Organization is a big buzz word these days, especially because there’s so much going on at any given time what with our smartphones, our tablets, our laptops, computers, and everything else. It can be difficult to stay focused, to keep all of your ducks in line, and to make sure you don’t forget any important tasks or appointments. Most people tackle this problem through gratuitous use of note-taking apps and to-do lists, but I submit to you a different solution: the personal wiki.
After Wikipedia took the world by storm, the concept of the wiki has been applied to many different realms: TV shows, video games, music databases, and more. And as a result, many interesting wikis have popped up on the web. As it turns out, the wiki is a wonderful way to keep loads of information organized in a manner that’s both legible and easily modified. But a lot of wiki software is bloated with features that are useful on a large scale but would end up being cumbersome on a smaller scale.
What if there was wiki software designed to help you out on a personal level? You could use it for anything, for example to outline your novel, keep track of home improvement projects, or plan social events. The benefit of a personal wiki is that it has all of the core features you need from a wiki, such as cross-linking pages, without the bells and whistles necessary for collaborative work. Interested? Then keep reading!
TiddlyWiki is a neat little program. Well, technically, it isn’t even a program. It’s just an HTML file that you download and it comes packaged with a JAR file that handles the manipulation of data. In order to run it, you just open up the HTML file in a browser and you’ll see the wiki in all its glory. TiddlyWiki works in all of the major browsers, including IE, Firefox, Chrome, Opera, and Safari.
The coolest thing about TiddlyWiki is that there aren’t multiple pages; instead, you have a single page that acts as a sort of canvas and you can open and close different “tiddlers” on the page. You can think of a tiddler as a section of text. However, you can cross-link between tiddlers in much the same way that you would cross-link between pages on a wiki, which helps you stay organized. It sounds more complicated than it is. In reality, TiddlyWiki is super easy to learn and use.
wikidPad [Windows, Mac, Linux]
In simplest terms, wikidPad is an open-source notebook that’s been designed in the manner of a wiki. More specifically, a wikidPad notebook can contain multiple pages and those pages can be cross-linked within text so you can quickly click over to new references whenever you come across them. wikidPad’s pages are named using the WikiWord convention, so each page must be titled in the style of ArticleOutline, NewTodoList, MarySueResume, etc. When you type a new WikiWord, wikidPad will automatically create a new page for it.
wikidPad is a desktop application native to Windows, but it can be installed on both Mac and Linux as long as you follow the proper instructions on site. All of the data in wikidPad is stored in plain text, but the program itself will visually alter the text to show you bolds, italics, headers, and such. However, since it’s in plain text, you can easily export your pages for use elsewhere.
Tomboy Notes [Windows, Mac, Linux]
If wikidPad proved to be too feature-rich for you, then Tomboy Notes may be the alternative you want. Like wikidPad, Tomboy is a notebook-based program with multiple pages per notebook that can be cross-linked from within each other. You won’t be forced into using the WikiWord syntax with Tomboy, but link creation will require an extra step: clicking the Link button and selecting which page you want it to link with.
The best part of Tomboy is the streamlined interface. Everything is intuitive and you’ll be able to get it up and running within minutes. And if the default Tomboy feature set isn’t enough for you, you can extend functionality using the plugin system called Add-Ins. The site has a list of top add-ins, but if you have the expertise, you could go ahead and create a few of your own.
ZimWiki [Windows, Linux]
ZimWiki, or better known as just Zim, is similar to Tomboy in that it’s a cleaner, less advanced version of wikidPad. But don’t take that to mean that it’s worse, because it’s not. In fact, I really like Zim and it has proven useful to me on more than one occasion.
One thing I love about Zim is the way it handles cross-linking: not only does a link point to a page, but each page also shows which pages link to it. In essence, all links are bidirectional. Other great features include the ability to export to HTML, tons of key bindings for efficient navigation, and a plugin system to extend functionality.
One drawback of Zim is that it feels a tiny bit unpolished, at least on Windows. Based on screenshots, it looks like it might be better polished when running on a Linux system. However, in terms of features, it’s powerful without being bloated. A good choice, for sure.
I’ve given each of these a fair trial (at least a few days of proper usage) and I have to say that I like TiddlyWiki the best. It’s fast, it’s responsive, it’s feature complete, and it’s so simple that it can be used on pretty much any computer that supports one of the main browsers. But if you want an actual desktop application instead of working inside a browser, I recommend wikidPad. If neither of these suit you, try out the others and see which ones you like.