Why I Use Obsidian
With all the new players in the PKM world I still use Obsidian.
For the longest time I used Evernote.
My account says that I signed up in 2008 which means I've been using it on and off for the last 14 years.
I always liked it and they've had some super great iOS apps over the years. But for some reason I just kept wanting something more.
Enter: Roam Research.
I started using Roam when it was free in the beta. I think I saw it from Nat Eliason on Twitter and it looked interesting. I actually thought it was just for research students so I didn't immediately sign up, lol. But once I saw normal people using it I jumped in. I grabbed Nat Eliason's course on Roam and I was up and running.
Roam changed my note-taking life. Daily Notes, backlinks, unlinked references, block references...it was revolutionary. Not evolutionary, but revolutionary. It was what I always wanted to do with my notes --- connect them. Roam made it seamless.
Over the next year or so, I got obsessed with Roam even as Obsidian started to gain more steam.
I just loved outliners and Roam destroyed them all as far as I was concerned.
Over time, Obsidian started to get a bigger and bigger following. I, of course, downloaded it to try it out because it was a shiny new toy—and free. But man...it was not good looking. I mean…really not good looking. And it was not fun to use. The "themes" in the community at the time were just awful except for a select few like Yin and Yang and California Coast. They reminded me of ugly winamp skins from the late 90's. There was a certain charm to them, but they didn't look "good". Roam wasn't exactly a gorgeous app, but it was at least minimal. Its design was that there wasn’t any “design”.
So I stayed # Roamcult for the time. It just did everything I wanted it to do and I enjoyed the community and even talking with Conor White-Sullivan through Twitter DM's. I was deep in the Roam life and loving it.
But then Obsidian kept pushing out more updates. And then some more...and then some more...and then some more...and then they had plug-ins...and some more plug-ins...and then...they pushed out a mobile app.
Mobile is huge for me so when Obsidian pushed out their mobile app I signed up for their Insider plan to get early access.
The app wasn't great…but it worked. It wasn't beautiful, but that's ok. It was a mobile app and the syncing was pretty darn consistent. This was the turning point for me. It’s when I started using Obsidian a lot more.
Yada, yada, yada…I now use Obsidian.
Ok, I may have yada-yada’d over a few things, but let me just get to why I now love and use Obsidian.
Here are the reasons why and then I’ll jump into them:
Files & Folders
Files & Folders
I completely shrugged this off when people first started talking about it. I did. I’m not ashamed to admit that I was wrong on this point.
People kept saying, “Yeah, Roam is nice, but in Obsidian I can still have all my files in folders no matter what happens to Obsidian.” I understood that, but never really realized just how nice that is. Not until I started importing my content from Roam.
I would import my Roam .md files and a lot of them came in just fine. But some of the pages had weird spacing on it and some just had Firebase links where there used to be images. None of my images came in very well if at all. I had to re-import my images into Obsidian.
That’s when I saw the beauty of Obsidian. The images just go into folders. That’s it. So it’s literally just transferring images from one folder on my computer to another one. No uploading them to a cloud storage system where you are unsure of the privacy. No more having to spend time re-downloading all the images and hoping they don’t get corrupted.
It’s just files in folders. That’s it.
Lately I’ve been turning in to a sort of…digital prepper? Does that make sense? I’m trying to figure out how to make sure that what I do today is as future proof as possible. And it’s hard to discount the longevity of files and folders.
The original Macintosh was just files…and folders. Old Windows 3.1–files and folders. And probably years in the future computers will still likely have files…and folders.
So as you build your vault in Obsidian, you have the safety in knowing that everything you put in there can be viewed offline and can be easily moved to any computer or device with ease. The images and PDF’s are what really convinced me. Just having them live on my device in folders is insanely valuable. Where are my files? On my device neatly in folders. That’s what I always think about when I’m building out my vault.
You see, the way I use my vault is sort of as a data hoarder and…archivist? Does that make sense? I like keeping as much as I can. See an interesting article online? Clip it and save it to Obsidian. Interesting tweet thread? Use Tweet to Markdown and keep it offline for forever. I want to have all the information from what I read and study to be in my vault, offline, whenever I need it. Right now Obsidian is the king in that respects.
And if one day Obsidian dies off, all of my files and attachments will be waiting for me right there on my computer exactly in the way that I arranged them.
This one is probably pretty obvious if you’ve heard of Obsidian at all, but I’ll expand on it.
There are tons of apps that allow plug-ins, but I've never seen any app that has as many as Obsidian. It's kind of insane. There are currently 668 plug-ins available at the time that I write this. That's crazy.
One of the reasons that I think there are so many is that coding has become far more accessible over the years and making a plug-in (depending on what you want to do) isn't insanely complex. So because of that, there are tons of plug-ins.
Want to see your Habitica stats in Obsidian? There's a plug-in for that. Seriously. Want to save a Tweet in Markdown format? There's a plug-in for that. Want your Todoist tasks in Obsidian? There's a plug-in for that. Want to put your notes on a map with latitude and longitude
There are certainly concerns that go along with using plug-ins like whether or not the developer will keep their plug-in updated over time or just abandon it. But so far those seem to be few and far between although I do believe being able to easily pay a developer would be a welcome addition, but that’s another topic for another post.
If there's something you want to do with Obsidian that you can't already do with the native app, there is likely a plug-in that will allow you to do it.
Many apps have plug-ins, but I've never seen one that has as many as Obsidian. That’s a huge strength.
As I stated earlier, at first when Obsidian came out it...well...it didn't look good. Things didn't line up, the spacing on different UI elements was inconsistent, it was honestly a mess.
The themes weren't much better. Again, they reminded me of a bad winamp skin.
But eventually a few themes came out that really made it look good: Minimal and Primary. Both were fully featured and both made Obsidian look absolutely great. In Primary, by Cecilia May, everything was pixel perfect. Small UI elements that were uneven and inconsistent in the default theme finally lined up. The same was true with Minimal, by @Kepano. Everything lined up. It looked great. I no longer had to do 300+ lines of CSS. Now I was just doing a few lines of CSS here and there to change things for personal preference not because they looked bad.
Ironically enough, Kepano who made Minimal and designed the new, gorgeous default theme, used to make Winamp skins and they looked great!
Now there are even more fully fleshed out themes that I constantly switch between based on mood:
A few of them still need to be updated to the newest standards just released with version 1.0, but they are currently being worked on.
It’s actually nice to use Obsidian because it looks good now. And the mobile app looks great as well with the new default theme. Bad design is no longer a reason to not use Obsidian for me. It's still not quite as beautiful as Supernotes or Craft, but it certainly looks great and it still has that certain charm that Obsidian has.
There are some apps that have some awesome new features. Tana is an outliner that has some Notion-esque tables built in. Remnote has awesome spaced repetition features. Supernotes has a card style system. All these apps have some cool features, but are missing others. Obsidian has so many features.
I really want a basic set of linking features:
Ok, so maybe that’s not the most basic list in the world, but it doesn’t seem too complex. There are many apps that have some of those features, but not all.
Craft has bi-directional linking, but no unlinked references, block references, advanced queries, or aliases.
Obsidian just does everything I want. Roam does some things better, but Obsidian just does a little bit of everything. And again, if there’s a feature missing there will likely be a plug-in that will address that missing feature.
At the end of the day Obsidian is one of the most well-rounded PKM app that is out there. It looks good now, it has consistent updates, and has a solid feature set. It can be used offline and syncing is solid and reliable. The mobile app has gotten better over time and is easy to use.
I’ll still check out all the new apps like Tana, which I’ll be writing about soon, but Obsidian is still my main driver for now. It’s allowing me to build a vault that will be accessible for a long time from a wide variety of devices.
I’ll be writing about my setup over the next few months as well as the new, exciting apps that keep popping up.