Obsidian

After a few months of starting to get my head around what Obsidian can do, interesting to read a take on what it’s capable of from the viewpoint of someone who doesn’t want to build an outboard brain:

Not sold on the whole Knowledge Management bandwagon either. I use Obsidian to write everything. I am not creating a second brain or anything like that. I am writing in it. Everything. The goal is to write. Use it as the main text editor, and manage my schedule and tasks while I am in the program. It is my one-stop-shop for all my writing. The charm of the graph-view of my notes is lost on me. Not interested in that.

It’s refreshing to read a take on Obsidian that makes zero mentions of Zettelkasten.

My perspective on Obsidian chimes with this. The specifics are different – I value Obsidian because it makes a good successor to Evernote as an Everything Bucket that lets me capture notes from the web, store whatever details I feel a need to hang on to in the medium and long term and tag entries accordingly, and makes it easy for me to quickly search all that text content. Unlike Evernote1 I can extract content from it even after I’ve stopped using it. At heart, the strengths of Obsidian are that,

  1. It’s built on a bunch of Markdown files on my local storage that are not reliant upon anything in the Cloud; and,2
  2. The array of community plugins makes it easy to link and manage those files in ways that encourage linking to atomic notes about people and places I deal with frequently, rather than repeating references to the same person/place/event.

Both those strengths are things I could have made using Drafts or a local wiki3 but the big difference is that Obsidian lets me use plugins like Dataview to include live updates of to-do lists in my Daily Notes and – this is the bit that really appeals to my inner packrat – retain plain text lists of when I checked those items off. I was using Apple’s Reminders app for this sort of thing until an OS upgrade resulted in most of my lists and list items disappearing into the ether. If I’m ever going to lose my folders-full of Markdown files listing tasks I’ve done, it’ll be because I did something stupid with them, not because the OS/iCloud did it to me/for me/on my behalf.

Obsidian, supported by an army of plugin authors, is advancing rapidly and filling in gaps in functionality as the months go by. From my perspective, the biggest pain points of Obsidian are:

  1. Obsidian Mobile under iPadOS is subject to the customary iOS limitations on how long a non-media player app is allowed to stay alive in the background. The app is pretty good at restarting and reloading data from its’ local vault quickly – vastly quicker than the current Evernote client, for sure, if a tad slower than Drafts manages to recover from being automatically force-closed in the background by the OS – when I return to it after a few minutes away, but that’s not the fault of Obsidian.4
  2. Obsidian Mobile is not at all integrated with Apple’s Share menu. Obsidian can accept data copied-and-pasted into it, and some apps (like Drafts) can make use of URL schemas to feed data into Obsidian, but at present Obsidian operates at one remove from the Share menu5 and that does feel quite limiting. It’s amazing how much you can do with plain text if you must, but it’d be better if the Obsidian app for iPadOS wasn’t so reliant of the system clipboard and file system for transferring data.
  3. Obsidian on iPadOS just feels slightly clunky to use, at least compared to a native app like Drafts. It’ll be interesting to see a couple of years from now whether Drafts (another app which is comfortable using Markdown and has quite a user community churning out extensions) has reacted to Obsidian turning up on iOS by implementing the same feature set. In the end, it’s a race between multi-platform Obsidian (way more developers, but not necessarily focussed on dancing to Apple’s tune) and the smaller numbers of developers who focus on the Apple ecosystem and have no strong urge to accommodate other platforms. If we’re lucky, Obsidian’s base of Markdown documents will smooth the path between platforms and future iterations of the iPadOS client will fit in better with their surroundings.

Obsidian is proving to be an interesting journey so far.

I have a sneaky feeling that in a month or two I might give in to the long-standing temptation to compose and publish content for Sore Eyes using Markdown again.