyWiki, and it doesn’t take much to tweak your own macros and make it do some amazing tricks.

I have no ties to Jeremy or stake in TiddlyWiki other than hoping it stays alive and relevant, but I am a huge booster already. I wish everyone on Micro.blog would make and publicly host their own wikis. It’s a fascinating way to keep tabs on what other people are interested in in real time. I put way more stuff in my wiki than I post on Micro.blog. I even used TiddlyWiki to create the draft of this response before I posted it on M.b. If you have questions or want to share what you’re playing with, I’d love to hear about it!

p.s. I even stole the “A Path to TiddlyWiki” title for this post from Jack, who had created his own tiddler linking to the draft of this response in my TW!

Phil Nunnally @twelvety