Tinderbox Forum

A Call for Starter Templates

Continuing the discussion from One Big Tinderbox Document?:

I would like to see 5 or 6 templates that are made freely available to help new users see effective TBX files. When I used to use Filemaker Pro, I would often download starter solutions to learn how to use the program and to see possibilities. At one point I purchased some files, but these don’t always work.

The power of TBX is that you can make it do whatever you want. The challenge of TBX is that you essentially have to start with a blank canvas. There are some users that will never be able to make TBX work-- all they want is a solution that someone has already created. The learning curve is the larger than any application I’ve ever used. I’d like people to begin using something and then be able to start tweaking as needed.

Here are some ideas:

  1. A Commonplace Book
  2. A Book Review TBX
  3. A Blog TBX

What else? I could imagine a github repository in which these templates get better.


Thanks, Paul. I bought those a few years ago and many of the demos were broken, complicated and confusing. I’m calling for 3-4 fully-baked solutions that could help a person learn the program or better, just get up and running with doing something that is very useful without getting bogged down by learning the program.

In my opinion, but I am an apprentice, it’s the strong point of Tinderbox: while you have to experience it by yourself to understand in which way it could help you to do what you have to do… you have to do it: testing different solutions and seeing, step by step, which is the good one for you. With many other applications, as you say, it’s plug and play. But is it what I expect from Tinderbox? No: I like to experience the several possibilities it offers me. It’s a part of Tinderbox. Therefore, to answer your question, I have some templates I can give if it can help: a file that is my reading notebook, and a file I use as a personal assistant. But Tinderbox gives itself some Built-In prototypes that can be the first bricks for a new file. Moreover, many videos on Tinderbox site show many ways to experiment it: for instance, I understood how I could use Tinderbox by watching many times the video Planning a book with Tinderbox and I could again and again watch it even if it’s not a relatively new video because for me, this video shows the essence of Tinderbox: a very atypical tool that lets you freely think and write, associate and elaborate matter for later. The history of Tinderbox (and it includes the video “Planning a book with Tinderbox”) is “consubstantial” to the understanding of its process. When you try to learn how to make bread (and I know a little what I’m talking about), you have to discover by yourself the essence of making bread, that is: no way out your way, but no way too, out of the history of bread.

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You are too modest.


I said “apprentice” because I only use Tinderbox in its simplest functionality, I mean: creating an agent, a prototype, exporting some text, brainstorming in Map view, outlining some ideas and so on. When I have to create a more complex task, I have to read tutorials or send a question in Tinderbox forum. Three years ago, I started to use agents in order to identify and make some specific sections of interviews I had made in evidence and I had to proceed by trials and errors. It’s not as simple as using a search button and, in that sense, “apprentice” sounds true for me, especially as English is not my native language. I remember reading The Tinderbox Way out loud !


You may think of yourself as an apprentice if you like, but your videos are over-the-top slick, great and awesome. I’ve watched them repeatedly over the last few days, and because of your videos, I decided (today!) to return to Tinderbox after a hiatus (since v. 4 or 5) of a few years. I’d recently given up on all electronic note takers to go back to index cards and rubber bands. However, I am persuaded by the way you use TB as digital paper.
I very much appreciate your videos and am just as happy to be able to say thanks to you on my first day of being on the forum.
Many thanks!

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Thank you for your kind words, Linn. It’s very encouraging for me. Your recent decision reminds me of something: when I discovered Tinderbox, I also watched repeatedly a video that Mark Bernstein made and whose the name is : Planning a book with Tinderbox. That video but also another one you certainly know already: Plotting with Tinderbox. I think that these two videos are not only about using Tinderbox. They make me think and that’s why too I use Tinderbox. I wish you good times on that nice forum.

Thank you, Dominique. I’ll follow up on your recommendations for Planning and Plotting.

This is a thanks to Dominique R, Mark B, Mark A, Steven Zeoli, and others who have created these informative videos. Even though I’ve used the program for a long time, I discover new possibilities by watching them.

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The topic seems to have shifted to praising Dominique’s and others’ videos—and I certainly would echo that sentiment—but I’d like to bring it back to Steve’s idea of providing sample files. Such files might allow a new user to get productive use out of Tinderbox without having to go through an intense period of study at the very beginning, learning about the file gradually as time allows, perhaps doing some tweaking when comfortable, and eventually learning how to make something from scratch that really suits their own needs.

Amen, though it’s a bigger task than imagined as often a worthwhile demo wants realistic specimen data (e.g. to help illustrate behaviour edge cases).

I know from long experience that making and testing such data call take far longer than expected, then you need to add at least a through readme that does presume too much knowledge. Then, you almost have a demo that doesn’t immediately spawn lots of “but how do I” questions.

I’ve a long overdue to-do to update some 280+ demo files I had created pre-v6, including worked demos with intermediate completed steps. A number of these are now defunct (e.g. I don’t think you can tweet via runCommand any more as Twitter needs more authentication of a type too complex for the sort of people who need such a demo) but for the rest as each text or view window in a v5 doc opens a v6+ window every file needs revisiting/re-setting I need a long journey to have time to work the backlog. The constant addition of new improvements also makes managing a demo stack a labour of love as often the demos work around a problem or difficult workflow that an improvement then removes!

It looks like there are another almost 150 TBXs on my FTP site (sorry, I’ve no listing), mainly created to assist forum discussions over time (so linked from those threads) plus there are about 30 illustrated Clarify tutorial PDFs docs here the larger number of which apply to v6+.

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@rickdude in the OP, @Steve_Scott suggested a few topics – are there topics other than, or in addition to these, that you would like to see? Not many folks have time to develop full-fledged demos from whole cloth, but like @mwra I have numerous files that could be jiggered and anonymized into a workable demos, if I know what topics would be of interest.

I have several Tinderbox blogs and commonplace books – anonymization would take time, but I’ll try to get to that sometime next quarter.

…and if someone has a nice (slightly messy) set of notes I’m very happy to help with demo-ifying it. Sometimes, simply going through and replacing specific names/words $Text.replace("thing","other-thing") can bowdlerise the source enough to be an effectively anonymous canvas on which to make a demo.

I must confess I hadn’t thought through the issue of the time and difficulty of creating/repurposing such files. I would be most interested in something like @jtaekman’s database of snippets of information from academic databases, and imagine that many academics who know about Tinderbox but have never made the leap to using it regularly would feel the same.

I would see these starter templates as fairy simple and straightforward-- to give the new user the sense that they are accomplishing something without having to do heavy coding. Of course, once people start using them they will have questions and want to change them, but at least they can start working and feel productive.

For example, what if there was a simple blog that would generate a simple website that someone could actually use. Using free bootstrap templates a person could set the title of their blog, create posts, add pictures, and export an html directory. I’m tempted to take this project on. . . I bet I could do it in 2-3 hours.

Here are a few samples from OmniOutliner. When you open the app, you have different templates that you can actually start using.

Without taking away from anything that’s been said here, I’d float a thought about the difference between templates and examples.

Recently I’ve been working on creating a TBX that will produce a web site/blog and on this and the previous forum there are working links to TBX files that other users have used to do the same task. So as I was starting out I dug these up and looked at them.

What I found was that they all approached the same task in wildly different ways. They also all worked with info differently from how I imagined my own (very simple) project doing things. Still I dug in to see how they worked and tried to adapt them to seve as a base. I’d delete what wasn’t useful to me and mark things that needed to be reworked. But over and over I found myself with either a) near-empty files that were basically a blank canvas or b) semi-complete files that I understood imperfectly but needed to be heavily adapted. Ultimately, I decided that I would save myself work or confusion by just starting from scratch.

Once I was well along in my project, those same files were useful examples that gave me ideas of things I might do that I had overlooked working on my own. Using them as inspiration made my own project better. But even then, the examples weren’t something I could cut and paste things into my own project. I understand some kinds of actions better than others, and there’s no point in dropping things into my project that I don’t feel comfortable adjusting. I need to do things using the actions that make sense to me. So what happened is that I’d see something done in an example and would then figure out (usually with help from the forum) how to use “my” actions to do something similar.

What I’ve wound up with in the end produces the HTML that I wanted exactly and in a browser that output looks very similar to the output of the examples I looked at. But my TBX file is very very different from those examples. Here’s the thing though: I understand how mine works and when I’ve had to tweak things, I’m not at a loss how to do it because it’s all rigged up in a way that makes sense to me.

My point in all of this is that the flexibility TBX may make the distinction between templates and examples disappear. Almost anything a user might want to do–if they are going to chose to do it in TBX–is probably going to be something they want to customize. And if that’ s the case, then template are likely to function simply as an examples. Which is fine. But if it’s true, then dealing with a blank canvas (and all the difficulties that can entail) may be inevitable.

Just my thought though…

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Just to be clear: my point in the previous post is NOT that there shouldn’t be templates. It’s just that any templates may serve very different purpose than they do in other applications. Because users will probably depart from them so quickly and so completely, the templates may inspire but probably won’t save anyone from the learning curve.

This site contains some old and still-useful starting points.


I’ve taken one of those documents – from 2004! – that Marisa Antonaya published. Marisa’s starting point is a document that produces a simple web site. The bits and pieces, and the CSS needed for presentation, are in this file

Antonya Site Updated for Tinderbox 7

I updated the document for Tinderbox 7, which was not a difficult task. The main thing that the document needed was to have the HTML templates inserted into the Tinderbox document. In 2004, we kept our HTML templates in separate .html files and referenced them in the Tinderbox document – that practice went away a long time ago.

There are likely other modernizations possible, but this is merely a “starting point” after all. For example, the HTML is not canonical HTML 5. It still works, though. I’ll leave it to others to revise the templates and fully modernize them.

The two major factors in building a successful website using a Tinderbox document are the export templates and the CSS to style the site. Marisa’s document is a good learning tool because it is simple yet robust enough to demonstrate how Tinderbox interacts with HTML code and CSS styling – even 13 years after the document first appeared. Very little software, in my opinion, resists the deprecation of time as well as Tinderbox does.

Comments welcome.

I agree with Brian’s notes and comments. I’ve learned a lot from the templates / starting points / examples (I don’t care what they’re called) from the Tinderbox exchange, the old Wiki, the old Cookbook site, and all the Tinderbox weekends – I own them all. Someone here was mentioning those files are imperfect. Well – yes they sometimes are, but that’s not the point.

The point is that the Tinderbox community for a long time has supported people who want to learn – frequently by sharing these files. (I am confident that no one has or ever will be as supportive in this respect as Mark Anderson.) For better, and rarely for worse, the enthusiasm and pedagogical value of the shared examples has always be excellent, in my opinion.

For my own documents, these examples are teaching tools – I’ve never used them as a real “starting point” – I prefer to build from scratch using best practices I’ve learned elsewhere.

Here is version 1.0 of a basic blog. If people like this direction I can put it on GitHub and we can incrementally improve it, i.e. add a navbar.

basic-blog.tbx (1.6 MB)