Tinderbox users?

I’m afraid I completely disagree with this, but perhaps we have different conceptualisations of “structure”. In my experience you can create notes in Tinderbox willy-nilly without any thought to structure. Any structuring can come much later as it is needed, or as the understanding of one’s data improves. Indeed, I would say that it is working with data in this way that permits understanding to develop.

All this is not to say that DEVONthink does not do a great job. I have used it for over a decade, and version 3 seems to offer all sorts of new possibilities. It will certainly do things that Tinderbox cannot, and I probably could not have written a pretty large thesis without DEVONthink. I have a habit of stuffing all sorts of things into DEVONthink databases, and having a version on iOS is very useful, too.

My experience of Tinderbox is more along the lines of @mbbntu’s, but their point that everyone might conceptualize structure in their own way is relevant.

It’s a “different strokes…” world. I’ve worked the heck our of both Tinderbox and DEVONthink for the last 12 years or more, but always for different things. How do I know which to use? If I’m in document collection mode – it’s DEVONthink. If I’m in thinking mode – it’s Tinderbox. That’s just a rule of thumb.

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(No connection, other than a Scrivener user)

I don’t use Scapple much – it was cute when it came out, but there’s no depth. Just words in boxes.

Folks sometimes want DEVONthink to have a mind mapping feature. Actually now that it is easy to “watch” a DEVONthink group from Tinderbox, it’s easy to use that data to map it in Tinderbox. A “better together” situation IMO.

Just kidding – but I would be afraid that adding mindmapping to DEVONthink would result in endless diversions and campaigns for favorite tweaks of the concept, so to speak :slight_smile:

Yes. This is precisely my point! We are not being pedantic – there is a huge difference in the usability here and the approach to what your data is. This pedantic point is the very essence of the difference in the tools.

-The example I gave at the start of my reply thread was getting at this point: devonthink is best at the beginning process of information analysis and the tools it gives (groups, tags, smart groups, boolean search) permit one to get very far into the domain of tinderbox. At the end of the road, however, out there in the land of a developed data set, tinderbox has some very good features! Devonthink does not require me to structure my data, tinderbox does. That difference right there is why many people just don’t get tinderbox, or never get very far in using it – developing the data set for tinderbox requires work. Devonthink, on the other hand, will make a usable data set for you with almost no work on your part other than putting information into it.

Also, on your point of tinderbox’s cost. I’d like to make a point of usability - it has no iOS interface or app. in fact, it appears that Mark wants to avoid it. Recently, Mark Berstein gave the story of collecting names for a political drive. He was going door to door and collecting names and numbers of people as well as taking notes (structured data). He mentioned taking his macbook to do this task. I asked him on twitter if he thought of using his phone or an ipad at any point. He did not reply on twitter, but I think the point is obvious: tinderbox is great for sitting down at the computer and analyzing a data set. It has a method in mind of how you do that. It has a lot of friction to get started – heck, even the eBook “tinderbox way” will cost you money on top of the entry fee. It has even more friction to accessing and extending your data set – has to be on mac, has to be done in the app.

To some extent, the collaboration with devonthink may well be a miracle for tinderbox because devonthink’s accessibility and availability - ios, etc. will make it easier to feed tinderbox. The problem is whether a $300 mind map and metadata visualizer with scripting automation is valuable. Yes, for some it will be, and the friction of using tinderbox will be abated by having devonthink feed it. But that is the market problem for tinderbox … it has some very valuable and useful capabilities – the problem today, however, is that it makes it very hard for people to discover it (even in the way the website works, price, etc).

The price is whatever it is. There’s no objective way to price software. Either the wallet affords it, or it doesn’t.

I’ve known and corresponded with a lot of Tinderbox users over the years. Based on their experience I would say the best approach is extensive, focused trialing before committing to purchase it. Weeks, perhaps months of work, not hours or a few minutes. I’ve known Eastgate to be very liberal with trial periods and helpful for people who are really are interested in learning.

It is interesting to compare and contrast Tinderbox with X (as with DEVONthink in this thread) but, my opinion, at the root that’s a false comparison. Tinderbox is sui generis. Like a master carpenter’s tool shop, full of weird widgets and bits of steel, the question is not “what can I do with it”, but “what do you want to do with it”? It takes extreme patience and rewards generously if the time is taken. It is indeed “ugly” (a bit less so in recent years) and will always be because it is not the product of marketers but of a scientist who loves to fiddle with ideas, takes user comments as just that, and follows his own path.

Frankly, from the types of projects and work I’ve seen folks describe in this forum over the years, I’ve always felt that very few DEVONthink users will benefit from using Tinderbox.

That’s not what Tinderbox is, now, is it?

I hear you. I think you are taking me as critical of tinderbox but I’m not. If you look at how Mark presents tinderbox to the market, that is a fair characterization of how tinderbox is perceived by people that look into it. Also, if you look at my multiple other statements praising what tinderbox can do, you should see what that quote was doing: elaborating how tinderbox is perceived.

You and I know it is more but that’s only because we dove into it and dig around and got our hands dirty with it.

I don’t agree with you that only a few DT users would benefit. I think very many would, but the friction to getting usable data sets will prevent many. If the multiple points of friction were reduced or ameliorated (getting data into it is a big one and DT can help with that - as I mentioned when discussing the iOS app above) then many more people could realize tinderbox’s value. I said multiple times that tinderbox has an incredible offer and value. I think it is fair to use contrasts to explain what that value is and explore what tinderbox does.

OK, I got sucked back into this forum due to posts I hadn’t read and I see all the discussion of pros and cons of Tinderbox relative to DT. I use them both and integrate them to some extent. Below is from an email to one of the people in charge of our online course development at my college. She has never used TB and I thought these screenshots would help her understand how I’m approaching getting my Environment and Society course online. Hopefully this will illustrate that TB is awesome, DT is awesome, and between the two they are awesome^2. Here we go:

Tinderbox is one of the most amazing and extensible applications I’ve ever seen. With that comes a lot of complexity. It is rumored that no one knows everything about all its capabilities or what can be done with it. Even the developer has to go back and check coding sometimes. I’ve been using it for over two years now, so I understand it well enough to do some pretty good project planning in it. I used it for the Risk Assessment for the Enbridge Line 5 Pipelines under the Straits of Mackinac as well as a couple of other things before this. I’m primarily using it for mapping, tracking goals and their completion, taking notes, storing specific information of various sorts as it comes up, and I have it automatically updating certain containers in TBX that scans for changes in a program I use as a database called DEVONthink 3, which is used as a repository for files of all sorts.

OK, if you look at screen shot TB1, you will see the main goal of the entire file in the blue box at the top of the shot. From this everything else branches and sub-branches off. You can see from this that I used it extensively for getting my online certification and my masters certificate! Each of the items you see is either a regular note, a task note, or a container that holds other items. As I was going through these certifications, I captured important information that I can now readily access if I run into questions regarding our online courses going forward.

TB2 shows the area in TBX where I’m developing the actual course. To the right you see automated systems I have set up, prototypes, etc. If I designate a type of note as a prototype, I can then tell another note to use that prototype and all formatting, meta fields, etc. are put into that note. You will see shortly how I’m using that capability for setting up our Curriculum Map that will finally be in Word format per your needs.

TB3 is after entering the “Curriculum Planning” container that you see in the upper left of TB2. You can see a lot of branches from “Planned Course Structure,” to various other items, such as a topic list from the Master Syllabus (and a link to the original MS), etc. Most importantly at this time is the layout to the right side of the figure. This shows the current version of the layouts of the course in weeks and which module is in which week. I like doing it this way, rather than in the Word document, due to the increase in flexibility of moving things around, editing, etc., as needed for improvement. For example, I could move module 4 to week three without all the pain and suffering of doing it in the Word document.

Finally, TB4 shows what is in selected Module 2 in the window on the right side of the figure. Because I used a “module template prototype,” (you can see this at the top of the figure) all I have to do is make a note, tell it that is its prototype, and everything is inherited from that template and set up as you see it in Module 2, with all the categories that need to be filled in, etc. When completed, I’ll just copy and paste each of them into our Word document for submission.

So hopefully this is helps a little bit with understanding how TB can be used and how DT can be integrated with it. Oops, I meant to add that even these screenshots are stored in DT3.



I’m a self-professed non-expert in both DevonThink and TinderBox. Somehow or other I came upon and acquired each of these apps some years ago, and intuited that they would each help me solve recurring problems encountered in researching topics in the science literature. These problems often involve searching for info on a topic - document collection - and then digesting the parts collected in order to synthesize a solution - thinking. But until reading your quote above, it hadn’t quite clicked on how the two - DT and TB - can really work together. Thanks for sharing the thought and providing a flash of clarity!


Thanks for the example.

Could you explain the integration with DEVONthink in more detail though? Pretty much the only time it’s mentioned is “as a database” and I’d really like to know why “they’re awesome^2”.

This will be brief since I’m up at 4:40 AM to get some grading done. I use DEVONthink to store pretty much everything that is relevant to me. I have three databases I use mostly, one for personal, one for being a professor, and one that contains a database of everything I run across in science that might be useful to me now or later, especially environmental science and chemistry. The latter database is quite large.

In general I use DT over anything else because it is reliable, but mainly because of it showing the relationships between various documents and allowing me to quickly grab related documents to see how useful they are to the task at hand. Coordinating it with Tinderbox is usually a matter of having TB watch a DT folder where I might have stored items of a particular type that I can use for a project, but I also drag and drop snippets, web addresses, sometimes a short PDF, an image, etc., from DT into TB if I see an immediate need for it. That not only emplaces it in my TB map, showing the relationship with other components of the project, but also reminds me that it is there and can be used.

Right now I’m trying to use my “spare time” (LOL, too little to spare at 70) to create a curriculum for a course using freely available resources so students don’t have to keep buying the god-awful expensive textbook. So potential components are being stored in DT, accessed as needed from TB, etc.

I hope that helps. Now back to grading research papers…


Two major methods:

  1. In Tinderbox, it is possible to “Watch” a group of documents in a DEVONthink database, which are this way imported into a Tinderbox document as a set of Tinderbox “notes”. This is one-way (DEVONthink to Tinderbox). That is, you cannot create (easily) create notes in Tinderbox and have them appear in DEVONthink as documents in a database. [1]
  2. You can drag one or more documents at a time from DEVONthink to Tinderbox, when then are imported as “notes” – the end result is similar to #1 above

[1] Pat Maddox (@padillac here and @pat in the Tinderbox forum) published a very useful script in the Tinderbox forum to publish notes from Tinderbox back to DEVONthink.


Thanks for taking the time to explain, very much appreciated.

Hope you got the grading done and are getting enough sleep.

Thank you. I stumbled upon that script in my travels too.

Once I’ve finished evaluating DEVONthink, liking so far, I’ll get back to investigating Tinderbox.

You are quite welcome. As it turns out, I’m now grading the final versions of those research papers where I was previously doing the rough drafts. This is a lot of necessary work!