Zettelkasten Forum

TiddlyWiki for Zettelkasten. Questions, answers and experiences

In another thread @GeoEng51 asked about my experience with using TiddlyWiki for a Zettelkasten. I'll try my best to fill in my answers here and muse a bit on my experience. Feel free to ask about my strange choices.

For those who don't know it: the oddly-named TiddlyWiki is a lightweight, single-file*, browser-based-but-also-local wiki software. (* single-file is optional -- more on that.) It is a wiki software, which implies many of the usual features: pages, formatting, links, tags. Media support is also quite decent. It is open-source software.

Since it is browser-based and single file, you can go to their website: https://tiddlywiki.com/ and play with it. The website is a TiddlyWiki instance, so you can immediately play with it and try things. The plus (+) icon the right hand menu adds a new page (called a tiddler.) It is quite an established project: good documentation, active development etc. etc. I've known about since at least 2010 and used it on-and-off since 2012 and in 2018 I began what is now my Zettelkasten. Enough story :smile:

Can it accommodate structure notes, tags, index, etc.? Tags are supported, but more structured than the usual ZK approach. There is a specific tag-field. You can create links and lists.

Does a wiki have greater ability to include and show media, such as images, videos and sound recordings? Images are easy to add. I frequently have images of plots in my notes. Video and sound probably require a plug-in to work -- haven't tried.

Have you tried recovering plain text files from Tiddly's? Yes, in fact, TiddlyWiki doesn't have to be a single file. I won't get into the details, but TiddlyWiki can be run as a server and store individual pages as individual files (See more). This is what I do. I like having the files directly accessible.

What do you think the longevity is of this massive HTML file containing your ZK? With multiple independent implementations, widely available standards and massive industry dependence I don't see HTML, CSS and JS going anywhere in the next decade :wink: But to give a more just answer: I split it into multiple files to make it more manageable; second, TiddlyWiki uses a markup similar to markdown for the note content (markdown is also possible with a plugin.)

Are there problems when the ZK gets really large? I have tested adding somewhere around 10000 notes to a TiddlyWiki. It wasn't an issue -- everything was still fast. However, I don't think it is really tuned to that kind of load and I had to avoid the "recently added" tab because of... well... 10000 recently added notes. It is open-source software, so I have considered just fixing it if it becomes a problem.

Is there anything unusual about saving or backing up your TiddlyWiki? I just copy the folder it is contained in. I frequently switch between two PCs and I haven't had issues. Having each note as a separate file helps.

Does it have other tools that work better for creating structure or for connecting zettels and navigating "thought trains"? I know that there are many plug-ins for drastically changing how note browsing works, but I don't touch that. However, by default it has, in my opinion, the nicest wiki / ZK interface out there (bold statement). TiddlyWiki doesn't present each note/page on its own. Instead, every time a note is opened it goes on a list called the "story view":

Here I have a bunch of notes opened. As I open more and more, the story view turns into a kind of trail of notes, where I can scroll up and down to move through the trail. For the usually small notes of ZK this is amazing, since multiple notes can be in view at once. It would be hard for me to give this feature up.

There are plug-ins which expand on the story view. I also have a plug-in for showing a graph of connected notes. I use this to explore second-order connections.

What are its strengths and weaknesses in regard to ZK? I think the story view is very well-suited for ZK. It is open-source and the files are just text. It is highly customizable and adaptable, even without touching the source code. Personally, I knew it already so it was easy to adapt to ZK. Several ZK-ready packages exists, tho I haven't tried them. Weaknesses: I think the numerical ID approach clashes a bit with TiddlyWiki's design choices of a very prominent title. I know that some have tried to work around this, but I haven't looked into it -- I just use titles :sunglasses: Not strictly related to ZK, but keyboard interaction seems like an afterthought -- it could be a lot better.

Is there anything that really challenges the ZK concept or process? I don't really think so -- unless I've completely misunderstood the point of ZK. The ID/title thing might be a deal-breaker to some, which is understandable.


  • Can you share a big structure note with us?

    I am a Zettler

  • @Sascha I am not sure what counts as "big" and I don't really think specifically about distinct note types. But this is probably one of my most frequently visited notes which is both "big" and mainly composed of links.

  • In my experience with TiddlyWiki, I found the story view very helpful and wish more note-taking apps had something alongside those lines. Works especially well with atomic notes.

  • @henrikenggaard Thanks so much for answering all of my questions and sharing your experiences with TiddlyWiki.

    One more question: Do you think preparing a Zettelkasten using TiddlyWiki would make that ZK more accessible to others? I'm thinking in particular of one of the purposes of my ZK, which is to capture memories/learnings and eventually turn them into a personal history. Properly formulated, maybe the personal history could just be the wiki and I wouldn't need the additional step of writing out a more formal document.

  • @henrikenggaard Perfect. Thanks.

    I am a Zettler

  • @GeoEng51 said:
    One more question: Do you think preparing a Zettelkasten using TiddlyWiki would make that ZK more accessible to others?

    Hard to say really. On the one hand a TiddlyWiki can be a single HTML-file, which you can just host somewhere or send in an email -- the browsing interface and notes all in one. On the other hand, if we are going for longevity, physical records easily outperform digital media. I have a physical scrapbook and photo album exactly because I think it has the best chance of lasting my entire life.

  • How do you experience that you need to click a button to be able to edit the content of a note? Is it something you want to change or doesn't it bother you at all?

    I am a Zettler

  • edited January 2021


    If I had infinite resources I would change it. The fact that I have to switch modes is not something I perceive as a big problem and it doesn't actively bother me, but it is friction, so I wouldn't be surprised if I did hesitate with editing notes. But again, I'm not bothered by it, so I just keep it as it is.

    Another "problem" is that I really like the rendered view. Images and math are part of it. Another is how my choice of tool has shaped how I use the tools (this is where I approach a technology trap.) Since I can use TiddlyWikis macros and HTML to create more rich content I also need to use the rendered view to benefit from it. And this is where the "just text files" argument falls short, because if there is too much TiddlyWiki dependent stuff, then the text files are less useful on their own. I am however, acutely aware of this: No macros in the notes. HTML/XML is restricted to metadata and semantic annotations. Eye-candy is 100 % stylesheets. This strikes a balance that is acceptable to me.

  • @henrikenggaard

    I tried setting up a Tiddlywiki using folders and individual tiddler files, as per the link you included earlier. That works well.

    I imported a few Markdown files from my Zettelkasten directory. That works smoothly, but there is significant overhead associated with changing the title (I can see why you don’t want to use UIDs when working with TiddlyWiki), removing metadata that I normally store in a zettel, correcting formatting items and establishing links between tiddlers .

    I can potentially see such a TiddlyWiki as being a medium for sharing my personal history, although it would take more work to do so than to create a conventional document (say PDF that also could be printed) by importing my current (Archive/Markdown) files into Scrivener.

    I like the concept of how accessible the contents of a TiddlyWiki are to a user, how the user can easily jump around from story to story without having to follow a particular narrative flow, and how easily the user could search to find some information.

    However, you have given me some pause for thought regarding whether or not I eventually want a paper copy. If the answer if “yes”, then I probably also need to put the story into a narrative format.

    Have you researched the ways in which you might extract some of the information in your TiddlyWiki to create a narrative document?

  • @GeoEng51

    Have you researched the ways in which you might extract some of the information in your TiddlyWiki to create a narrative document?

    No, I'm sorry. It is not really something I've looked into at all. I searched a bit around and there are some avenues, but not really complete solutions as far as I could tell. Bulk export is possible and combined with some tags and filters something could be cobbled together.

    Couldn't the paper narrative be non-linear? Like a non-linear choose-your-own-adventure book?

  • @henrikenggaard said:

    Couldn't the paper narrative be non-linear? Like a non-linear choose-your-own-adventure book?

    :smile: I suppose one could print out all the individual zettels (tiddlers) and then build a physical Zettelkasten out of them (that would argue for keeping the UIDs so they could be utilized later). Wouldn't that be ironic?

  • @GeoEng51

    If I were intending to make a Zettelkasten (or part of a Zettelkasten) more widely available, I would use Tinderbox. Partly that is because I already have a licence, and I've been dabbling with the application for years, but also because you can turn a collection of notes into HTML. Mark Anderson's reference aTbRef is an entire website (including images) that is generated directly from a single Tinderbox file (which you can download if desired). I believe Howard Oakley's site is also based on Tinderbox. Beck Tench has also shown what you can do with the program.

    Tinderbox does require quite a bit of mental adjustment to learn. I commented elsewhere that most applications are like Ikea cabinets that can only be assembled in one way, whereas Tinderbox says "I see you have some timber. Here is a complete toolbox including saw, chisels, screws, clamps -- what would you like to make?" This leaves a lot of people floundering. But the program is capable of doing things that most other programs cannot.

    It might be worth saying that a user has recently put a lot of training videos on the Tinderbox forums, which makes it much easier for new users to learn the basics. The program is unusual, and is not for everybody, but it does provide solutions that are difficult to find elsewhere.

    Best of luck with it!

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