I’m kind of obsessed with Tiddlywikis right now.

I had heard of them a whole lot of years ago, and I knew that some people got really obsessed with them, but I’d never looked into them very deeply. But a couple weeks ago at work, I needed a tool to help figure out how some pieces of code worked together. I was hoping for a mind mapping tool, and I searched for such.

One of the things I came across was TiddlyMap, which is a mind mapping tool built on top of TiddlyWiki. This got me to look at TiddlyWikis, and I soon had downloaded one and used it to take care of my “understand linked pieces of code” need, without any mapping tool used at all. But I was intrigued.

aI have a poor memory and I’ve sometimes gotten confused about when things happened at what point in my life, like, what year of my life. I had created a file called “timeline.txt” a long time ago to note down what year major things happened. I decided to tiddlywikify it. It worked extraordinarily well and taught me a lot about tiddlywikis. If I had kept working on it I think I could pretty easily have turned it into a genealogy tool too, though I didn’t go that far.

The thing I did come to understand from that is how good it is at helping organize a bunch of unrelated thoughts. Or rather, put them down without stopping to think about organizing them — let them grow as a sort of rhizomatic cloud as needed.

As another project, I started creating a little resource about Esperanto, basically all the things that I would want to tell a friend who wanted to know something about all this “Esperanto” business I was blathering about. It grew pretty quickly into a nice little file, which I’ve uploaded here. I’ll keep updating it as I feel like it. Check it out if you would, and drop a comment if you like it.

Last Thursday I was playing Dungeons & Dragons over Skype and Roll20, and on a whim I decided to start keeping track of what we were doing with a tiddlywiki. I got a lot written down; it was pretty cool. I also quickly installed TiddlyMap in there, dropped in a map of the area we were exploring, which the DM had provided, and started annotating the stuff on that map! (TiddlyMap is intended for mind mapping but you can lock entries to spots on a grid, and if you put an image in the background of your map, then hey-ho, you’ve suddenly got a map and key.)

I’ve been using a tiddlywiki to take quick notes at work, and keep some private “what am I doing and what do I need to do” information.

There are a lot of cool and unique qualities to tiddlywikis, which is why I’m kind of obsessed with them. One virtue is the fact that they’re incredibly fluid and easy to use; you can use them to “build out” your knowledge bit by bit. Another is the fact that they are, by default, entirely self-contained: a tiddlywiki is a single html file which is the app, data, and everything, all combined together. Another is the fact that tiddlywikis are mostly written in themselves: that is, when you build things with a tiddlywiki you are mostly using the same tools that the makers of tiddlywiki used to create it themselves. It feels like smalltalk (which is mostly written in smalltalk) or emacs (which is mostly written in emacs lisp).

But there are downsides. First off, if you are going to try and get clever with it, it can be very difficult to figure out exactly how it works under the hood. The text you type into a tiddler can have several different kinds of markup in it which operate in several different ways, and coming to understand how they interact with each other can be hair-tearing-out painful. Basically there are easy and hard ways to do things and it’t not always obvious what the easy way is. The documentaiton is pretty good, but not always good enough. And if you want to search for solutions, you aren’t going to find a lot outside of the tiddlywiki google group.

Another downside is saving… since a tiddlywiki is a bunch of javascript in an html file, and a bunch of javascript in an html file does not have the ability to write back to that same html file, saving your work can be awkward! There are numerous ways to work around this awkwardness but many of them are pains in the butt on their own. Myself, I tend to use an app called “tiddlydesktop” on the desktop, cause it’s super easy, and I keep my stuff backed up a git repository which I can check out from wherever I happen to be.

Still… I’m obsessed. Even though I’ve gone down a lot of rabbitholes and wasted a lot of time… they’re so cool.

Tiddlywikis…. they are awesome.

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