The TiddlyWiki Report, Part III: Alan Hecht

This week’s WSJ.com/AWSJ column is about the TiddlyWiki (here, when it appears Friday), which I reckon is a wonderful tool and a quiet but major leap forward for interfaces, outliners and general coolness. I had a chance to chat with some of the folk most closely involved in TiddlyWikis, but sadly couldn’t use much of their material directly, so here is some of the stuff that didn’t fit.

Third up, Alan Hecht Instructional Design Specialist at Penn State University:

Loose Wire: i’m intrigued by TWs and have enjoyed fiddling with them. i’m wondering whether they might be suitable for casual users, and whether they are likely to grow into something more?
AlanCHecht: I discovered TW because I was looking for a wiki solution that I could load on a local web server.  When I sw TW, I was amazed that I didn’t need a server-side app to handle the wiki DB.  I was so surprised by the ease at which anyone could create a dynamic wiki with search capability that I showed it to several faculty (non-techies) who now want to use it for their university-hosted website.  But to answer your question more directly, I think TW is unique in that it can be used by people with no expereience AND by seasoned web programmers who like the power of the plug-in arch.
Loose Wire: yes, good point. i personally love the tagging thing, the idea that you can organise stuff in such a simple but powerful way…
AlanCHecht: I think you have 3 types of TW use…1) wiki-on-a-stick personal only usage, 2) edit locally then post new file to website, and 3) the server-side TW flavors like PHP-TW and ZiddlyWiki.  So folks can get in at any level and start playing, but the tool can also grow with the user.
Loose Wire: how do you think this kind of tool is going to develop?
AlanCHecht: Technically, we just hit a milestone with the plug-in architecture.  I think this means that JeremyRuston will concentrate less on adding new features and more on providing safe, open hooks to plug-in developers.  So the TWs in use out there could all be different based on the plug-ins that are loaded…
Loose Wire: could you give some examples of how different they could be, what kind of uses they could be put to?
AlanCHecht: 2) Cosmetically, I think you’re going to see a lot happen in terms of tweaking the CSS to give TW new looks.  Several recent stylesheets that have been developed hardly look like TW anymore.  and lastly, 3) in terms of usage, I think your going to see TW springing up all over the place (hint: if you google TiddlyWiki, you’ll see results include any site that uses TW because “TiddlyWiki” is hardcode in the HTML title tag…there’s already a lot out there).
AlanCHecht: DIfferent TW’s…give me a minute to think…

Alan Hecht (TiddlyWiki): Here are some obvious TW uses: a user FAQ (because each FAQ answer is perfect for the microcontent approach), a personal Kilroy-type or family website page (because of the low overhead and ease of use), a blog (with dynamic linking between articles and search capability all in one file),  software manuals (that’s a new one, but it would work as the user could download the latest manual from a software site and have ALL the content in one intuitive file).
Loose Wire: interesting… the files get a bit big, tho, don’t they? that’s the javascript, i guess…
Alan Hecht (TiddlyWiki): I’ve even just seen a server-side version of TW that is a full-fledged “free for all” (anyone can post, edit, delete content) version.  This would enable for group collaboration on topics.
Alan Hecht (TiddlyWiki): TW is still pretty small (less than 200K on its own).  Add quite a few tiddlers and you’ll easily double that.  But people often wait for a 400K image to download of their sister’s kid…and with broadband you hardly notice the delay.  Plus, once the file is downloaded, there
Alan Hecht (TiddlyWiki): there’s no more wait time
Loose Wire: true…. it makes me wonder whether there aren’t a whole load of things you could do in a TW — outliners, blogging, even editing documents and bits and pieces. it seems the possibilities are plentiful
Alan Hecht (TiddlyWiki): I expect to see TW evolve more into these areas.  We’re coming up to TW’s 1-year anniversary in Sept I believe.  I discovered TW back in March or April and it’s grown leaps since even then.  Now that anyone can dev for TW, I expect these new directions to escalate.  Still TW has some limits.
Alan Hecht (TiddlyWiki): The beauty of TW is the all-in-one file part.  The pad part is the all-in-one-file part.
Loose Wire: what kind of limits?
Alan Hecht (TiddlyWiki): I’ve heard of folks with huge TWs (for online gaming groups) that just don’t scale up that high very well.  Maybe there will be a solution.  Another limit (sort of) is we get about a post a week from folks who expect to be able to edit and save to a TW once it’s posted to a web.  We have to tell them that only the local copy can be saved unless you use a server-scripted version
Loose Wire: they think they can edit it online?
Alan Hecht (TiddlyWiki): One possibility for scaling could be to have different TWs for each large topic and link to them all from within the existing TW.
Alan Hecht (TiddlyWiki): Yes, many people think that they should be able to edit and save changes to the web-served version.  I’ve seen this asked about a dozen times in the Google groups.  TW tells you that you can’t, but folks just think TW is so easy that it “should” be able to save online.
Loose Wire: the perils of a simple looking tool, i guess!
Alan Hecht (TiddlyWiki): It only comes up with new users thought
Alan Hecht (TiddlyWiki): Anything I didn’t fully answer for you?
Loose Wire: no i think that’s good, thanks a lot. you’re right: 82,000 hits on google for tiddlywiki
Loose Wire: i’ll send you a copy of the piece once it’s done. may i post some of this chat to my blog when the column comes out?
Alan Hecht (TiddlyWiki): Check back with me if you have any other questions.  I’d be happy to help.  As most TW users are, I’m a BIG fan of this technology and of JeremyRuston.
Loose Wire: thanks for the info…

18. August 2005 by jeremy
Categories: Design, Interfaces, Software, apps | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on The TiddlyWiki Report, Part III: Alan Hecht