Thursday, 22 March 2007

TiddyWiki

I've been using TiddlyWiki for a couple of months now, and it's brilliant. It's a wiki-style notebook, but entirely self-contained as a single web page, so it doesn't need a server to set it up -- or a network connection to use it -- and it's easy to copy it around and take it with you when travelling.

The interface is a little quirky to start with, but you quickly get used to it. It might be easiest to imagine that each tiddler (most other wikis would call this a page, but since TiddlyWiki is a single page, that doesn't quite work) is a tab in a browser. Clicking on a link to another tiddler opens that tiddler at the bottom of the page, if it is not already open, and scrolls the browser window to it; imagine that it's opened a new tab for the tiddler if necessary, and brought that tab to the front.

I'm currently using a TiddlyWiki for my to-do list, which allows me to create richer hyperlinked structures around tasks, so things like meeting minutes and design notes tend to end up in it too. I started with a structure based on that of GTDTiddlyWiki, with top-level lists starting with an @ character etc. Don't use GTDTiddlyWiki directly though, it's based on an older version of TiddlyWiki, and you're better off going with the newer version. (This way of tracking tasks is based on Dave Allen's book "Getting Things Done," which I have bought but have yet to read. I found the scheme originally via a post on Kathy Sierra's blog, which linked to an introduction to GTD at PigPog. So far it's working well.)

I've also used it for other note-taking style things, such as for keeping notes from my weekly Salsa dancing classes.

Internally, the HTML that it stores is relatively good for use with line-based diff programs, such as that used by Subversion: each tiddler is stored on a different line, but with the characters '\n' between each line of tiddler text.  I've been storing one wiki in svn for a few weeks, and it's relatively usable, although it would be nicer if the body text of a tiddler was expanded so the details of the changes showed up in the diffs.

The default settings work very well, but whenever I start a new tiddlywiki, I make the following changes to have it working as I like:

  • Open the options from the menu on the left, and make sure the author name is set

  • Tick 'SaveBackups' and 'AutoSave'. This saves the wiki every time you make a change, leaving the previous version around as a dated backup. It would be nice if it could auto-clean these somehow, but for now, I just delete them all manually every now and then.

  • Open the AdvancedOptions, and set a folder for the backup files. A relative path works fine.

  • If the wiki is going to last for a while, I like to change the colour scheme to make it a little distinct. Open the tiddler 'ColorPalette', and edit it to set the colours as you want them. (The ColorPalette tiddler isn't linked anywhere by default, so far as I can tell. You can add a link to it from wherever you like, or just add '#ColorPalette' to the URLin the address bar and reload the page. If you don't have autosave enabled make sure you save your changes before reloading. Having done this once, it will appear in the TimeLine.)


There is lots of good information on the main TiddlyWiki site, but sometimes it's hard to find what you want, and I often use this quick-reference page for checking formatting syntax etc.

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