Tinderbox 4.6

Tinderbox Mind Map

Tinderbox Mind Map

Tinderbox 4.6 was released this week.  Tinderbox continues evolve and add new and interesting capabilities. What I find most interesting about Tinderbox is the application’s usefulness across time: periodically I’m tempted by new software that claims to perform some subset of the tasks that Tinderbox performs, and/or present information in a new and better way. I’ll try these applications for a short period of time…and always end up realizing that Tinderbox performs the task or presents the information more effective.

I just spent a couple of days experimenting with Zengobi Curio, for example. Curio is a beautiful application, very Mac-like and attractive to look at. I was seduce by the concept of “Idea Spaces” and so gave it a try first as a means of mapping out the strategy for an article on a product announcement and then to gather notes during a managed services discovery engagement. Some time later I was in a meeting and needed a quick means of extracting my discovery notes and sharing them with colleagues. Simply exporting the text of my notes in some useful format in Curio turned out to be more difficult than I needed it to be while in the middle of a meeting. Curio provides a number of export options, but none of them easily generated simple text output that I could paste into an email or a wiki for sharing. In contrast, the notes that I had gathered just a week or so earlier during a disaster recovery assessment using Tinderbox were easily shared with a few mouse clicks, as plain text that I could easily reuse anywhere.

A note to makers of note taking and outlining software on the Mac: just because its so easy to export everything as a PDF doesn’t mean doing so is always the best thing to do.

Of course with a little bit of reflection I realized that an “Idea Space” is really just a Tinderbox map view, and that the relationships between all of the different Tinderbox views actually makes a map view more useful in many cases than Curio’s Idea Spaces. That small epiphany was as transformative to my view of how I could use Tinderbox in my work as was my very first “a-ha!” moment with Tinderbox back in March of 2002:

Now, here’s the cool part and the “aha!” moment. After we discussed what I was trying to achieve, Mark commented that I might be able to get the results I was really after not by doing any sort of HTML export, but simply by using Tinderbox’s Explorer view. It was like a light bulb went off. While I’d looked at Explorer view before, I’d never really tried to use it. A quick glance, however, revealed that Mark was right; with a little arrangement of my notes, I’d be able to easily see what feeds were being gathered by what agents, and I’d be able to navigate and read those feeds with a lot less clicking around and drilling down.

I’d been so caught up in two paradigms that I literally couldn’t see the easy solution that was right in from of me. To begin with, my propensity to always use the very graphical Map view blinded me to the other, very useful views available. Worse, my experience in recent years has been very server oriented, primarily using things like PHP and MySQL, so I naturally gravitated toward an implementation scheme that worked in a similar manner, blind to the fact that Tinderbox is a client application.

This sort of thing happens to me all the time with Tinderbox. Seven years after I had my first epiphany that if I just saw the software this way I would significantly transform my view and use of this particular tool I’m still regularly having that sort of experience with Tinderbox. I can’t think of a single other piece of software I’ve been using for any length of time that I’ve had that experience with.

Don’t get me wrong, Curio seems well-written and sophisticated, and may be just the thing for some people. Certainly I’m more familiar and facile with Tinderbox after years of use than I am with Curio after only a few days – but to some extent, that’s my point. Across the years Tinderbox has continued to be so amazingly useful and well-adapted to my work that any software that might be positioned to displace it will need to be a order of magnitude better at what it does and how it does it.


4 Responses

  1. Interesting– I had the same experience with Curio. Many, many Mac developers provide free licenses to folks in my company, so I try out lots of applications, and in the past few years, I’ve experimented with Curio Pro, NovaMind Platinum, MindNode Pro, VoodooPad Pro, and so on. Not one of them compares even remotely to Tinderbox as far as outlining functionality is concerned; there’s more parity when it comes to mapping, but even here, I always end up coming back to Tinderbox, due its extraordinary flexibility.

  2. Curio is nice for project management. I use it to group together all the files, websites, and emails that go along with a particular project. I can then write notes alongside the graphical representations of these objects. Curio really works best with a large monitor. I see Curio and Tinderbox as complements. Text management and organization are strengths of Tinderbox while Curio lets me preview many file types and websites without leaving the program.

  3. Hi Doug. Thanks for checking out Curio. One quick tip that might be of use to anyone reading: you can click on a mind map or list collection figure and choose Edit > Copy As > Text Outline or RTF Outline. That way you can quickly grab your tree of notes in a nifty text format for pasting into an email or whatever.

    That said, we do need to add additional exporting options specifically for text. Curio follows a freeform whiteboard metaphor so that means grabbing disparate notes from text figures arranged all around the idea space, including those hierarchically organized in one or more collection figures in the same idea space, and neatly coalescing them into a single RTF or plain text output. Definitely something we want to do but just haven’t implemented it yet.

  4. I’ve been studying Curio and Tinderbox for many months now and value both products greatly. Curio is the more attractive at first sight. However, Tinderbox is growing on me. I’ve finally managed to get over my hangup of needing to embed everything I do in the PIM I’m working with. Tinderbox doesn’t do this, of course, and that has limited my appreciation for it up to now. I didn’t understand the power of links… Of course Curio can work in this way too.

    What I’m realising is that I cannot use these PIMs as a replacement for Finder. If I use the Mac filing system sensibly, and combine that with a great new find – Dropbox, I can do my notes, my mindmap, my outliner and link to my files in the finder using the “drop files or folders” facility or even the url link in the form file:///path/name.

    Both Tinderbox and Curio are excellent and I shall continue to use both as an aid to memory, but I’m now celebrating the fact that my eyes are opening to the possibilities of Tinderbox. Its funny, I’d always sensed the quality behind Tinderbox but I had to undergo that cliche – the paradigm shift – before I could see and appreciate the product.


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