Tinderbox Forum

How to do basic things - not the the theory of the Tinderbox Universe


I want to use Tinderbox, and I want to love it. However, your documentation makes absolutely no sense to me. It provides me none of the information that I need to get started with this program.

I would like to know:

  1. How to create a note (that I can do).
  2. How to create a link to a new, non-existent note
  3. How to add notes at any level of the heirarchy and have then link to each other.

For example:

Top Level = Music
Inside Music = Bands
Inside Bands = Band Names

With forwards and backwards links to all of them.

Finally, how do I sort the list of bands in alphabetical order.

This is not a personal attack - but the user interface, documentation and how this application works are the most frustrating I’ve ever seen.

It seems like everything was written for experts.


In Tinderbox look under the Help menu and choose ‘Getting Started with Tinderbox’. That should give you the basic knowledge you might need.


I highly recommend working through the Getting Started with Tinderbox and Actions and Dashboards documents that you’ll find in the Help menu. They provide stepped-through examples that will clarify a lot of the at-sea sensation you’re feeling right now. Tinderbox isn’t simple, but nor is it insurmountable. And speaking for myself, it’s well worth the effort.

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It is perfectly fine to wonder where to start with Tinderbox. I think you’ll find lots of folks on this forum who have stood where you are, and lots of suggestions for where to go.

Rule of thumb: what you do with Tinderbox depends on what you want to do.

That’s not a zen koan. It is simply that it’s best to start with an idea or problem in mind then work outward from there. Start with a simple problem: “I want to take notes about my new maker project”, or “I need to sort out the issues with helping with my chlldren’s Zoom classes this term”, or whatever.

Second rule of thumb: manuals are fine. They don’t teach. Doing teaches.

Start a Tinderbox document then work with it. If you run into corners (you will) come here and the user team in the forum can help sort things out.

Final rule of thumb: don’t boil oceans.

I’ve never seen anyone start the journey to learn Tinderbox succeed by “putting everything into Tinderbox”. Wrong product. Wrong approach. Again, start with a well defined problem (or use Tinderbox to help define) and grow outward.

I, and others, have had a lot of W*F moments when starting out with Tinderbox. Its worth the journey. Really is.


ha! brilliant!

if i may follow on to paul’s excellent advice, watch today’s recording as Michael explains how after seven years of (!) trying to figure “it” out, he finally got it! his “ah ha” moment was notes, attributes, and properties.

it dazzled everyone to watch him suddenly bring order to chaos, herd the cats, pull meaning from mere data!

and keep your eye open for a “tinderbox for dummies” idea inspired by today’s demo! (probably months away, but…watch the video!)

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There are various studies in psychology that show that previous experience can be an obstacle to learning new things. I believe that one of the reasons why new users of Tinderbox sometimes (often?) feel disorientated is that they expect the program to work like others they have used in the past. It doesn’t – or at least, it is different enough to require adjustment.

To go to your questions – as far as I know, something has to exist before you can link to it, so no. 2 is not possible.

For no. 3, it doesn’t matter where you create notes, you can move them anywhere you want, whenever you want. You can link them after you have created them.

As you get to know Tinderbox better, you may find yourself questioning whether placing notes in hierarchies is the best way to go. Hierarchies are not very flexible. It may turn out that a better strategy is to use keywords, so when you create a note you add the keyword “band”, which makes it obvious that it belongs in the category of “music” without you having to place it in a hierarchy. But I don’t want to get in too deep here. I’m just trying to say that it seems a lot of people run into trouble when they have a rigid, preconceived idea of how they want to arrange their data. It is often better to lob in the data, then work out how best to arrange it as you go along. One of the strengths of Tinderbox is that it provides tools that allow the database to morph as you get to understand things better.

See this observation from James Fallows: http://forum.eastgate.com/t/user-attributes-or-tags/1069/12?


A couple approaches.

On a map, select a note, then click-hold-drag out from the link anchor point to a blank spot on the map.

2020-09-20_06-35-13 (1)

Or, in the text of a note, use a “Zipllink” like this

The Ziplinks page on aTbRef linked to above shows you how to do this.


Well there you go, I didn’t know you could do that, so I’ve learned something new. After about ten years of dabbling with Tinderbox :slight_smile:

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Hello Paul:

Thank you very much.

I did not realize the syntax was [[text]. I had tried multiple variations including [[text]], pressing tab, pressing enter w/no luck. I d id get some links by accident.

I’d been looking for that information in the documentation and did not find it.

Another question on ziplinks - sometimes the blue text of the links gets “weird”. I.e. some letters turn white and you can no longer click on the whole word. Is there a way to fix that? E.g. something similar to CTRL+K in MS Word that brings up the link properties? Or do you just delete and start over?

Second question - I’ve tried to list notes within a note in alphabetical order via the inspector. In the inspector, I select “normal” sort order but nothing happens. Is there a step needed to apply | trigger the sorting?

To those who commented don’t worry about hierarchy - noted. I will keep that in mind.

Any help on the two new questions here would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you very much for getting me the info on the options to link a non-existent, new note.

The documentation is not comprehensive. Which is why another user wrote and maintains their own, which is about as comprehensive as is reasonable. (IMO)

You probably typed something wrong. It happens.

“Normal”? A screenshot would help, please.

There was a bug a few versions ago that seems like what you describe, but was fixed a few months ago. What version are you using?

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If you want to sort the Notes inside a container, you invoke the inspector, then choose which attribute you wish sort by (which could be any, but we will assume it is Name here). It will look something like this:

This sorts the Notes in Outline view. Map view is a whole different thing, with many ways to display and arrange your data.


Multiple way, all documented. Drag the link widget

Untitled 2020-09-20 20-16-45

  • Select the source note, e.g. XX here
  • Drag the link widget to the target, e.g. note YY
  • Complete the link creation pop-over.
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I’ve just upgraded to 8.7.1 from 8.5.1 based on your post. Thanks.

@MorpheusTinderBox don’t give up, TBX is AMAZING. Loved @mwra comment “…previous experience can be an obstacle to learning new things.” I totally agree!

Tinderbox, by design, does not make any decisions for you. It strips away ALL the noise. You get to make all the decisions. Here are a few tips.

  1. Turn on the text Ruler, this will help with formating

  2. Show the toolbar, this will help with navigation
    blowwen.cmproj.zip (1.4 MB)

As noted earlier, yes, we’ll start working on a TBX for Dummies, or something like it.


I ask only because there are no navigation controls in the doc toolbar. There are view-type buttons but those don’t navigate and the same options are already available on the context menu of the always-displayed view tabs. I ask because I’m clearly missing something and am happy to document it if I have.

. This may be an issue of vocabulary. All the Tinderbox views are different visualisations of the same data. This can be confusing if only ever being used to an app offering one ‘view’. I’m forever amazed and the number of MS Word users who don’t know that app offers more views that just a faux-paper WYSIMWYG presentation of the file.

. The ‘M’ is for ‘maybe’.

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Hi there, you are correct. This is an issue of vocabulary. When I look at the toolbar I think of it as “navigating,” i.e. moving between to views. These two steps, find the toolbar and the formatting ruler were one of the hardest “newbie” things for me. I eventually stumbled across them and then had to keep remembering how to get them back.

Note: Being able to customize the toolbar by adding personally desirable system elements like the Ruler or custom elements like often used staps, like @amahabal’s Alfred work, could be useful. But, it could also lead to feature keep and bloating. Now that I’m over the hurdle and am learning hotkeys, I appreciate the starkness of the zen-like Tinderbox interface. The surface is clean and smooth; all the power and insight is to be found within.

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I find it interesting to note just how different people are in this. To take your tip from above, I don’t think I have ever used the Ruler in Tinderbox (in more than ten years), and have never felt the need to do so because I do not really format anything in the Text pane. (Hence the tip would not have been of any use to me personally as a beginner.) I do sometimes use bold or italic, but apart from that almost nothing. I would usually try to keep any note to a maximum of about 70 words, so there is not much to format. But I am sure that people working in other fields would find formatting a crucial part of the meaning of any note, so I am not advocating doing without it just because I have no use for it. However, a “For Dummies” is not an easy thing to put together for such an open program as Tinderbox, which gets used for so many different things.

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Amen. All the work styles being described are valid, yet differing and what suits one doesn’t suit all so I’m yet to be convinced there is a simple common denominator. Text users in the community range from those who don’t like that the text pane isn’t really a word processor module to folk who don’t see the point in even italic/bold as they only use plain text or HTML, markdown, etc.

. The chick-and-egg problem is people want to learn the app from the context of some other—usually an app with which they’re more experience. This means few are prepared to embrace the app as a toolset but rather want to be handed (only) the subset of tools they imagine are pertinent to (just) their perspective. This is all the more ironic as often the things they describe themselves wanting are not in their desired toolset, leading to circular argumentation of why can’t the app be more like X. Ugh.

I’m happy to stick with writing the facts down, not least as that alone takes the spare time a have for the task.

Every time I see a description making it simple I just see all the unstated assumptions and the way the method would completely confuse others. This in not a right wrong, but how inclusive one is prepared to be that other folk work in different styles

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In addition to the other excellent guidance from @mwra @PaulWalters @MartinBoycott-Brown @Sylvaticus @latinhypercube @doublem @amahabal @satikusala and others here, let me add the strongest possible emphasis to the point above.

Hierarchy is a natural style-of-organization, for those of us accustomed to working in outlines, in classification structures, and in many other forms of work.

In Tinderbox, hierarchy is usually not your friend.

The challenge with hierarchical organization is that any individual note can exist in one and only one container. It can have only one “parent” note. It can have only one “descended from” path. In a map view, the “original” note, ie not an alias produced by an agent, can appear on a map only with others within that same container.

In “normal” outlining, that discipline of a strict hierarchy is often useful. But in Tinderbox, where you often want any individual note to have a wide variety of connections and be part of various linkages, tools other than the hierarchy itself are generally most useful.

  • For some people, the most useful way to make those connections is through links. I don’t use links that much.

  • For others, including me, the most useful organizing tool is a range of attributes, whose results as displayed either through the Attribute Browser or via agents (whose results are shown in resulting outlines, map views, time lines, attrib browsers, or whatever).

  • The trait that links all these different approaches is “virtual hierarchies,” and “virtual containers.” Ie, in “normal” hierarchies you might have a certain note included in an “Events” container–but you might also want to view it as one of several items within a “Calls to Make” container, or an “XYZ Company” container, or a “Major Projects” container, etc. If you use attributes–fundamentally, a more flexible version of “tags” or “keywords”–rather than normal hierarchies as your main organizing tool, you can create any virtual hierarchy you want.

  • If you check back on this thread from several years ago, How to use the Attribute Browser, you will see a lot of more detailed explanation of using the Attribute Browser.

  • What does this mean in practice? For me, most of the notes I enter are in the same catchall container, “Entries” or whatever, depending on the file. The only ones for which I create additional containers and hierarchies are where there are very specific sub-steps or sub-elements for an item. Eg, note might be: “Plan for Trip to China,” and the sub-steps would be “Check China visa” and so on.

The TL;DR of this whole post is: Even if your natural inclination is, like mine, to think of outline-style hierarchies as a basic thought-organization tools, recognize that Tinderbox is often at its best when least hierarchical.