This is a stripped-down version of a single section of Grok TiddlyWiki, optimized for fast loading and readability by search engines. Some features are missing.
For the full Grok TiddlyWiki experience, please visit the wiki version of this page.
There are a lot of tools for taking notes and storing information out in the world, and most of them are easier to learn than TiddlyWiki. So you might ask, why should you care? What makes TiddlyWiki good enough that it's worth working through a textbook to learn?
Because TiddlyWiki offers an entirely new way of thinking (there's a reason this book is called Grok TiddlyWiki, and it's not just because grok is a fun word), it can be difficult to explain and the benefits can appear underwhelming to those who haven't experienced it. I'll try to share as much as I can in this section.
Traditional information-management systems, both paper and digital, encourage or require you to put notes into “boxes” of one kind or another: notebooks, pages, categories, hierarchies. Notes, once added, stay static, stuck in the same place and time forever, so they quickly get out of date and you forget about them.
Categories and hierarchies are sometimes unfairly maligned. In reality, they are powerful supplemental tools for thinking; sometimes, in order to think about a topic, we need to add additional order to a set of ideas to reduce them to a level of complexity we're capable of thinking about, and these tools give us that ability. But as a general-purpose organization method, these tools are terrible: they prevent ideas from being effectively used outside their original context and force us to collapse distinctions that we might prefer to maintain. For notes to reach their full potential, we need to allow them to relate in a greater variety of ways. Further, we don't naturally think in hierarchies except when we are tackling a specific problem; we think in links and webs of ideas.
If you doubt that we don't think in hierarchies, try this. Think of the color white. You can take this idea in an almost infinite number of directions with no effort at all: What are some white things? What other colors are there? What categories does white fit into? What metaphors involve whiteness? And from each of the ideas you generate as answers to those questions, you can quickly generate another set of associations. Three or four jumps, and the relationship between the two ideas is unrecoverable except by the path you traced. This is not the mark of hierarchical organization.
TiddlyWiki mirrors the way you think. While you can create traditional categories and hierarchies where they're helpful, these aren't the primary way of organizing content. Instead, you break ideas out into small, reusable pieces called tiddlers, and relate them and further describe their properties using links, tags, and fields. You can query based on all these properties and more using filters, and weave tiddlers together into other tiddlers to create aggregations and summaries using transclusion.
These mechanisms, properly used, allow relationships between ideas to magically jump out at you, and you can easily find the related bits that you just know are there somewhere but can't ever seem to find in traditional notes systems. Sometimes you may even find notes you didn't remember you took but turn out to be exactly what you need. Almost every TiddlyWiki user has had the experience of having some brilliant new idea and going to the appropriate spot to add it, only to find that it's already there.
Most notes systems fail at the seemingly elementary requirement of matching the way you think. (Why would you use a tool for thinking that doesn't match the way you think?) A few succeed, but those that do usually don't also have the advantages below.
In TiddlyWiki, notes are written and formatted using a markup language called wikitext (rather like Markdown). This language is relatively easy to learn and offers a more flexible way of formatting notes than WYSIWYG editors like those used by word processors or email programs.
Advanced users or anyone needing detailed control over how their notes look can fall back to HTML and CSS, the same languages used for styling web pages. You can write macros or use templates, along with CSS, for full separation of content and presentation. You can even write parts of your notes directly in HTML or in Markdown (via a plugin) if you like.
Wikitext is mostly a formatting language, but it's also a declarative language for finding and making changes to notes. For instance, you can create an automatically-updating list of all the kinds of tea you've discussed in your wiki, each with a companion button that takes you to the webpage where you can reorder it and records that you've done so in a list of purchases. Grok TiddlyWiki implements an integrated spaced-repetition flashcards program, TakeAway, entirely in wikitext!
Almost every aspect of TiddlyWiki's user interface and behavior can be changed without leaving your wiki – though the out-of-the-box situation is plenty good for many use cases already. There are scores of useful plugins on the web, and it's easy to create your own (in fact, plugins are nothing more than an easily distributable bundle of the same content you normally put in a wiki). The ability to evolve your content and the tool you use to create the content simultaneously is uniquely efficient, empowering, and mind-expanding.
While I love TiddlyWiki, no software is perfect, so it's worth pointing out some of TiddlyWiki's flaws as well.
If you have around an hour, check out the video Experience TiddlyWiki Fluency: Creating a Reading List, which will show you the experience of building a small tool in TiddlyWiki. You can also play around in some Public Wikis, such as my Zettelkasten.
If TiddlyWiki sounds like what you've been looking for, proceed to Philosophy of Grok TiddlyWiki to see if this book is a good way for you to learn TiddlyWiki, to How to Use This Book to learn more about how the book works, or to The Shape of TiddlyWiki to jump in.
If you end up using and liking this book, consider chipping in a few dollars to support my work on it.