Tinderbox users?

Dear all,

We are currently in the planning phase for a joint promotion with Eastgate, the makers of Tinderbox. As we’d like to place user stories into the center of it to demonstrate how our two main products, DEVONthink and Tinderbox, can be used together, we’re looking for one or two of you how use these two products successfully together.

If you do use DEVONthink and Tinderbox and would like to tell us a bit more about how you work I’d love to hear from you: eboehnisch(at)devontechnologies.com.

Is there a post or blog somewhere showing how TB and DT interact? One of the things I find difficult is how to store raw information (as in notes). I have DT and I love it for so many things but…it’s not a great note taking app yet (I understand you are working on that).

So I like Bear…I like Ulysses…I like Scrivener (in some cases). But I’d like to do what @korm does and find a note taking system that I can index with DTPO.

How does TB store notes and can DTPO index them?

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I am professor/researcher and use both. Although, I use Tinderbox every day, my proficiency with it is still relatively low. I am happy to help out in any way possible. What information do you need/want?


Mostly I’m just curious what you use Tinderbox for, ESPECIALLY if your proficiency is relatively low, as mine will be low for quite some time assuming I decide to invest in it.

It’s a tool that seems ridiculously powerful, but also requires that you put a lot of effort into simply learning to use it. I’m an attorney and I have a lot floating around in my brain, so I’m just curious if Tinderbox might help me keep track of everything. Thanks!

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Subscribed. Also very curious about Tinderbox. Think it’s time I gave its Trial a go…

You’ll find more robust discussion of Tinderbox for all levels of interest at their own forum.

(The new feature in Tinderbox 7.3 to “watch” DEVONthink groups is useful but still very experimental, IMO.)

No! No software can do that and you will be very disappointed when it doesn’t. There is no more macOS flexible software than Tinderbox, and no more difficult software to master. I’ve been at it for well over a decade, use the program several hours a day very productively, and feel I am less than 50% competent. People either love it – or hate it. That’s why one should trial it for a long time and never purchase it outright based on reputation.

But quick gains will occur early and get you started – see their forum for advice and the documentation in Tinderbox Help.

I would suggest reaching out to @beck Tench. I believe she used both products and she has done some very interesting Tinderbox Tutorials.


Just a few hours ago I learned that she appeared on an OmniFocus-related podcast and also talked about DEVONthink :slightly_smiling_face: Thank you for the hint!

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I’ve had Tinderbox for several years now. I see it as a way to store structured information. I see DTP as a way to store open information to which I can impose order.

As an attorney, I have used DA and DTP to find, collect, and archive very specific instances of uses of phrases on the internet. DTP gave me the ability to begin classifying how those uses occurred. From there, I was able to cull tens of thousands of documents into just a hundred or so that perfectly demonstrated a specific use of a phrase as evidence to support thesis. This process replaced a survey and discovery that would have taken countless interns weeks on google, a few attorneys to read and code entires, and another attorney to oversee the master analysis. The process ordinarily takes months to a year and easily a boatload of money to support the staff and time. Instead, I was able to validate the survey points with DA in a couple days. DA already collected the data, so after validation, I could spend a couple more days to find evidence of usage as well as prove non-usage. A few more days, and I had validated information in DTP, stored in a format usable in legal process. From there, myself and another attorney were able to quickly analyze actual data on a data set of a few hundred documents (from a DA set of tens of thousands). Tagging and grouping made it very easy to classify docs on a series of premises. Then, it was easy to test the data by using DT’s powerful boolean search terms. In just a week and a half, two of us did what would have been a year’s worth of work by a staff of many. The bonus was that we could easily give statistics and validation of the results. That’s the power of the infoworker pack – there’s nothing like it anywhere else.

I intend to write up a more specific paper on this, but I had to wait for the process to pass time and for the issue this was used on to subside before I could really talk about what it was and be specific (this was all in trademark).

Tinderbox is a neat companion but I think Tinderbox relies on the user being able to impose structure on the information. I can see how it would be helpful, but frankly, it has a steeper learning curve than DTP had for me years ago. Both are similar in this way: they let you find order in information. Both of them are sort of open-ended and take some work to understand how they can work for you.

Tinderbox’s utility is in analyzing and processing information that can be structured at ingest. From there, it has brilliant tools for analysis and automation. The problem that I am finding is that most of the information I process is not structured and I can more quickly make sense of it with DTP and tags/groups than to go through the work/steps it would take to reorganize the information and input it to tinderbox. I can see how, if I were able to grasp tinderbox’s concepts better, it could have been helpful in a project like the one I mention above – however, DA and DTP was so efficient at culling and organizing that it would have been extraneous to use tinderbox atop of it.

But like @korm said above, Tinderbox often leaves me thinking I don’t use it well. I think the reality for me is that I don’t do lab work or bench work anymore, and the kind of research I do these days doesn’t lend to tinderbox’s strength: collecting and analyzing structured data. But even in my conclusion here about Tinderbox, I have low confidence that I understand Tinderbox well enough and am probably short-selling tinderbox. DTP, on the other hand, makes it far easier for me to find organic structure prevalent in arbitrary information sets. DA lets me find the arbitrary information very quickly and confidently. It (DA+DTP) is so efficient (now that I get how to work with it).

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Having skimmed TB’s site and a couple of its user screencasts, including one article which contains links to a site that Safari warns is risky the certificate having expired, I should think TB’s developers need DT more than DT devs needs TB.

I am always on the lookout for new ideas to ensure the way I work is the most efficient for my needs but I find these task management organisational tools far too similar nowadays. With a bit of ingenuity DT can be used as an outliner, random notes collector, law case analysis, etc for all manner of different uses.

The only obvious difference I can see between TB and DT is that TB uses mind maps which if you like that sort of thing is probably helpful but as the complementary view is a list, frankly it doesn’t seem any more different than any other outliner list or even Scrivener’s corkboard or Scrivener’s Scrapple - the latter I don’t use because making notes in random order and rearranging afterwards can be done just as easily in a list to begin with without wasting screenspace. Personally, I am turned off by visual clutter which is why TB wouldn’t interest me. But if as others say TB takes a lot of getting used to then either I am missing something or TB is unnecessarily complicated in order to give the impression that it is the user’s fault rather than being a useless app.

TB is not a task management tool, nor anything like it. Nor is it a mind mapper (it doesn’t produce mind maps). You could use it as such, and some people do, but that’s not what it’s for. It’s also not an information management tool like DT - in fact it couldn’t be more different from DT.

Tinderbox is a tool for notes. Its unique characteristic is the way ti allows structure and organisation of your notes to emerge as you analyse and review - unlike pretty much every other note-taking application, which demand that you define a starting structure (outline, map or whatever) first.

The TB learning curve is very tough because it doesn’t give you much to start with - just a workspace and a bunch of tools. It’s like a blank word processor page - if you don’t know how to write, there’s nothing there that’ll help you compose or structure your work.

I use TB a lot to collect notes - not documents, or clippings or pictures or anything else - just notes - about whatever my current project or interest is. Once collected, I can use TB tools to figure out how they can be organised to make sense and produce insights and conclusions.

DT is a great adjunct to TB, because I can connect TB to DT groups and thus link notes to my library of supporting/related information. If I were a lawyer, I might use TB as an electronic equivalent of my yellow pad to collect notes, thoughts and ideas about a case, with DT as a repository for references, case files and the like. Once I’m ready to present my case, I might export my (now organised) notes from TB into DT for presentation, or I might use a 3rd tool (I use Curio) to collect data from both TB and DT together in a “fair copy” for public consumption.


If I have understood correctly (not always the case!) I strongly disagree with this impression – I would say (and it is also said by the developer of Tinderbox) that the strength of the program lies in allowing structure to emerge as you work with the data.

I owe one of my main insights into using the program to James Fallows, who made a comment on the Tinderbox forum to the effect that the program is more about associations than hierarchies (see here: Getting Started on the Right Foot). DEVONthink works by putting items into groups, but if you if you try to work merely by putting items into containers in Tinderbox, you are probably working with one hand tied behind your back. It is better to work by assigning meta data to items in Tinderbox and using that to find associations.

One further thing is that Tinderbox allows you to work visually, something that DEVONthink cannot really do. In Tinderbox you can use map views in which you position items freely so that implied associations can emerge (items that are closer together are like each other in some way). And of course you can also use linking arrows to show relationships.

I have used DEVONthink extensively to “make sense” of material, and it has proved invaluable for that, but Tinderbox provides other tools for sense-making that may be very useful for other kinds of material, and where associations between items may be difficult to explain in words, but are easy to understand when presented using positioning, colour, and linking arrows.


Actually, no – the tools you mention work best with unstructured information, and (as @mbbntu suggested) they help see the connections between and within notes. Tinderbox is more about emergence than mere note taking. If you watch @beck’s videos and read their blog you’ll see good examples of how that happens.

DEVONthink can also help with understanding the connections between things – seeing a bigger picture in your data that is more robust than the individual parts. There are several key differences that make it clear that DEVONthink is not the same as Tinderbox. The two complement each other well, though.

DEVONthink works with mass data (“mass” not “massive”). For many users, these data are mainly documents or web pages found elsewhere. Of course many users also create documents or notes in DEVONthink, and Tinderbox can ingest (to a more limited extent than DEVONthink) data from elsewhere. So the differences between DEVONthink and Tinderbox with regard to data is more one of scale than substance.

The key difference is that Tinderbox has a much broader set of features to work with data (in the form of notes rather than documents): outlines, maps, system-defined as well as user-define attributes, automation queries and agents to manipulate notes, hyperlinks, links between text in different notes, the attribute browser view, the chart view, the timeline view, the treemap view, the hyperbolic view, badges, flags, colors, etc. etc etc. Other than the automation, and to a minor extent (in DEVONthink 3) the custom metadata, these features do not exist in DEVONthink. And that’s fine.

It’s important to know that Tinderbox’s origins are in hypertext theory. Not the nonsense that underlies modern web sites that is mainly focused on eye candy – but the hypertext of Ted Nelson, Doug Englebart, and Vannevar Bush, which was focused on the semantic structure of text. Heady, perhaps stuffy, ideas, but they lead to what we see now in Tinderbox. You don’t need to study these ideas to use Tinderbox, but you need to know they exist because that’s where that software came from.

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Noted, thank you; makes more sense to have TB explained than my cursory skim. However, I still do not understand why DT cannot be used in effectively the same way. I use DT to collect and write notes and I can analyse, organise and review them as I like.

You say “pretty much every other note-taking application demands a structure first” but surely TB does too, albeit less of a ‘demand’, more user choice (of what’s provided). If for example on TB I choose the map view but then go to outline, I can something similar on Scrivener, start with corkboard thence to outline. On DT, I can write a note anywhere i like and use tag(s) and smart groups (folders) to organise, etc, or simply use search and save the search. Date by default is effectively a timeline and custom metadata could be used for a year only if the entire date is not needed. The only things DT doesn’t offer is a map view (as in blank canvass for adding and playiing around with what look like text boxes ) or chart, but whether those different perspectives are worth buying TB for depends I should’ve thought upon personal preference?

DEVONthink is a fine place to take and work with notes.

People launch DEVONthink and probably think: “well, this looks familiar. I can figure out what’s going on here”.

People launch Tinderbox and might think: “what’s this – a blank page divided into two panes, I’m lost already”.


““what’s this – a blank page divided into two panes, I’m lost already”.”

An opportunity for intuition?

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Lots of programs allow you to take notes. It is what you can do with them after you have taken them that makes Tinderbox different.


You can use DT to carry out similar tasks, but you can’t use t in the same way - DT has a different set of tools. Pedantic, I know, but it’s the important difference - not where you can get to, but the methods by which you get there.

Absolutely. TB is expensive by today’s standards and is just not good value for many people because the cost of purchase and learning is too high. But for some people, it’s tremendous value. Unless you have a driving need for TB and can investigate the time and effort necessary, I’d recommend avoiding it.

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There is a windows software called Connected Text which has a sort of interactive map view of notes. I can’t help but imagine if we could have such a feature on DT3 with the Tinderbox map view (which I find absolutely beautiful).

That is the only thing I would take from TB, actually. I much prefer DT3 for everything else.

We are saying the same thing but I am obviously not saying what I meant well enough!

You made the point I was trying to elaborate but did so poorly: By using the term “structured data”, I mean the implicate the process of making metadata for tinderbox. I also mean to implicate the process of ingesting information. Your point about putting things into containers is not using tinderbox well is precisely a good example: tinderbox requires this further step of me making choices to create significant information about my data (@korm raises this point also). If I do that work well, tinderbox will indeed give me many ways to see patterns in my data. This is the point I was trying to make and failed— tinderbox requires me to do work and make meaningful data structures.

Devonthink does also, but by constraining me to tags and groups (smart groups are huge here), devonthink gets me there faster without much “work” on my part thinking of the significant metadata and structures. Now that devonthink has custom metadata, as @korm noted, devonthink can extend into the land of tinderbox more easily.

BUT, tinderbox does not process scans, emails, random web clips either. Devonthink takes all that and does not care. It lets me begin working on the data (with Boolean searches in smart groups, etc). Tinderbox immediately requires me to make structures for the data from the beginning.

This is not a criticism of tinderbox. It is an exploration of why devonthink is so invaluable. In fact, now that devonthink allows me to add custom metadata, I can see me using tinderbox more frequently and better in the future. For the longest time, just the initial step of setting up notes in tinderbox was enough friction for me to avoid using it. Devonthink has none of that friction - instead, I just make a new database (I still remember the single database days - back then it was friction) and start piling documents in. Tinderbox can’t do that. It’s not meant to. To me, Tinderbox is great for steps later, after some method of understanding what structures make sense. In other words, tinderbox always requires a predicate and often times defining the predicate to the data is more work than I want to do.

Devonthink is so agnostic about the data structure or even the data type that it will make all of it usable to me without any work. It does the work for me. That allows me to begin testing predicates (and this makes meaningful structure) without overlaying metadata and doing the work to populate metadata.

After a certain point of processing data, however, tinderbox begins to excel because it allows for automation of automation (like smart groups on steroids). My contention is that devonthink is far more than a mere filing cabinet — it extends into the realm of tinderbox. It does this by making it easy to process any data rapidly and thus begin imposing structure on the data. Tinderbox excels at refining and making elaborate structures of data that already has structure (metadata, links, etc such as a timeline of events). To some degree, tinderbox excels at making structured data from other structured data (for instance, agents could build a timeline out of data that just has a date and a note). That’s where tinderbox shines — and has all the tools, like the maps, to further refine data.

The addition of custom metadata allows devonthink to much further extend into tinderbox’s realm but tinderbox does not extend much into devonthink’s best competency: namely, wrangling whatever document, data, or information I give it and making it usable to the computer.