Thursday, February 09, 2006

idea: tiddlywiki as a creative tool

I've commented before on the merits of lateral thinking - it's an important skill for the non-wonky product marketing guy. I've also commented on the merits of using 3x5 cards for organizational purposes.

But in a brief moment of revelation, it occurred to me that you could use the very nifty TiddlyWiki as a personal tool for enhancing your personal creativity in the same way that some folks use 3x5 cards to help them see problems differently and arrive at novel solutions.

Jeremy Ruston describes his creation as:
. . .a free MicroContent WikiWikiWeb. . .written in HTML, CSS and JavaScript to run on any modern browser without needing any ServerSide logic. It allows anyone to create personal SelfContained hypertext documents that can be posted to any WebServer, sent by email or kept on a USB thumb drive to make a WikiOnAStick.


In English, this means you can take it with you. This portability is a key asset of TiddlyWiki. What Jeremy doesn't note - but which I will - is that a TiddlyWiki is entirely self-contained. It's not a sprawling directory of files and subdirectories. It's tidy.

The other key asset of TiddlyWiki is that it enables a very clever form of content exploration without having to have any sort of pre-established filing taxonomy. Let me explain.

TiddlyWiki employs something called "Tiddlers" for encapsulating micro-content. When you arrive at a TiddlyWiki and click a Tiddler (which looks like a bolded hyperlink), little chunks of content - think of them as tapas compared to the more traditional feast of a normal webpage - pop up on your screen. It's a visual thing, so you need to experience it for yourself. Pop over to the TiddlyWiki tutorial, follow the instructions, then come back. I'll wait for you.

So now you've figured out that Tiddlers are the electronic equivalent of a 3x5 card. Big enough to capture a thought, but too small to encapsulate a whole story.

Here's where it gets interesting. Tiddlers are "tagged" - when you create a Tiddler, you can apply one or more tags to it that describe the content. Tags give you a way to describe paths through your Tiddlers. You can choose tags you've used before, or choose a new one. See, no predetermined filing taxonomy.

If you're like me, any given thought you have on a product, technology, market, whatever it is, can be described with a variety of metadata. By associating this metadata with each Tiddler, you can move quickly through your personal "database". Neat.

In practice, using a TiddlyWiki is dead easy. You don't code anything, you don't modify HTML, you don't mess with style sheets. Neater.

It's also worth noting that Bright People have created plug-ins to TiddlyWiki which you can download and use, including different style sheets to modify the look and feel of your TiddlyWiki. Each one modifies and extends the TiddlyWiki slightly, giving you different controls for storing, manipulating and presenting your data. Be prepared to put your smart hat on when you start playing with them - a good place to start is TiddlyWikiTips.

And if you're feeling really motivated, you can publish your TiddlyWiki to a server for your peers to mock^H^H^H^Henjoy.

It takes a commitment on your part to capture your thinking in a structured way. It takes practice to become adept at using what you've captured in an unstructured way. Because "unstructured use of structured data" is where the magic comes from.

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