JLiki 6: Tiddler Composition & Tags

by JL Beeken on 7-12-2008

If you’ve got a basic sense of tiddlers, tags and WikiWords from JLiki 5, it’s time to move on to telling stories.

Stories don’t really have beginnings. People just pretend they do. Then they go backwards and forwards and sideways in the telling. Have you ever heard a story without tangents? Probably not. So, it doesn’t matter where you begin, it just matters that you do.

But, before you start writing, who’s your audience? Is this an academic exercise for yourself or are you talking to a favorite cousin? This will define your voice and your content. If you don’t know who you’re talking to yet just imagine someone, if that helps, or go straight down the middle; interesting but neutral.

There are 2 main ways of bringing information into your wiki:

1. by writing it into tiddlers
2. by linking to other files

First, I’ll talk about writing tiddlers. You can, if you want to, bring together everything you know about each person, pasting in reports and and notes and newspaper clippings that would go on and on down the page. There’s no limit to tiddler or page size here. A naked tiddler is 286 KB soaking wet and you can add text to it for hours without changing the size of it by much. This makes it very fast to load in your browser.

There’s a downside to this, though. Long tiddlers are hard to tag and hard to edit because of all the scrolling it takes to locate anything. If you’ve also linked in photographs, it’s even harder.

Having been there/done that, I’ve come to the conclusion that a better way is to write short tiddlers spawning other short tiddlers. What I mean by ‘short’ depends on the content.

Pick one of the people in your MainMenu to begin. Write a short (there’s that word again) summary hitting the main points of their life. There will likely be details in your summary that don’t need expanding on elsewhere, and that’s fine, this is where they belong. But don’t make too much of the main events here because you’re going to expand on them in other tiddlers or linked files.

You don’t have to be a prize-winning journalist to do this. If you failed Composition class in your native language, don’t worry about it. I almost did and I have my own blog. It takes nothing but audacity. Just make a list. Use your database if you need to. Use whatever you have and don’t worry about what you don’t. If you already have a summary written in your database you can just copy it in. There’s no such thing as an uneventful life. Even if a person did nothing but sleep from the day they were born they did something.

Let’s go back to the example of my paternal-grandfather. There are some things I know about my grandfather’s life. He had three siblings. He played baseball. He was in France during WW1. He worked for the New York Central. He married Florence L. Wilke. He died when he was struck by lightning.

I could be lazy and just crank out an Individual Report from Legacy and link it in. You’ll have to come back for JLiki 7 or JLiki 8 to learn how to do that.

I will start by using an example of creating other tiddlers.

Let’s say my summary looks like this:

Writing A Tiddler, TiddlyWiki

The dot-dot-dots stand for all the other interesting words and phrases I’m going to have in there so it’s not so stiff and uninspired. I’m going to leave out “He appeared in the 1900 census … ” because that’s database stuff and kind of dull. I’m trying to tell a story here that a non-genealogist would enjoy reading.

I made the siblings’ names into WikiWords by putting them in double-square brackets and defined their tags the same way. If I make the WikiWords and tags different I will create two different main tiddlers for each person and that would not be good.

If I called them Eleanor, George and Marian instead I wouldn’t make those WikiWords but I would put tags for them in a more recognizable format. I also put double-square brackets around Florence L. Wilke. She’s already a WikiWord in the MainMenu and that just links her up again.

The developer of TiddlyWiki was probably not ‘thinking genealogy’ but we can make it work for us anyway. Just remember that WikiWords create tiddler titles so you only want one for each person’s name. Whatever format you choose for that is also the tag-name for that person. It will save you hours of confusion. In the content of a tiddler a person’s name be can be written in any format. Either as their WikiWord or not but always put their tag.

Now I have to find a way to link the expandable activities and events of my grandfather’s life to other tiddlers I’m going to write. It won’t work to pick parts of sentences to make tiddlers with because they’re not descriptive enough. For instance [[played baseball]] or [[worked for the New York Central]] would leave me wondering who that was connected to.

So, I’ll pick the main activities out of the summary and write a list of WikiWords. There are a few ways to do this and each one has a different effect on how the tiddlers and tags present themselves. What I suggest is making your WikiWords short, to the point and consistent. Here ensues my excessive verbiage on the subject. It’s not difficult but it’s actually quite important that you get this as it will lay a strong foundation for what comes next.

I could do it in this format:

[[Gene Beeken - baseball]]
[[Gene Beeken - NYC]]
[[Gene Beeken - WW1]]
[[Florence L. Wilke-Gene Beeken marriage]]
[[Gene Beeken - death]]

Writing A Tiddler, TiddlyWiki

The italicized titles tell me that those are Missing tiddlers and remind me I have to enter content one way or another.

Getting ahead of myself for the sake of demonstration: As I add content to each of those new tiddlers they will turn bold. When I add Gene Beeken as a tag to each tiddler they will also be added to both the left-side and right-side tag boxes. I can call up all the tiddlers with his tag at once by clicking on his tag in the gray box on the right and selecting ‘Open all’. They will all line themselves up alphabetically down the page.

Writing A Tiddler, TiddlyWiki

“Alphabetical” favors capitals letters over lower-case. In other words, ‘WW1′ comes before ‘baseball’. To put them in strict alphabetical order I would have to write NYC as nyc and WW1 as ww1. Or, conversely, put ‘baseball’ and ‘death’ starting in capital letters. As a matter of convention, I put all marriage tiddlers with the woman’s name first. In this case, ‘Florence….’ is at the top of the list, alphabetically.

Or I can write them in this format:

[[1910's-1920's Gene Beeken - baseball]]
[[1911-1928 Gene Beeken - NYC]]
[[1918 Gene Beeken - WW1]]
[[1922 Florence L. Wilke-Gene Beeken marriage]]
[[1928 Gene Beeken - death]]

and the tiddlers and tags will line up by date. But remember, there will be other tiddlers called up by his tag-name further along, not just these five. Unless every tiddler in your wiki begins with a date, the arrangement will be somewhat meaningless. In your right-hand index, under Timeline and All, the tiddler-titles will be very long and take up more than one line.

You should decide which style you prefer before you begin so you know what to expect. You could also put the new titles as one of these:

[[Gene Beeken-Baseball]]
[[Gene Beeken: Baseball]]
[[Gene Beeken/Baseball]]

It’s not critical which you choose, just a matter of viewing preference. For the sake of your readers it would help to be consistent. Maybe you’ll come up with something I haven’t thought of yet.

My grandfather played baseball before and after the War. He worked for the NYC before and after the War and before and after marrying my grandmother. Even dividing a life into smaller segments is not rigidly mathematical.

The nature of wikis is that they’re tangential so anyone reading one is not necessarily looking for strict chronology. They’re probably just cruising around on the wind since that’s half the fun of it. The dates of events are likely written into the content of tiddlers, so it’s not necessary to have them as titles. You can also link in various reports from your database. So far I’m not keen on starting tiddler-titles with dates but suit yourself.

Whichever way I write the new tiddler-titles, I’ve now broken the main activities of his life into bite-size pieces, or rather 5 new tiddlers and 3 more for the siblings. And an extra one thrown in for WW1. The advantage of story-telling in segments is that each one is of reasonable length. Each one defines a focus and they’re easy to tag and edit. All the shorter segments can easily be brought together by searching on a tag-name so nothing’s lost in coherence.

Unlike documents that are linked to the wiki, anything written directly inside the wiki can be searched by the wiki. For this reason alone it’s better to put as much condensed information as you can into tiddlers. Linked files are appropriate in many instances, though, and keep the wiki smaller so you’ll decide as you go along which way you’d prefer.

If you change your mind, anything that’s been defined as a tiddler can easily be turned into a linked document instead. Just remove the double-square brackets and proceed with the linking code. (How to do that is coming up.)

After writing a summary of one of the people in your MainMenu, extract a list of expandable topics to make into WikiWords at the bottom. And put in your tags. The tags on the right will not alphabetize themselves automatically. If you want them in order you have to put them in that way. They don’t co-operate with the cursor position unless you’re typing them in new. Generally, I scan through my tiddler picking out anything that should be tagged and that’s the order they’re added to the tag-box.

JLiki

Be careful when you’re writing your summary that you don’t create tiddlers-in-waiting where you don’t want them. A WikiWord is any word with two capital letters and this includes hyphenated words such as Two-Headed, and these will automatically create tiddler-titles.

If you inadvertently make a WikiWord that you don’t want as a tiddler, either a hyphenated word or a name like McKean where you just can’t help yourself, you can suppress this effect by preceding it with a tilde. In other words if you write it as ~Two-Headed or ~McKean, it will look like Two-Headed and McKean instead of Two-Headed and McKean.

There’s nothing essentially wrong with Missing tiddlers (you’ll have lots of them pretty soon) except the unintended ones will confuse you. And they’ll confuse you a lot.

The tagging-box contents on the left side are also available within tiddlers and in various categories in your right-hand index. If you want to turn it off to make more space or for better visuals, go to More/Shadowed and open the ViewTemplate tiddler. Then delete the line:

While you’re there, also delete:

, ( )

As I’m sure you’ve noticed, there are two dates at the beginning of each tiddler. The first being the date of writing, the second the edit date. Under AdvancedOptions you can choose to have the edit date changed with each edit or left alone. In journal-writing it may be desirable to have your name and the dates in a prominent position. If it gets on your nerves here, deleting the line above will get rid of it.

And then click the Refresh button in your browser.

Tiddler & Tags, TiddlyWiki

You can still see your name, the date and time by hovering your cursor over any WikiWord. So really you’re not losing anything, just lightening up the view.

Try it and see if you like it better. If you don’t, open the ViewTemplate tiddler again and click ‘delete’. You’re not actually deleting the original and, as soon as this one is gone and you click Refresh, the original will magically reappear and so will your name, the dates and the left-side tagging box. This disappearing/reappearing act works with all Shadowed tiddlers.

Next: JLiki 7

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