A Personal Wiki

posted in: The Tools | 3

Like Wikipedia, but on the micro scale.

It may surprise some readers here that I’m a geek in my professional life.  (Okay, so it may not have surprised many readers, but, still…)  And, as such, I tend to use computers in a lot of my daily life, including my creative life.  One tool that I’ve been experimenting with a bit is tiny, low-overhead wikis, sort of like a tiny, personal Wikipedia, only it’s on my desktop and not publicly available via the internet.

I looked at a lot of tiny, simple wikis, but I eventually went with TiddlyWiki.
There are a couple reasons why, but, mostly because it’s contained in a single, simple file.  Also, in spite of its incredible simplicity, TiddlyWiki has an amazing amount of flexibility and expandability.  For example, there are JavaScript-based plugins that you can add to do all sorts of things, including, but not limited to creating beautiful timelines, calendars, tables of contents, and tag clouds.  Really the possibilities seem almost endless!  (Most of the best add-on tools are collected at TiddlyTools, a TiddlyWiki-based website.)
There’s also the ability to add a theme to your TiddlyWiki, which can change the look and feel of the entire wiki in a few short steps.  You can browse some examples of TiddlyWiki themes at the cleverly named TiddlyThemes site.
(Update: The TiddlyThemes site seems to be temporarily down, but you can see some themes and related information at FreeStyle.)

One of the bigger reasons I like TiddlyWiki, though, is the documentation and guides.  The main site, TiddlyWiki, has great information to get you started and links to a lot of other great resources.  Most of what you need to know to really get started is right there, but if you find yourself getting into more advanced stuff, I recommend getting over to tiddlywiki – a TiddlySpace, where they have even more user-created documentation.  Between these two sites, I think pretty much all the questions I could come up with were answered.  And, I have to mention, for a pretty geeky, little tool, TiddlyWiki has a surprisingly large community around it.  That makes it cool, too, because you know that other people are out there doing stuff that you can learn from or looking to do the things you’re doing so you can share with them.  Either way, knowing that there are growing resources for help, I think, helps make TiddlyWiki a great choice for personal projects.

So, now the question is, what to use it for?
No, seriously, people use this for all kinds of things.  Are you a fan of David Allen‘s [amazon_link id=”0142000280″ target=”_blank” ]Getting Things Done[/amazon_link]?  Well, people have used TiddlyWiki for that, and even written an article about it on Lifehacker.  And, it makes a great way to have a small, simple set of documentation for a small group or organization, like a small computer services department.
Theoretically, you can use it as a website, but I’m not comfortable with that functionality.  I’m a little funny about putting work out there in such a way that strangers might too easily deface it.  It’s just my old-fashioned way of thinking.
Personally, I started getting interested in personal wikis when I was exploring an idea for a series of interconnected stories set in an alternate future.  I had in mind to maintain a private wiki that was configured rather like Wikipedia, but specifically for my crazy future.  In fact, I went so far as to integrate the somewhat difficult timeline feature that someone created, but has apparently since abandoned, into a kind of default template that I started using.  (Well, okay, “messing around with” is probably more accurate, since I never did follow through on that alternate future.)  In fact, if you’d like, you can download that template I created, which includes the timeline functions and some theme stuff, you can download it here:EmptyTiddlyWiki  You won’t really need the subdirectory of images or the example.xml file, which is just for the timeline examples, but I included them anyway.

So, now you have an easy to use tool for making hyper-linked documentation for yourself or a small group.  How will you use it?  How can you leverage this creatively to make producing work easier?

Update: Just an FYI.  I added a couple of nodes to that default wiki template I uploaded before, to help the person who’s new to wikis with formatting.  It seemed useful, so I updated the archive attached to this post.  If you downloaded it before, you may want to grab it again.
Also, I’ve mentioned it in the included EmptyTiddlyWikiREADME.txt which is included in that archive, but I recommend copying that template to a new file name for each project for which you want to have a wiki.  No need to put them in separate subdirectories or anything, but separate file names make keeping the information straight a bit easier.
Update 02-06-2013:  Just another small update to this template file to include a little documentation on the Table of Contents plugin to make it easier to actually use.
Update 05-01-2013:  Yet another small update to the template, adding in a “Home” menu item that closes all open tiddlers and only opens the default, launch tiddlers.
Update 07-14-2013:  This may be my most updated post ever!  This time the update is to the base code of the TiddlyWiki, updating it to the latest version, which is 2.8 (up from 2.6.5)
Update 08-06-2013:  Yet more improvements!  Just added some information about formatting tiddlers with headings and cleaned up the fliters on the Alpha Listing.  So, just some housekeeping.
Update 10-07-2013: Added Wikipedia-like info boxes as well as special info boxes like those found on Wookieepedia, both via plugins, which make a personal wiki feel more professional and slick.
Update 12-31-2013: Added a time and date stamp for last update/save information to Main Menu to keep track of data “freshness”.  Last improvement for the year!
Update 01-31-2014: Just a minor update to reflect some of the changes I made to the various infoboxes that were added in the October 2013 update.
Update 02-06-2014: Another bug-fix update.  Apparently the timeline macro made a call to a website that is now off-line as a “kludge” that never got updated to make the graphics appear correctly.  I fixed that and now I’ve uploaded it.
Update 01-28-2016: Another minor update that adds the Copyright entry to the top menu and automagically updates that with the most current user editing.  Of course this can be modified to suit by editing the Copyright tiddler.
Update 04-06-2016: Edited the ReadMe file to include information about an issue saving in some browsers.  Basically, you need to save from Firefox and you need to have the TiddlyFox plugin installed for it all to work.