Tinderbox Forum

Struggling with Tinderbox and a suggestion

My answer to that main question is that you shouldn’t spend any more time. I know the product was expensive, but frustration takes a big toll. The learning curve is steep. Based on your description of yourself, I would bet you won’t get over the frustration.

Buffering that response - Tinderbox was well worth the effort for me. My background made most things very approachable.

[quote=“burnwa, post:56, topic:668”]

@Richard_Broom: The suggestion first. If ever a program cried out for a Lynda.com series of tutorials, it is, in my view, Tinderbox.

Is this a good idea? I think it’s a fabulous idea. But, it might be even harder than a wiki. Eastgate might not have the resources for that. What do other people think about the value of such tutorials and the challenges in making them?[/quote]

Some practical points:

  • In the past I’ve pitched Tinderbox training materials to a number of learning platforms, always to be declined - though politely so. The underlying issues are control of content/authors and more importantly (though not so stated) margin - given Tinderbox’s comparatively small user base.
  • Why no a ‘do-it-yourself’. Getting a reasonable set-up just to present the content is yet more effort, and the starting point here is Eastgate is a small show making a big, in terms of open-ended functionality, tool. The margin will be even less than hanging off an already funded platform. Thus I, personally, contribute mainly for free as most offerings I’ve considered as a venture would be loss making, and I don’t see Eastgate having the scope to fund this either.
  • Screencasts take a lot of time and need decent(-ish) production values to we of use to the general learner. Even TBX demos take a lot of time, people forget things like designing the sample data, etc. Time == effort == $, all of which aren’t a large spare resource for a small community.

For my own part, absolutely so. After 12+ years in this role my take is that secretly most people want their own task solved rather than generics. Happily, working one person’s problem - as in a forum thread - usually seems to unlock understanding for others as to their own work. Oddly, attempts to abstract that to something like a tutorial people can work through generally fails as people object to the underlying data not reflecting their field. We humans can be tricky to teach sometimes.

As a long-term volunteer, I’d genuinely protest the notion that Eastgate don’t seem to consider the learning/starting on their the apps. Viewed from the other side of the fence, there do seem to be a lot of angry villagers and waving pitchforks and a lack of consensus as to exactly what ‘better’ is. I wonder how many people have read both the PDFs available in the Help menu (“Getting started…” and “Actions and Dashboards”). Time and care went into their preparation: time, incidentally that draws from the same limited resource as that available for improving, supporting and maintaining both Tinderbox and Storyspace.

I think it speaks volumes as to the task here that there’s no consistency as to where to start providing ‘better’, other than everyone wants (a slightly different version of) ‘better’.

I’m not down-hearted and the above isn’t to speak ill of anyone; I totally get the frustration of those spinning their wheels getting started. I’m a pragmatist. If there were some scoped, practical things that can be achieved now without pre-resourcing I’m certainly be happy to help. It’s just not clear what that might be.

One last thought. Screen-sharing seems to have come on a bit of late. Are there free/affordable systems that might make for sensible live screencasts where folk like myself might take some user questions and pick through the learning aspects they raise?

If you have a serious task to perform, and if Tinderbox can help you, then using Tinderbox can be worth a hell of a lot of frustration. (I don’t think there has to be frustration at all, but to each her own.)

Some examples of things worse than frustration that come to mind:

  • Never quite finishing your dissertation.
  • Seeing your novel gradually run out of steam and wither.
  • Reading the rejection slip for your research paper and knowing that you had anticipated the referee’s objection – but failed to put it into the paper.
  • Losing touch completely with an old friend, because you kept forgetting to arrange lunch.
  • Failing to read Jennifer Egan’s The Chalk Artist, even though you saw Mark mention the book, because you never remembered it when you were at the bookstore or the library.

If you need Tinderbox, you may really need it. Of course, lots of people don’t need Tinderbox; they don’t do that kind of work, or they’re clever enough to keep everything in their head.

One frequent source of confusion is the distinction between the difficulty of learning about Tinderbox and the difficulty of the work you’ve undertaken. It’s common for these to seem deeply intertwingled; when the work is going badly (and, sometimes, everybody’s work goes badly), it’s hard to tell whether the difficulty lies in the tool or in the material.

If you are studying the history of science, you’ll find that relations get tangled. See, for example, The Zodiac Of Paris for how Fourier got involved with puzzling out an Egyptian temple inscription, and how much trouble that caused for relations between French Philosophy and the Church. When you’re trying to figure out the best way to represent the relationship between a mathematical transform, French right-wing politics, and various heresies, you’re bound to find some head-scratchers. Those often express themselves as mechanical problems (how do I make this thing red and blue at once?) when the real problem is representational or conceptual.

In addition, some aspects of Tinderbox will be new to some and familiar to others. This is common in all fast-moving fields. Inheritance, composition, indirection: these are fancy names for basic concepts. If you’re used to thinking about taxonomies (because you’re a programmer, a birder, or because you really like to divide Gaul into three parts) then inheritance isn’t going to surprise you. If you’re not, inheritance might be unfamiliar at first.

Then, there are always things that can be simpler, or that can explain themselves, or that can be better documented. We work our work.


The main question is a little like asking, “How much time can I spend learning Chinese?” That, I think, depends on the individual circumstances. Am I going to go live there and conduct serious negotiations? Or will I just occasionally pass through and need to be able to throw out a phrase or two at banquets? Or something in between?

It doesn’t take much time to learn enough phrases to function day-to-day, either in Chinese or in Tinderbox. But no matter how good the instruction materials, long and sometimes frustrating years may go by before I can sound something like a native speaker, or read the classics.

A glance at the ‘Popular Links’ at the top of this thread (that’s a handy feature that I missed before) and at what’s available in the Tinderbox Help menu shows the priority Eastgate has placed on making resources available for “learning the language.”

How to use the mass of learning materials already available depends on individual circumstances. As with spreadsheet software, I suspect trying to come up with a comprehensive explanation all in one place is a fool’s errand.

At some point early in the process it’s important to put down the flashcards and grammar books and get out there and start speaking.


A most interesting analysis. For me (the not so very bright newcomer) who has used mind mapping tools (Scapple, SimpleMind and others), Tinderbox, at first glance, seem to give me ‘longer legs’ when it came to collecting and retrieving my data. I have a lot of course data which is currently held in presentation form (I use InDesign to build my presentation and export to pdf so I can run presentations pretty much anywhere). So, when it comes to revising an existing presentation or building a new one, I chase around putting together the slides using the variety of information sources I can find (Wikipedia, books, web searches and so on). So, Tinderbox seemed to me like the answer to a prayer. I should mention that I am a very disorganised thinker and doer.

Now, because of the complexities of Tinderbox I was certainly worried that if I poured all my data into Tinderbox and, for whatever reason, I couldn’t use Tinderbox effectively (i.e. as I wanted to), then a certain amount of time might be lost. Following all the replies I have received following my original post, I am now much more encouraged and I can see that even if I never navigate my way to the further reaches of Tinderbox, my source data will be more easily retrieved than it currently is. At least it will be in one safe place. And so I have started putting the data into Tinderbox and my project is taking shape. With the help of the forum I can now ‘print’ a list of URL. The more complicated stuff (agents to do specific tasks) will come along in time. Progress!

With regard to videos (i.e. Lynda.com). It would be excellent if somebody would run up those kinds of videos because I have been a Lynda.com subscriber for a long time now and have used it extensively for other projects (photographic processing, video, illustration, a bit of database stuff (hurt) and some other topics). One of the things I use in the classroom is IShowU - https://shinywhitebox.com/ishowu - to make up screen grabs for students to follow. I learned how to use IShowU on Lynda.com. I also use Adobe Captivate to create e-quizzes for students. Pulling this altogether, I am a little tempted to try to do some Tinderbox videos because the training company I occasionally work for is quite interested in it as a product. At this stage I haven’t made too much of a big deal about Tinderbox because, until I get to grips with Tinderbox, there’s no point recommending it. I also know that the great thing about other peoples’ videos is that you don’t have to watch them. I’m semi-retired now and the whole idea represents something of a challenge. Whether the videos will be made and be any good, remains to be seen (unfinished projects!) but it is an idea I am kicking around. I’m struggling and so maybe I can help others.

One final thing, I also use Beedocs Timeline https://www.beedocs.com/timeline3D/mac/ in the classroom, especially when stepping through the history of technology. I’ve now learned how to integrate that into video presentations and, in the back of my mind, I’m wondering how I could use Timeline with Tinderbox.

So, in short, my initial concerns are fading away and, once again, I would like to thank everyone in the forum for their encouragement and support.


Tinderbox has a nice Timeline view of its own. Maybe not all the bells+whistles as BeeDocs or Aeon – but it has the superior advantage of living in the same house as all your notes.

This is kind of a backwards approach to this thread, but I recently had to survive the frustration of NOT being able to use Tinderbox. I injured a shoulder last fall and was unable to use my computer–I was iPad only–for winter and much of Spring. So for the first time in several years I had to deal with wrapping up one term’s courses and organizing the next’s without Tinderbox.

It was awful.

I bought all kinds of apps–expensive, good quality apps that people love and live in–but working with them was like breathing through a straw. What I missed weren’t TBX’s fancy bells and whistles. I missed having an outline and a map of the same data in the same app. I missed aliases. I missed having visual elements like border color and shape that were semantic rather than aesthetic. I missed being able to set and change appearance and metadata en masse with prototypes. I discovered that I use a lot of on-add actions (who knew?) and I missed them badly. And I really disliked the way that every time I gave up on an app, it was such a pain to get info out of it and into something else. (It really was, and I did this multiple times.) After a lot of frustration, I wound up ditching the digital and planning Spring courses with pencil and paper for the first time in years.

Point being (and I’m a broken record): I think TBX makes many complicated/powerful things easy to do and as a result I do them and don’t think of them as that big of a deal. But trying to work without them convinced me otherwise. There are plenty of bells and whistles and they’re great, but the payoff for me is in the easy stuff.

/end personal interlude


Timelines. I too have used Beedocs Timeline, but it doesn’t scale well past a few notes/events and seems designed for classroom show-and tell. Which is fine if that’s all that’s needed. As @PaulWalters has mentioned, Tinderbox has a pretty good timeline view. But, if you want timelines via the Web I commend Aeon Timeline. I’ll admit I mainly use it to import Tinderbox-exported data to generate AT export which has a nice HTML5 web export. It happily made a 1200+ event timeline for me of some of my current research. That’s not everyone’s need which is why I’m happy to use AT rather than divert Tinderbox dev onto a feature only a few of us might use.

FWIW, Aeon Timeline grew out of the Scrivener community and plays well this that app (it is written with book authors in mind). It’s maker Scribblecode, in Australia and its dev Matt Tobin is responsive to communication with users. Recommended as an accompaniment to Tinderbox for those who might need it.


Not to be flip, but Mark’s comment nails the problem of working with notes and text since … text was inscribed. Frustrations come of the inter-relation between the problem, the media/software, and the problem space. Think of TBX, or a Moleskine notebook, or a wax tablet, or a Fedwiki as places where we interact with our thinking. Thinking through creating attributes is a way of thinking about both the stuff we’re encountering and what we’re doing with it. Thinking through creating agents, ditto. We learn about the problem as we learn the interface - the software (notebooks, notecards, slips of paper, convolutes). It doesn’t get easy.

I’m going to go re-read Persig’s Lila. It’s about taking notes. Oh, sure, quality and all that. But notes.


My version of this is shorter-term but similar. When I’m in circumstances, like a meeting or some other place where I don’t have a computer but only my iPad, I’m frustrated in not being able to enter and organize info the way I’m used to, with a real keyboard and with a program (TB) into which I can lodge information so I know how to get at it later on.

In those circumstances, I usually just send myself emails with the info I want to enter, and deal with it when I’m back at the computer. (I know there are workarounds, like Simplenote sync and so on, but it’s easier for me just to go the email route.) Point is, if I notice this in a four- or five-hour period, I feel your pain for a period of months!

1 Like

Persig’s book is indeed a good compliment to learning Tinderbox’s capabilities, in the same sort of conceptual way as Tinderbox Way.


Wonderful Software

I love software. Even though I long to be one of those “I’ve only used X for 10 years and nothing else matters” people, there’s just no way. I use, and love, many things. Here I list a few of my long-time favorites. These are wonderful apps that have held up for years and continue to be useful and valuable.


Where to begin with Tinderbox? I’ve been keeping notes in Tinderbox for at least a decade. I occasionally stop using it for a few months and then feel a flood of relief when I come to my senses and launch it again. Tinderbox is clever and powerful and a little weird, but in such a good way. Tinderbox can be anything, and everything. It’s an outliner and a visual mapping tool and a smart agent for processing notes. Mostly, it’s wonderful software.

Read the whole thing – good stuff on DEVONthink, Curio, and more.


Lynda.com and their competitors have a subscription business model. I’m not sure how new apps are selected by them for training videos to be made. As I have a training background in design and specifically the Adobe Creative Cloud apps, I was talking to a similar org to Lynda.com about making training videos for a prototyping application Facebook developed (called Origami, based very much on Apple’s Quartz Composer Editor and framework but tailored just to app and website prototyping). We didn’t get as far as remuneration yet, it could be per view or fixed fee I’m not sure.

YouTube has spawned a raft of (mostly young, entrepreneurial) trainers particularly in visual software like 2D, 3D, video and post-production and the quality of some of it is very good. They used to get decent money out of Google for advertising targeted to their subscribers (which is why they, and vblogs, always instruct you to subscribe to their channel).

I’d put my hand up to start making introductory videos but I’m as frustrated as the OP with knowing where to get a handle on the things I need to do what I’d like to do (which is still a bit grey b/c I’m not sure what’s possible and what is good info architecture for coherent notes in TB that are searchable and can aid my writing. I was donated a TB licence (somebody very kindly responding to my request — you know who you are if you’re reading this but I don’t want to out you!) the software in acknowledgement of the (mostly voluntary) climate related advocacy I do and I thought it could help me keep track of a vast raft of info be it online, downloaded in reports and personal notes, diagrams, graphs etc.

I struggled to get started, so then asked for The Tinderbox Way and I imagined the clouds might part as I started reading it. I’m slowly working my way through it, but not really what I was looking for so far, was more after a getting started text, even if it lacked the intellectual depth that The TB Way obviously has. ‘Did you know you can do this’, ‘and this’, ‘and this’).

I’ve learned a great many software titles over the 40 years of computing, and done some coding in (mostly) scripting languages here and there, so I’m up for the complexity just not the mystery, sometimes this is like Myst™ or Riven™! Things to fiddle with but no idea what their purpose is or how to use something properly I can see and for which purpose is implicit in a View or Inspector. This may just be laziness on my part, I forget how long it took to become expert in Illustrator for example (years but the learning curve was much smoother).

I also tend to look for the systematic overview, and hacking frustrates me because it requires loads of trial and error attempts to see what the underlying structure/grammar is. It’s nice to have the TBRef but even before I’m ready for that I want an idea of how this box and dice all fits together, the application metaphor (or metaview perhaps) as built into the TB UI is one of the hardest I’ve ever come across to deconstruct into a working knowledge of the app and methods for getting from A to B, C to D etc.

I tend to like examples too, whenever I read Excel help pages on Formulas it’s always the example data and formula that spells it out for me not the descriptive text, though it can set things up for learning. Same for visual programing languages I use (coding with nodes and wires), hacking the demo compositions (code) is the easiest way to learn what is going on (if there is a good accompanying reference manual to point out the things you just will not guess in a million years!)

Sorry for verbosity, I strongly desire to get to apprentice level in TB and build from there so just thought I’d put my comments out there in support of the notion that this is difficult software even for people who like difficult software.

1 Like

Video tutorials would be cool. Ideally someplace free. Lynda is expensive. There are already lots and lots of contributed Tinderbox videos on YouTube. Among the dozens of folks posting, there is @dominiquerenauld’s Taking Notes with Tinderbox – and it’s a classic. With interesting production values.

Yes it can do the “keeping track” bit – as a place for note taking, and working with your notes to do things like linking ideas together, looking for emerging patterns of thoughts, and so on. Renauld’s video, mentioned above, is a nice perspective on reading notes – watch it if you get a moment.

But Tinderbox is not a document repository, though. While it can certainly import text from documents dragged into it, it’s not the place to store the documents themselves. For a document repository, and keeping track of them, I’d suggest apps built to do that specific thing – such as Eagle Filer, Together, DEVONthink, and others.

With respect – could it be you’re overthinking it? Tinderbox is for note taking. Title and text. That’s all. We can look at our notes in Outlines, or on Maps, or in Timelines, and so on. Note taking is the entire metaphor. All the rest is accretion – very useful accretion of course – but it is not necessary to comprehend the whole of Tinderbox in order to begin to use it.

Start. And continue.


This is useful.Rather then one person do it all, perhaps we could pool different expertise? That way we could self-help and help the communitty withuot anyone feeling they’re contributing unfairly?

Perhaps we could start a new thread if your interested in pursuing this further? If so, I’d siggest the ‘Examples and Tutorials’ sub-forum.

Unconforontationally, I’d say the latter is why you’re spinning your wheels. I say this having trodden the same path. Tinderbox is really a toolbox rather than a utility doing one thing. Some do academic note-taking, some actual research, some write novels, others do journalism; some do GTD, others to-do lists, or write novels or de-construct complex legal cases… There isn’t a canonical use and thus not a canonical style.

IMO, the best approach is to put some of your existing notes from elsewhere into a Tinderbox and see when you can - or can’t - extract from them. Some people only use title/text and links to files elsewhere. Others use less note text and more metadata: fields - attributes in Tinderbox vernacular. Only seeing your own data and work style within the app helps reveal how best to use it.

Map view (the default tab in new docs) is great for exploration of ideas but doesn’t work so well with 110s of items, even if only because you’re want a bigger screen. If you’re using the notes preparatory to exporting in more linear forms, the outline view is one you’ll use and may inform your use of maps. Attribute Browser view is great if you use note/metadata a lot (as is Outline column view).

Tinderbox does magically find relationships for you; rather it helps you discover it. I do realise it is counter-intuitive. That is why the exploratory time you may have is better spent entering your data rather than trying to make it fit others workflow. When the inevitable “bot how do I…?” questions arise, the forum is here to help. There’s a really interesting range of folk, and and importantly different expertise, here.

We’re here to help. :grin:

1 Like

Agree – and with this complementary addition. Tinderbox is for title, and text, and (crucially for me) attributes.

  • I take notes of ideas and themes I want to use in an article or book, and then I tag them by the chapter where I want to use them, or the point they’re supposed to make, or whether I need to check for follow up, or who I need to check with.
  • I take notes of trips I’ve made in my little plane, and then tag them about weather conditions, and approach procedures I used, or other categories of info so I can them view them classified that way – as I need to do for various regulatory and record-keeping purposes.
  • I plan out steps I need for an upcoming big project, and tag them according to the person I need to deal with on that step, or what the deadline is, or where I need to do the relevant work (office, home, online), or how urgent things have become.
  • Etc.

I know that all of this is one-million-percent obvious to @PaulWalters (source of much astute advice, thank you!) and others here. Just spelling it out as an illustration of the kind of thing that is basic and easy to do — there are abundant online tutorials and how-to’s about creating attributes and assigning them values, then viewing the results via agents or attribute-browsers or maps or anything else – but can be surprisingly powerful in their results.

Update I see that @mwra has answered to complementary effect. If you prowl around, I think you’ll see fairly extensive discussion of why this approach – “I also tend to look for the systematic overview, and hacking frustrates me because it requires loads of trial and error attempts” – which comes naturally to most of us including me, may in the case of this particular software actually be a source of surplus frustration.

That is because the overview is harder to grasp a priori, as an overview, than it is to derive from an accumulation of specific experiences. I know this sounds strange, because in my life I am mainly a big-picture guy. I’m just adding to what Mark A has said.

The closest counterpart I’ve experienced in my own life is trying to cope with tones, in spoken Chinese. They’re really hard to think about as a “system.” I mean, they’re even harder to think about that way. An accumulation of specific contextual experiences is a relatively less frustrating route. (And I still can barely even hear them, let alone reproduce them. For me the written characters are more accessible, in part because there a “system” approach pays off better.)

1 Like

I agree and I am tinkering with the idea of making videos as I’m finding my way with Tinderbox.

Another question:

Using Tinderbox, I’m building a series of notes that take into account the history of electricity, communications and so on. I have people like (my great hero) Faraday in there, as a note, along with people like Clerk Maxwell and so on.

Looking back in time, I see that many of the early scientists, physicists, chemists etc wore more than one hat. So, what I would like to do is, when I devote a note to one of the greats, is label them (mathematician, physicist, astronomer etc). Now, many of these folk could be labelled as, say, a mathematician, a physicist and an astronomer. Even Newton was a bit of a alchemist as well as many other things.

So, I looked at making some kind of check box system where I could tick the boxes, physicist, astronomer and so on for each individual.

The idea is that, I could then search on astronomers, or mathematicians and even alchemists!

I’m looking at ways to do this in Tinderbox and wondered about an attribute for each discipline but I can’t see how I can put a series of checkboxes (as attributes) into each note. I notice there is a checkbox attribute but I am not sure how I could have more than one checkbox attribute in each note and then, how would I label it. I wondered about tags also.

I’m sure this is another one of those tasks which experienced users can do without thinking.

I’m taking careful notes when I find out how things work in Tinderbox (mainly because of a terrible memory) and I’ll continue to tinker with the idea of a video.


Oh, absolutely.

I would guess a lot of folks might not ‘get’ the point of attributes, since most note-taking apps don’t support them. And none to the extent Tinderbox does. So, I think of them like this: when I do hand-written notes, I’m always drawing links between notes, and side notes, and dates, and other bits. In the handwriting world, these are attributes. There are other metaphors describing ‘attribute’ – and I think it’s a good idea for anyone to eventually imagine how attributes relate to their notes and how the added information of attributes can enrich their note taking.

Of course, as Mark B. says, “everything is an attribute” – including tile and text.


Well, you could create user attributes for each of these disciplines. For example a $Physicist attribute, and and Alchemist** attribute, and so on. (I am using the common way of formally discussing attributes by prefixing their name with **.) Here’s a screen shot:

By making this custom attribute a “boolean” (it can be true or false, and nothing else) you get something that is a checkbox in the KeyAttribute list for a note. And you can add this attribute as a KeyAttribute for your prototype(s).

Maybe however you’re wondering why have all those checkboxes. Instead of a boolean attribute, you could create a set attribute. A set can have multiple values, separated by semicolons. So you could create a set attribute $OtherInterests and assign multiple side-interests to a note about a person.

So that’s two options – here’s how they look side by side. I wouldn’t do both in the same document, but you can mix and match.

Side note: personally, I prefer boolean / checkbox attributes over sets – but it doesn’t matter.