Tinderbox - do you find it useful?

I’m curious about Tinderbox again. Working on my PhD, and wondering how it might help me think, keep track of things, and make relevant connections. I have a version of it from a couple of years ago. The interface is weird and clunky and buggy, but I wonder what I’m missing.
I know there are lots of thinkers here on the forum, and would appreciate your thoughts.

I think you’d get much clearer answers about use-cases from reading (or asking in) the Tinderbox Forum.

Tinderbox is one of those apps that can be a godsend to the right people. It’s one of those apps I’ve looked at periodically, every couple of years, trying to see if it could be useful to me and if it got any better looking or less confusing… and I ended up each time quietly backing away from it, and skipping far, far away.

Eastgate has a page for a public file exchange showing a variety of sample Tinderbox examples that could spark some ideas for you. To me, the fact that the examples are all 9-14 years old is all too telling, however.


I have looked at Tinderbox. I believe in the end, Tinderbox does not stick for me because my mind does not grasp the utility of collecting notes that refer to (external) objects. It does better at understanding the utility of attaching notes (i.e. meta content) directly to objects.


1 Like

Looks like Beck Tench has done a series of videos on Tinderbox/academic workflows. I’m going to have a look. @oldblueday might be interested.
I’ve also been watching Steve Zeoli’s videos too.

I’d forgotten about the forum @bowline, thanks for that. I like asking here since maybe folks haven’t fully drunk the Kool-Aid :slight_smile:

Not sure about all the work that goes into creating these systems, @DrJJWMac. Why use all these agents and adornments, etc. when one can just use OmniFocus?

1 Like

Oh, we drank the Kool-Aid all right. Just got hooked on the apple flavored one. :grin:


I have been monitoring Tinderbox for years. I actually bought a licence 5 years ago. It is actually very expensive. I never ended up using it too much because I didn’t have the time.

My thoughts are that increasingly I am using iOS and tinderbox is Mac centric. It is an amazing app if you have time to use it but you can spend too long fiddling. The pricing model is also too expensive for me.

I now use Devon think.

1 Like

I’ve used Tinderbox daily since version 1, and find it to be an extraordinarily robust, strange, surprising, amazing, and often frustrating app. And I keep returning to it. Do not buy Tinderbox if you only want to take title, text and tag notes. Do not buy it if you like note taking on iOS mainly. Do not buy it if you don’t want to invest the time to learn all of its capabilities. Do not buy it if you are looking for pretty and do not like user interface experiences older than the past 2 or 3 years. It is not hooked into all the geegaws of modern macOS and probably never will be. Tinderbox behaves like more of a visitor to macOS than a resident. It is not perfect, not for the casual user, and yet there is nothing on macOS, Windows or Linux with the same set of capabilities.

I recommend getting a trial. Reading Getting Started with Tinderbox available from the Help menu. Ask questions in their forum (they aren’t fan boys == they are people who help solve problems and explain how). Link into the user-contributed Tinderbox Reference File – which is not a manual (there are no manuals), but a feature and function dictionary.


As one who dabbles in programming (i.e. AppleScript), I see the advantage agents. As one who uses tags, I also see the advantage of adornments. I believe the hang-up is that my approach tends to be less about using notes as representations for objects than it is about using notes to add meta-character to objects.

Perhaps as a counter-point, should Tinderbox ever allow that one can throw other documents directly into it and provide content search on PDF files, I would dump DevonThink Pro in a heartbeat.


You can import data from PDFs, but you wouldn’t want to use Tinderbox as a DEVONthink replacement. Apples and oranges. Tinderbox documents are XML, not intended for file management. You can of course drag notes from DEVONthink to Tinderbox, or “watch” DEVONthink, Finder, or Notes as a one-way import of data from those programs.

1 Like

I stand corrected. Perhaps I should explore this option. Thanks.


1 Like

Late to this party – have started exploring Tinderbox after watching Beck Tench’s excellent video.

I have started using it for planning out the higher-level GTD horizons and am really grokking with it. It is helping me keep my OmniFocus free of those ‘not yet’ projects and ideas.

I agree with bowline that it seems to fit a certain type of mind. Turns out, that type of mind might be mine! :grinning:

1 Like

OK folks – i’ve expanded on my thoughts about using Tinderbox and OmniFocus together.


Thank you. The clarity that you offer about views at different horizons is great. I might “borrow” it as I start my trimester re-evaluation in the next few weeks. I agree that a mind map or outline is too rigid for such work. Still, I personally must have a visual collection of thoughts and often a picture rather than just text snippets. So, Curio fits my needs as an alternative to Tinderbox to make my big picture connections.

Again, thanks!


1 Like

As I was writing I had Curio in mind as well. That’s a terrific app that has a lot of crossover with Tinderbox and will definitely work for that same ‘unstructured’ thinking type of work :slight_smile:

What a gift this post is, Dean! And your point here articulates something I’ve appreciated about Tinderbox, but hadn’t found the right words.

The issue I’ve found with mind-mapping tools is the rigidity of their model. The mind-map is a hierarchy. It’s nodes and sub-nodes. This, again, feels like I am prematurely classifying these items. For me, mind-mapping tools don’t encourage experimentation amongst complex relationships.

I’ll be creating my own horizons of focus document inspired by your post. Thank you!

1 Like

Very nice article @deanpribetic!
I prefer concept mapping tools to mind mapping tools for the reason you stated. Things don’t always fall into a nice hierarchy. Even tools like Mind Node that allow multiple main nodes still feel constrained when you try to connect nodes and make sense of things.
As you discussed, Tinderbox can be a concept mapping tool. Others:

  • Scapple is very simple and intuitive to use, and inexpensive
  • CMAP is a tool I’ve used in the past, it’s free

I actually use OmniGraffle and Concepts (iOS) for this stuff, just to avoid getting into another software. OmniGraffle works really well.

I am still tempted to try Tinderbox, though (as I’ve said elsewhere) the lack of iOS support has prevented me from putting down those dollars so far.

1 Like

Milanote seems like a similar app to Curio with cross-platform functionality. Anyone have any experience with it?

Milanote is wonderful: a beautiful and useful choice for visual organizing and making your own custom pinboards (plus endless canvas plus notetaking)… but too expensive for most people perhaps unless your company is paying for it. After 100 notes you need to pay $120/year (or $12/month). It’s pretty popular with designers and others who work on creative projects.

I know a creative who used a combination of a desktop wiki on his Mac plus private Pinterest boards before getting employed by a company who paid for his Milanote account.


It looks pretty slick but, as you point out, expensive depending on how much use you might get out of it.

I did tinker with Curio for awhile some years back now, but the lack of cross-platform (specifically iOS) compatibility steered me away.

My kids, at secondary school, use OneNote which has some of the same functionality and comes “free” to anyone who has an Office 365 subscription.

What do people do with these endless canvasses if they have to share them with others for example by printing them out?