An eternal question regarding DEVONthink integration: TinderBox vs. Curio

This thread is a bit like watching a tennis match. I love reading the depth at which people understand and use these programs. They are, all three, exemplars in my book.

As for Tinderbox, @mbbntu’s assessment resonates with my experience. And as for @kseggleton’s Curio use case, it seems a brilliant way to push Curio to its most useful edge. I used Curio while writing my dissertation proposal and found it to be just the kind of space I needed to hold, and in someways develop, my writing strategy. Noteworthy is that I tried to use TBX first and found it too fiddly and Curio was just right for that particular use, especially given the integration between DT3 and Curio. For me, Curio is a sort of magical, virtual white-boarding space where I can chart out concepts, especially involving visual media. Seeing them all in one place, moving them around, and annotating them creates a gestalt and helps me make sense of the concepts.

I see Tinderbox as a workshop, in @mbbntu’s words, to build understanding. For example, if I’m reading a tough article, no better tool than a .tbx file to pull annotations from DT3 as I read and visually map them, link, recombine, and iterate on my evolving understanding. Another use case: I’m prototyping a qualitative data analysis tool in TBX, so that I can explode transcripts, zip link important passages into their own notes, pass those through smart adornments to give them various metadata, and sort them in agents later on, all the while retaining linkages to the original transcript. When I started using Tinderbox in a sort of “flatland” way (nice phrase), I never thought I’d know enough about the tool’s capabilities much less have enough programmatic knowledge to pull something like this off, but after a year or more of use, turns out I do.

So, ultimately, they are distinct tools, with some superficial overlaps, and I think they both warrant use in the academic’s arsenal. The depth at which one can use TBX is somewhat in opposition to the inertia you must overcome to actually use it, but it’s entirely worth it in my view.

I should note that I know Tinderbox much better than I do Curio, so I am likely shortsighted in this comparison.


I will only say that my view of Tinderbox is not positive. It was (very) expensive, it crashes (very) frequently and it demands from the user a lot of time to make it useful. It can be very powerful when you put in the time to master it, I don’t deny that, but I just can’t bring myself to keep spending time with it. (Something about the XML/RTF and HTML mixture just doesn’t feel right. Seems to be the reason why it is so riddled with bugs).


Hmm, I’ve been using Tinderbox for many years and I can probably count the total number of times it has crashed on one hand. But if you have a repeatable case, please report it to Eastgate. But I do agree that it requires you to invest time to reap its true rewards. (As does DevonTHINK.)

I have both Tinderbox and Curio. Tinderbox is like a Swiss army knife – it’s amazing what you can do with it. Curio is easy to use and can be useful – if you try the trial version you will get a good idea if it is what you need. On the other hand, the more you use Tinderbox, the more you understand its capabilities. You might take a look at and try the Tinderbox Zettelkasten program that has been uploaded there. It’s pretty impressive. Note that you can paste entries from BookEnds into that program.

Since 2018, I have exchanged at least two dozen emails with Mark. He was always very responsive and polite (so no complaints in this regard). At some point, however, my willingness to keep reporting stuff just ended. Crashes, bugs and glitches were, and still are with each new version, just way too frequent. It dawned on me that it is simply an unreliable software that mixes what should be a hypertext environment with loads of RTF text. So, in my view, the concept is really good, but the implementation is not.

Odd, I don’t have Tinderbox crashing issues at all and think the implementation is beyond amazing. All three of these apps have tremendously good coders.

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I use all three of these apps, Tinderbox, Curio, and DEVONthink every day, nearly continuously. I don’t have time at this moment to well-describe any of my working scenarios, because I’m procrastinating on grading as it is, but I’ll give a broad overview.

Any new project that comes up or new courses that need to be designed, the first thing I pull up is Tinderbox. It allows me to start creating notes about every little thing and begin to see the relationships between them. I can also toss in excerpts from peer-reviewed articles, reports, etc., that are all stored in DEVONthink, including the link in TBX to get to them in DT. I’ve done this for several things, including a risk assessment for Lakes Huron and Michigan, the building of an online course last fall semester, and a jump-off point for COVID-19 data analysis I’ve been doing in Datagraph.

I use Curio when I really want to organize what I’ve done in projects into visual representations and to manage a lot of it post-project, although it could also be used up front for planning using its mind-mapping, etc. For example, I created an online version of ENV105, Environment and Society, by planning everything out in TBX. I stored modified assignments, syllabi, schedules, etc., in DT and linked TBX to them as needed. My colleague and I would often have emails and phone calls about the project. For the emails, I sent the important ones into DT from Airmail and had a TBX folder “watch” them. That allowed me to look at the relationships in TB and make sure I didn’t overlook any changes that we discussed. When the course was ‘complete’ (are they ever?), I began managing the various sections in Curio, including taking notes about what was and wasn’t working from the original plan. I keep the enrollment lists there, drops/adds, my comments on discussion boards, etc., etc.

I also use Drafts (where I’m typing this), Mindnode, Agenda (actually extract from Blackboard for input into Curio using this; amazing sharing extension), and many others, including Hook. I’ve not really managed Hook into my workflow yet, but I’m working on it.


Like kaibo, this is also my first post. I am also working on qualitative academic research and have only recently become a user of DevonThink for this.
I’m posting my question to this thread because I think it follows on from the integration question and the visual thinking problem (also, I would love to have the links for the @beck and @kseggleton geekery you refer to up top.)
I do ethnographic style research, which results in a lot of pictures, sound and video, plus fieldnotes that are in very poor handwriting with sketches & other material that doesn’t OCR well. For me, rather than searchable text-based associations, I need to integrate metadata (especially the date/geolocation of a photo taken) and tags that I make as codes which ideally would be intra-file tags/links, so I could mark a region on a photo or PDF. For example, I have handwritten fieldnotes in PDF that correspond to a photo taken at the same time: it would be amazing to be able to link to the photo as a thumbnail embedded in the fieldnotes pdf; or to mark a region on a photo, a section of video, or a region in a fieldnotes PDF to tag/code, so I could review a tag collection later as its own document. It would be magical if that document could order chronologically based on metadata.
This is along the lines of what some CAQDAS software does (e.g. Atlas.TI or Trophy with tagging photo regions) but there are always caveats. As far as I can tell, I can’t tag internally on PDFs (in DT or in Atlas.TI) and, what DT offers especially is tags that are readable elsewhere (not so with Atlas.TI, without some manipulation as I understand). In any case, I think DT has more potential.
I’ve been looking through various posts here (especially here) and trying to experiment with DT to see how this might work. This thread makes me wonder if Tinderbox or Curio might be the shell layer through which I can work with the raw files in DT. Initially to me, it sounds like Curio might be a possibility, but I’m having some new-app-fatigue - I’ve tried Tagspaces, Eagle filer, and others before deciding to go with DT. Also, my ‘fiddling’ abilities are limited: I’ve gotten as far as trying out Markdown as a way to try to build this layer as a DT document, but didn’t get very far before semi-abandoning that route. I’m not afraid of coding but I have a limited amount of time to put into learning a system.
If anyone has suggestions or insight related to this, i would greatly appreciate it.

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hi Laru,
Based on what you’ve described, it sounds definitely analogous to what I have in mind! It sounds like you are doing something in anthropology, or anthropology-adjacent? I think you are actually a fair bit further ahead of me in developing a system for what you want to do with your information. So I am sorry to say that I cannot offer a more experienced perspective on your specific queries…*

Personally, I have not yet reached a decision about Tinderbox vs. Curio. I think there is definitely something to be said for all three, as @ChemBob says: he argued that Tinderbox and Curio are maybe too dissimilar to compare directly. Still figuring that out for myself though. Luckily I have some time over the summer to do so.

I do think new app fatigue and fiddling problems are a real thing: it feels like a barrier to Tinderbox for me, and that’s more or less the experience that @kseggleton described above. It feels like the app is designed for people with more fluency than “interface-only” folks like myself. From what I have read online, a lot of what people find valuable about the software is precisely it’s malleability, which doesn’t mean only the interface, but also the ability to “program” (?) various things, both within the software and in relation to other software. (In fact, the interface is sort of “thick,” in the sense that the “front and back” of the software somehow meet in the middle in a semi-user-friendly-programmable-jello space. It seems to be the blessing and the curse of this very particular software. I totally see the appeal, and aspire to gain that kind of fluency, but I’m not there yet. I wonder if it is common for new users to similarly “aspire” to gain fluency, but not manage to, or find it takes too long, and so on. I wonder if the highly active users are Tinderbox tend to be people who already had coding experience before encountering the software, since their learning curve would be much smoother. That’s all to say that, yeah, I think the fiddling and new software thing is 100% not a negligible factor in engaging with Tinderbox: seems like a huge learning curve.
As I said, I haven’t decided yet on which software to move forward with (or perhaps both), but I am leaning toward Tinderbox because it’s depth allows for me to use it primarily, with occasional recourse to what’s in DT. Meanwhile, with Curio, it seems that one has to work more actively between DT and Curio because the Curio is a kind of “skin” over DT. Extending that analogy, TB seems more “fleshy,” which works for me. (Again, as I mentioned above, I am super visual, and can think better in TB than in DT – if that weren’t the case, then I might find DT and Curio offer a tight and more-straightforward system.)

Beck Tench has uploaded some fabulous (and seemingly canonical) videos on ways to use TB for academic purposes:

Kyle Eggleton keeps a blog on “Geekery” which includes fantastic posts about this stuff:

Hope that helps a bit!

** In terms of the particulars of your post, I would be speculating, which is sort of useful when there are so many knowledgeable people around in the fora for DEVONthink, Tinderbox, Curio. I haven’t looked at the Bookends forum, but I believe that software integrates with all three, so folks there might have a perspective on your PDF stuff (even if your handwritten notes wouldn’t necessarily [?] belong in a reference manager).

This makes sense to me. Still figuring out my own uses, which will surely evolve, but what you’ve said is definitely something to consider. I can see how Curio has it’s own usefulness, not as a replacement for TBX. I think what I actually want is for Tinderbox to have it’s full functionality but also have the user interface of Curio. That might actually be what a lot of people want… Can someone make that happen please!? :wink:

hey there, I am super attracted to the Zettelkasten method because it makes intuitive sense to me, but I am turned off by the time stamping part, and the way the method feels a bit too rigid. (I feel the same way about GTD: doesn’t work for me.) But I am basically adopting a modified version of the Zettelkasten idea. One idea per note, most of the time. (E.g. I’m currently drafting a 4,000 wd article in TBX, and managing that many single paragraphs-as-notes seems a bit unruly, so I’m using TBX just to develop ideas, and drafting only in the key “node” notes within the system.) it’s slightly awkward, and I feel like I’m using a Swiss army knife just to open the skin of an orange – the complex tool doesn’t match the simple job – but still I find this extremely useful. (looking forward to, probably, going deeper down the TBX rabbit hole.) thanks.

Hi @beck, thank you for your (thoughtful and eloquent) response! I really like what you’ve said here. Rereading it again now, and in relation to the other posts here, I can totally see how Curio and Tinderbox are, as you say, “distinct tools.” I mentioned below in another post, that I wish for a “super-software” where the depth of Tinderbox is contained in the (friendlier) interface of Curio…

The other thing that stuck out to me here, is what you said about not anticipating getting so far with the software after a year. I find that super encouraging. For some people (perhaps including you and I) getting into Tinderbox might provide the necessary motivation to gain that programming knowledge, which probably can come in handy in other contexts, outside of TBX. Insofar as that fluency is translatable, there is perhaps no loss in figuring that stuff out.

I do have one question, if I may, which is that you seem to suggest that Tinderbox is not necessarily the best place to “create a gestalt and make sense of the concepts.” That is a large part of what I want to use it for, and what I am currently using it for (but the visual media piece is definitely feeling awkward) – based on your sense at this point, to what extent do you experience the same sort of gestalt thinking in Tinderbox? (in addition to its capacity as a workshop)

Suddenly I am imagining putting Curio on top of Tinderbox on top of DEVONthink…! (Not sure @ChemBob meant that he uses them together? I was imagining parallel uses of DT3+Curio and DT3+TBX.) It looks like this conversation continued over on the Curio forum:
Based on that thread, it looks like Curio has more complexity than I had perceived when I did the trial.

Also found this thread on the Curio forum:
But a key difference between now and 2016 is that the Tinderbox interface may have become friendlier in more recent versions, making it (perhaps) more attractive to do Gestalt things in Tinderbox.

Anyways, thanks Beck! By the way, I saw on your website that you are in a PhD program at an Information School. I just want to +1 the suggestion for you to publish a book at some point, whether based on the dissertation or not. I really value your perspective and I feel that it would fit in a valuable and unique way into the non-academic conversations around knowledge management and “productivity”. +1!


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hi @kseggleton, thank your for responding to this thread. I can see the appeal of skipping Tinderbox and “using Curio as the visual frontend of DEVONthink.” Definitely.

A niggling question about that is, do you have, then, a great deal of material that is not searchable in Curio – and how easy is it to link/search across Projects in Curio? If I understood correctly, your description of wiki links proposes a way of using more complex linking in Curio via DT3. My concern is that each project space would be “sandboxed” in Curio, whereas in TBX you seemingly can strain and sift the same pool of information from within the app itself. Do you do most of your “searches”/sorting, etc. in DT3? I suppose I mean, to what depth is your Curio library a representation of what is in your DT3 library? If not the full extent, does it ever feel frustrating to not be able to engage your full DT3 library within Curio? And, on a related topic, does it cause problems for you to have Curio’s searches limited to the current “project”? I think that’s more of a problem if you’re working on projects that engage with the same or overlapping materials/topics/etc, whereas it sounds as though each of your chapters was fairly distinct…? If that’s the case, then I can see how having a separate Project for each chapter could be super nice. But I have the feeling that Curio’s system would get sort of unwieldy if everything were to (or had to) be kept in a single Curio project.

Sorry for the bombardment of questions. Hope you have a chance to get at this, in whole or in part,


I’m not quite sure from your description what you are trying to do, but it seems like one aspect is linking disparate kinds of document together. If that is so, then you might like to consider looking at Hook (at the risk of more new app fatigue). And it is possible that iThoughts might provide an easier option for visual representations, though it is not as rich as Tinderbox.

I think of Curio as a large sheet of paper and a set of colored pencils. I think of Tinderbox as an infinite set of Scrabble tiles. Both of these can be used to solve problems. Whichever one feels right for the problem at hand is the one to use.

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Would Filemaker achieve this goal of a more GUI intensive and customizable way to present data?

I had a productive adventure in Curio yesterday. I needed to create a timeline from about 50 notes. I fired up Aeon Timeline and got busy.

Flipping between the two applications, of course, introduced predictable errors.

Then, I noticed you can export Curio search results as a CSV file. That file can be imported without modification into Aeon. Kudos to both developers for openness.

I set the start and due dates in the metadata of the objects I wanted to export, added a timeline tag to each of the objects, searched the timeline tag, and an Aeon timeline line emerged with minimal work and no errors.

Next, I used the Notes inspector in Curio to add some ad hoc metadata and wrote a quick Python script to interpret the metadata from Curio notes.

Bottom line, I can export from Curio to Aeon, including relationships for Aeon’s grid view, with zero effort and no work.

I was proud of myself, then realized a missing feature in Aeon has been there all along.

I’ve often wished for a spreadsheet-style input mode foe Aeon, and that’s easy, too. Just enter the data in Numbers with appropriate column names, export to CSV, and Aeon will happily read the data.

Anyway, for my uses Curio seems to be a very useful tool. It won’t do what DT will, but it’s handy.


Related to this, it looks like OPML exports in DT do not include all metadata, in particular custom metadata.

Is there a way to export everything in a nice format like OPML?

Thank you for sharing this. I was wondering how you got the wiki links from Devonthink to show up in Curio? I am using Curio 13 (because I am still running High Sierra) but I see that you had originally mentioned this before the release of Curio 14.

Sorry! I missed the bit about copying and pasting from the rendered preview of md note. I see that it works. Thank you. Very useful.