An amazing free microwiki

* TiddlyWiki, a reusable non-linear personal Web notebook

Over the last couple of years Wikis have moved from experimental to novelty status, and with the rise of Wikipedia, became definitely a mainstream idea. Over the same period Wikis also went in the opposite direction becoming small and definitively personal, although I doubt whether many people are aware of these microwikis yet.

Today I want to focus on one microwiki system that has really impressed me: TiddlyWiki, a freeware tool copyrighted by the UnaMesa Association, a non-profit founded to supply free tools and Web services.

The TiddlyWiki site describes the system as “a reusable non-linear personal Web notebook.” The core of TiddlyWiki is a single XHTML file in which is embedded all of the wiki code, all of the content, the editing services, and the style sheet. In other words, when you load a TiddlyWiki file into your browser the entire system is local and editable. TiddlyWiki’s functionality is also extensible through plugins, which I’ll come back to in a moment.

Because TiddlyWikis are single files you can easily store and use them on removable media such as USB drives and rewritable CDs and DVDs.

Like any powerful idea TiddlyWiki takes a little effort to understand and the current documentation written by the authors and aficionados of the system (such as “A TiddlyWiki help file for beginners” is good for techies but less so for general users.

The core concept is that of a “tiddler” – what some call “MicroContent” – that is the basic unit of storage in a TiddlyWiki. You create a tiddle and give it a title, content (which can contain text, HTML, images, code, stylesheets, and links) and tags.

The default layout of a TiddlyWiki has a title bar at the top (which also includes “backstage” – a menu of system management functions for setting options, importing data, and managing plugins) and below that a menu on the left, the tiddler display area in the middle, and a toolbar on the right. That said, by creating stylesheet tiddlers you can reconfigure the interface as you please.

You create tiddlers by clicking on the “new tiddler” link in the right hand menu and filling in the three fields. TiddlyWiki has its own markup language and supports Creole, a common cross-platform wiki markup format.

You can open and optionally edit tiddlers, print them, synchronize them with servers, and search through all of the tiddlers in a TiddlyWiki, and TiddlyWiki supports versioning (this can be disabled).

Tiddler plugins (all free) extend the functionality of TiddlyWiki in all sorts of ways including forms, databases, games, tables, spreadsheets, and media support. Plugins are available from a number of repositories including TiddlyVault and the Sidebar Plugin Vault.

In particular there is one Firefox plugin called TiddlySnip that is really useful. With TiddlySnip you can save Web clips into a TiddlyWiki (installing TiddlySnip from its site doesn’t work with Firefox 3.0 as it doesn’t meet Firefox’s security constraints, but you can install it from the TiddlySnip Google Group).

There are also all sorts of variants and alternative design of TiddlyWiki ranging from ServerSideWiki, a mashup of TiddlyWiki with Ruby on Rails (unfortunately now shelved).

So where’s the value to your organization? Well you can indeed use it as a Web notebook or Web clip archive, but it can also be effective as a collaborative service, a document repository, or as the underpinnings of a logging or data capture system. TiddlyWiki is a remarkable tool and well worth investing a little time and effort to see what it can do for you.

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