This isn’t for everybody, but I’ve found myself recently going back to a little itsy bitsy piece of software that turns your browser into a notebook cum database.
It’s called TiddlyWiki, and it takes the two concepts — tiddlyness, as in smallness, and Wiki, as in simple editing software — about as far as you can take them. The result: a flexible piece of software that contains both the programming needed to run the thing and the information you put it into in one file.
This is how it works. You download the software from www.tiddlywiki.com, a site run by the TiddlyWiki’s creator, Jeremy Ruston. The file itself is just an HTML file, the same as most web pages you visit.
Inside that one file is all the code you need to start your own TiddlyWiki. Once open, the file has a title, a menu on the right and a couple of basic entries — called Tiddlies, in the trade — already open.
You can then add your own entries by clicking on “New Tiddly”. You can change the title and subtitle of the page by editing the corresponding Tiddly. It’s both nerdy and intuitive: You quickly learn that it’s possible to convert plain text to bold by adding you add two apostrophes before and after the text you want emboldened.
To highlight text in yellow add two @-signs before and after the text. And so on. To edit a Tiddly just double click anywhere in its text; when you’re done, hit Control + Enter, or else click on the Done button.
The power of the TiddlyWiki is, in my view, in how you can organize your entries. You can add tags, or labels, to each entry, adding new ones on the go or from a pull down list of existing tags. You can then see at a glance what entries you’ve got with those tags. You can see your entries in chronological order, or alphabetically. Or you can search through the entries looking for specific words.
Why might you want something like this? Well, there are a number of advantages:
You have a project and you want to keep all the data in one place. Or you want to create small databases of, say, recipes or contacts for a specific project.
You don’t want to splash out for expensive database or outliner software.
You like something like EverNote, but you can never find what you’re looking for.
You crave simplicity. TiddlyWiki is not as fancy as most programs, but that doesn’t mean it’s not powerful.
You’re using both Macs and Windows computers (or Linux); TiddlyWiki works on most browsers, and of course doesn’t care what operating system it’s on.
You like trying something new, but don’t want to get a headache. Tiddly, as they say, ain’t fiddly.
You want something you can put on a USB stick and carry with you, and use on any computer without installing something.
You want to create a quick and dirty website (TiddlyWiki can be uploaded and used as a website, though it’s not overly elegant; as all the data is in one HTML file, it may slow loading the page.
You like programs that are always improving themselves; a passionate user base is always coming up with improvements and add-ons. A great way to waste an evening.
I messed around with it a couple of years back and enjoyed it, but bumped up against its limitations. My main problem was that adding too much to a TiddlyWiki makes it unwieldy. This time around, instead of adding everything to one TiddlyWiki, I made different ones for each specific project.
Keeping the entries smaller and the number of entries to 20 or so made it much easier. It got me through a tricky project, I have to say.
Downsides? Some people swear by the TiddlyWiki, but I suspect it’s the kind of thing you play with, and perhaps come back to from time to time, as the mood and need take you.
I wouldn’t recommend it for everyone either; some of us just need things to be a bit more straightforward than TiddlyWiki presently is. But for the rest of you, this is a great way to try something a bit different and see if it fits a need you have.