Turning inner space into outer space

October 17, 2020

Extensibility could push this notes app to the head of the herd

Obsidian graph view

Unbelievably, yet another notes app has surfaced. How many variations on this theme can there possibly be? The answer, apparently, is lots.

The latest to come to my attention is Obsidian, which is billed as “a powerful knowledge base that works on top of
a local folder of plain text Markdown files.”

Since any searchable collection of notes could be considered a knowledge base, this claim might be more of an emphasis than a stand-out.

The second part, though, is important for many people because they don’t like the idea of their notes in a proprietary format. If the app ever disappears, the notes may not be retrievable. This potential problem is solved by storing the notes in a folder on your computer (instead of the app’s database) in plain text, which future computers will always be capable of reading.

This is an important point if you’re thinking about entrusting your work to an unknown quantity — and at this point, still in beta, the future of Obsidian is very much unknown.

Another feature is the ability to create links between notes because “the human brain is non-linear: we jump from idea to idea, all the time.” Other apps, such as Bear do this, but what really makes Obsidian different is the ability to display all these links in a graph.

This allows you to visualize all the connections — a big plus if that’s the way your mind works.

The thing that could put Obsidian ahead of the pac is its extensibility. That means anyone can create a plug-in that makes the app do more. At this point there are already dozens of plug-ins from both the developer and the Obsidian community.

This is one of the things people love about text editors such as VS Code. It creates a community that can snowball an app’s usability. Instead of bugging the develop to create a new feature, you can create it by yourself. Or, chances are, someone else has had the same idea and done it for you.

Obsidian is worth watching. If you’re settled into a satisfactory routine with your current apps, it will be tough to switch. But if the right plug-in shows up, that could be a game changer.