# Interesting new app in beta - Obsidian

edited April 2020

For the curious, Obsidian is a new app that works with plain markdown files with [[links]] and has a contextual backlinks pane. (!!!)

It's by the makers of Dynalist, so you know it's gonna be good. Request beta access and join the discord channel, there's a lot of conversation happening with the Devs on how to implement Zettelkasten features. They're looking for feedback from 'Zettlers'.

This one is right up our alley. Could be used alongside the archive on the same notes. Definitely worth a look.

https://obsidian.md

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• Thanks! looks interesting

• For the curious, it's freemium. $10/month get you encryption and support,$20/month give publishing/collaboration features. Polished website. Will be good to have competition with Roam for price and feature pressure.

• @nickmilo22 said:

Yeah! Showed up later the same day.

• edited April 2020

I'm in! As "ZettleTime" for some reason

• Using the beta now. Very polished looking app. Has basic functionality of linking with brackets. Approximates some of the features of Roam but with plain text on your computer. Overall it's a nice experience. Seems like the plan is to make it extensible with plugins so people can add on as much functionality as they want or need.

Overall it looks promising and I think the design values align well with what many of us think/believe here. I like it. Looking forward to seeing how it evolves and I especially like all the activity in the knowledge management space right now.

• Approximates some of the features of Roam but with plain text on your computer.

@achamess Considering your post about Roam, could you expand on this? I have been very curious about how to bring those features over to a plain text approach.

• edited April 2020

@grayen said:

Approximates some of the features of Roam but with plain text on your computer.

@achamess Considering your post about Roam, could you expand on this? I have been very curious about how to bring those features over to a plain text approach.

Sure. The features I'm referring to are (1) back-linking and (2) graphs. It does not have the block-level addressability that I mentioned in my other post, which still seems unique to Roam alone; although see @ctietze response in the other post regarding how one might do line/block level linking with a plain-text approach.

• They've posted on Reddit about the app here and here.

There's a screenshot attached:

• @achamess I read your comment, but had yet to respond, thank you for expanding on it! Too bad they don't include a screenshot of the graph view. Most tools I have seen have used something like Graphviz and personally I find them hard to navigate and becoming a mess after a certain size.

• edited May 2020

@grayen I've been using it for about two weeks now and really like it. The graph view is currently garbage but I’m sure they will improve it down the line. It has the hair ball problem. I suggested to them the ability to localize the graph view. So I’m hoping that’ll happen. Also a heat map of all the tag relations would be cool.

• Update, I like Obsidian so much that I'm currently writing docs for them, so if anyone has any questions I'll be happy to answer.

• @mediapathic My main questions when looking at new software is always, what makes it novel? What is special about it? What makes it interesting?

From the screenshot and what I have read it seems like most Markdown note-taking applications. So I am curious, could you tell why you like it so much over other software?

• @grayen may see this a cop out, but one common variety of novelty is just a reorganization or presentation of the features, even if none of the features are "special/new". That is why I've liked Obsidian so far, the UI just resonates really well with me and my workflow.

• @Nick said:
@grayen may see this a cop out, but one common variety of novelty is just a reorganization or presentation of the features, even if none of the features are "special/new". That is why I've liked Obsidian so far, the UI just resonates really well with me and my workflow.

Agreed. No crazy new features but the UI is very easy and aesthetically pleasing, while adhering to the principles of atomic notes, no software lock in, linkability, etc. I could see this becoming very popular.

One new feature I noticed today is that it will update links if a note changes its title.

• edited May 2020

• Markdown and self hosted (I have mine on dropbox)
• Can open up multiple notes, which supports atomic because with multiple notes you have a smaller screen space, encouraging you to be concise
• I like the file explorer, it is pretty basic and can be easily hidden
• Not a ton of icons and editor features, keeps it simple
• Has a tag pane, which allows you to make an index through the use of unique tag words
• basic wiki links [[note]] and [[note|alternative name]] with the option to enable popovers, which I like a lot

Not that special feature wise but the the organization of them makes it just really easy to work with and not distracting.

Other features that might be nice but I haven't really used yet include: graph view, back links, and unlinked mentions. They are planning on allowing plugins down the line, which might spur me to learn some programming to do some of my own data visualization ideas such as creating a tag heat map.

IMO there is one key feature that is missing and that is the note sequencer. The only app that I've seen to really do the idea justice is "zettelkasten^3". But that app has other issues that causes me to avoid it. And the Archive is Mac only or else I'd probably use it.

Oh almost forgot! It allows you to have custom CSS, which is a big deal for me because it allowed me to alter it to make it the design as least distracting as possible.

• @Nick Thanks! When you speak of self hosted, you only mean that the data is kept locally or on a cloud account, right? Not actually being able to host the software yourself, which generally self hosted means?

I really like the popup feature, I have seen it in a few other places and I think it fits well with Zettels generally being small.

What is a note sequencer? You mean that the software keeps track of the note count, for when people use sequential IDs rather than date/time IDs?

• @grayen sorry, I didn't see your question for a while. @Nick did a really good job of describing Obsidian. I'll just add that I'm using it as a generalized writing environment which integrates really well with my ZK note systems, and makes it easier (this is very subjective) to build and dismantle structures for making sense of extant notes.

And yes, it's all markdown files, just like The Archive. There's a sync option down the pipe, but there's no issue with putting things in Dropbox or whatever.

• @grayen, well self hosted as in all my data is on my computer. But I have it on dropbox, so its on my computer and the cloud. sequential IDs can be used to create a note sequence. But all I mean by that is just a easy way to create and navigate "chains of thoughts". Also the software part is hosted on my computer also, just like your standard software (at least in my 2000s non web based app mind).

I believe sfast just does this through creating structure notes. But I'd like the ability to just have a sidebar that is dedicated to it and easy to use.

It would be like having structure notes attached to each file but instead of showing up in the file it shows up in a interactive sidebar.

• edited May 2020

New feature release today that is quite appealing, especially given some of our recent discussions about achieving greater granularity.

Overall, I'm enthusiastic about this app. I think it's pushing the boundaries of the plain-text ZK and building layers of useful functionality on top of plain text. But in the end, it's just plain text.

• @trms posted a very nice overview of Obsidian here:

https://trms.me/first-look-at-obsidian-a-promising-zettelkasten-app/

Well done!

• Thank you @MikeBraddock! I enjoyed playing around with it.

The easy-to-access graph view is really neat in my opinion, and the backlinks have already saved me some headaches. As I mention in the video, the only really noteworthy problem, at least for me, is that it takes up way too many system resources for my taste, and runs poorly on low-end devices. I hope this will be fixed in future versions of the app.

That said, I feel that overall Obsidian raised the bar for Zettelkasten software. After using it for a while, going back to my old apps without backlink and multi-window support felt like 'stepping down.' I hope this is a rising tide which raises all boats.

• I've downloaded and taken a brief look and my initial thoughts are:

Pros:

It has a nice 'link to existing note' function, including the ability to link to a heading, tag completion suggestion (something I miss with TA, anyone got a workaround for this?), ability to create folders and link to notes within those folders (in my workflow, I'd prob keep literature notes (as I use them), here), very easy switching between archives if this is your thing (it is, for me: I want two separate archives and my issue with TA is how to apply scripts to more than one archive). Built in tag list, back links, and the graph view. If you move or rename a note, it updates links automatically.

Notes can be sorted alphabetically or by last modified (but not by date create and I immediately got the point of the zettel ID at that very moment 🙄🙄😂). By default there's no zettel ID, there's a setting for this but I couldn't work it out.

Active community sharing css and 'starter packs' which served to give me a clue as to how others use it which is helpful.

For someone who isn't immediately techy (me), it offers a nice way in.

Very nice split screen view which really suits the way I work.

Cons?

On the other hand, maybe I've been too influenced by what I've read on these boards, but I'm already thinking 'that's not 'pure' / scalable'. It does feel more bloated already, somehow, though I can't put my finger on why.

Backlinks aren't generated into the post as per the script we use here so not visible in 1writer etc - can't decide yet whether that's a con or not.

The additional folders creates a slight disruption for using keyboard shortcut for new note - it may not get created where you expected it to be.

Interested to read the resource issue posted on here. My macbook is pretty old now and no chance of a new one in the foreseeable due to the pandemic / job situation, so performance of everything is a consideration (I've been getting on VERY well with the linked databases of Notion - for at least my study needs they work really well, but OMG it's slow and I'm going to have to step away).

• Another pro (I think) of Obsidian - I've just modified an iOS Shortcut to clip a webpage to an inbox folder within my vault, which includes the link to the original page and the images (as far as my little bit of testing has shown). And I created another iOS shortcut to save just a bookmark to the same inbox folder. All files have the title of the timestamp. I think this will give me a workflow where I can save what I'm interested to Obsidian, rather than adding in another app (although I currently use Devonthink, and might ultimately stick with that).

• @mvock said:

Did you get an answer to this? I just d/l Discord, but have no idea how to find the Obsidian channel on Discord.

• @RussSwall said:

@mvock said:

Did you get an answer to this? I just d/l Discord, but have no idea how to find the Obsidian channel on Discord.

See here: https://obsidian.md/community

• The additional folders creates a slight disruption for using keyboard shortcut for new note - it may not get created where you expected it to be.

You can select which folder your new notes are saved in. You can select root folder, the folder you are working in, or specify a folder.

Go to Settings → File and you will find it.

• @trms said:
...As I mention in the video, the only really noteworthy problem, at least for me, is that it takes up way too many system resources for my taste, and runs poorly on low-end devices. I hope this will be fixed in future versions of the app.

@trms I agree that it was an excellent video you made on explaining Obsidian. I hope there will be more to follow.

Was the issue you mention about Obsidian taking up too many resources been fixed with one of the latest updates?

As a suggestion for the content of a another video, I would be interested to in your take on the differences been Roam Research and Obsidian.

• @Darren_McDonald said:
Was the issue you mention about Obsidian taking up too many resources been fixed with one of the latest updates?

Am not trms, obvs, but I read yesterday that they're aware of a memory leak in the graph view which needs fixing. I don't use that and I've not seen significant resource usage on my (old) Mac.