I don’t use Obsidian (I am aware that many do; in fact we we’ll have Joel Chan talk about Obsisian on Sept. 16), but I do track Obsidian announcements and stroies about it
I recently read that Obsidian released a “Properties” feature that seems to act like TBX attributes. I can see this as a big jump for Obsidian. This will go hand in hand with its recently released Canvas (e.g., “Map View”) feature and its updated publishing capabilities.
I’m curious. Do we have any Obsidian users out there? What do you think?
I’ve been using Obsidian for several months. The syncing works very well, even with a lot of files. But, in my experience, the fact is that the YAML frontmatter is not as fonctional nor as nice and fine as Tinderbox index card even with that new feature “Properties”. For instance, when it comes to review some specific notes with a lot of attributes, the Tags search view in Obsidian is not as handy and intuitive as the Attribute Browser. And if you need to visualise your notes, Tinderbox does perfectly what it does, even if Obsidian has a kind of “map” feature too. Three pictures to illustrate that point briefly. You cannot get that — a thinking space — until you use Tinderbox.
But, as we make a comparison between two tools that have not been designed to be compared, I’d say that I’m not quite fair with Obsidian. It’s certainly the right tool to write in Markdown in so far as one can easily outline a text nearly as with Scrivener. I’ve been using it on an iPad in order to take reading notes and as its sync feature works perfectly, it’s a pleasure to use it in this way. But, if you want to feel — I barely exaggerate — the sensation of using a good old index card, old but so powerful, with so many research features, Tinderbox is the tool. Frankly, what is the tool that allows you to do this experience below?
I have Obsidian on my machine. I use it occasionally as a Markdown editor. It’s good at that. It can be customized with CSS to look however you want, and you can easily have multiple windows open.
Obsidian has always had the ability to add metadata in the YAML “front matter” at the top of a note. A gazillion different plug-ins can use that metadata to do a gazillion different things, with varying degrees of efficiency.
Not everyone is comfortable mucking around directly with YAML, though the format is generally simple. Properties provides a user interface on top with suggestion features and the like.
I’ve used Obsidian off and on for the past 2 years, and enjoyed watching its development.
I’ve liked its sync model, and its Publish feature. But because Obsidian’s development seems to be prodded by a legion of plug-in developers who come and go, the feature set of the program lacks integrity; I latch-on to a plug-in only to find that it is either dropped because the developer got busy elsewhere, or the function gets absorbed into an Obsidian release with a reduced functionality.
The Obsidian Graph and link function is quite frictionless, but in my experience it creates the need for constant “gardening” to ensure that a multiplicity of links don’t overwhelm understanding.
All of this leaves room for a number of Obsidian gurus to step in and offer workshops in the effective use of Obsidian folder and tag structures. One can find oneself tinkering with the tool and never actually building anything.
I think that Tinderbox provides a more robust data structure with attributes, and a better analytical structure with its views, queries, and action code.
Obsidian does exist on multiple platforms, which can be a deciding factor; but once one get facile with Tinderbox Notes, Prototypes, Views, and action code, programs like Obsidian recede to a point that suits entry-level markdown enthusiasts.
All told, I get more work done more quickly when I start with Tinderbox than any other PKM tool.
Obsidian is far from being an entry level markdown enthusiasts application. Properties may pretty-up the YAML headers, but the plugins unleash real power in the app.
The Dataview plug-in for example turns the YAML into properties that allow you to run Obsidian as a database.
Obsidian does not have the visual tools of TB, but these tools are increasing.
A couple of important features for me are that Obsidian allows me to run code on all my files not just a single document. Obsidian runs on iOS and very importantly has a zero encryption sync available giving my data full privacy.
Obsidian is a worthy notes app. It links extremely well even down to the paragraph level. The graph view allows you to view note connections visually. YAML plus plugins allow you to pull data from all your notes in a very dynamic way.
There are also a host of other plugins such as the Calendar plug-in which gives you daily and weekly notes. Then there are Tables, Kanban and Tasks to mention a few. It really is a very flexible and powerful app.
I’ve been using Obsidian for about a year. Its use to me is as a self-contained “limited scope” list-keeper and task ‘calendar’.
It’s also a nursery and filter app for collecting and pre-organizing information that may/will ultimately graduate to one of my Tbx projects. This practice keeps my Tbx corpus relatively free of abandoned and half-baked plans, weeds, and ephemerals. The graduation process is automated through Watched Folders, which operates smoothly for me.
Another big advantage is speedy and mostly glitch-free cross-platform sync. I use the free sync, and glitches only occur due to a specific and infrequent hiccup on my MacOS iCloud side.
I’ve never had to worry about lost data due to sync overwriting except the one time, and that was due to iCloud sync. Even so, I was able to save out a copy of the note text and suffered no losses. This is a huge plus for me.
I have stayed away from Graph view - it’s useless to me as once data gets big enough that I need to see it in graph/map/visual form, it’s usually already in Tbx!
Stayed away from YAML and even Tags thus far; I keep things flat and simple. All that structure can and will agglomerate in Tbx. Although - I might dabble in Properties and see if a one-to-one translation to Attribute values can be achieved- the concepts seem concordant enough.
Benefits- of Obsidian for Tbx staging:
I can enter and track my thoughts anywhere anytime in iOS.
I can rapidly organize thought-germs into a basic structure in MacOS - organize into folders, create back links, drop in markdown URLs, and more.
Then push when ready into Tbx. Job done.
Apple Notes can and does similar things, but I do love the multi-pane views (which can be saved and recalled like workspaces).
I have tried Obsidian for a relatively long time (an older version) and do not like the handling and the UI of the application - the interface just does not fit my personal preferences.
But what is even more important for me: Obsidian, Tinderbox & Co. are only tools for my daily work. If I spend more time really discovering the different tools and making them usable for me than I actually gain from using them, it becomes problematic in the long run.
Of course I spend a lot of time on superfluous things. I build small solutions for myself, programme small tools or try to connect different applications with each other. That costs more time than I can partly gain from these things. But it’s fun and brings satisfaction.
It reminds me of a story Douglas Adams told in Berlin many years ago. He compared programmers to a bird (I’ve unfortunately forgotten which one). The bird had the peculiarity that it spent several weeks collecting plant remains and piling them up to form a mound. Then it laid its egg in the mound and did not have to bother with hatching - although: the time until hatching is about 10 days…
If I were to compare Obsidian and Tinderbox to other Apple apps, Obsidian is Notes on steroids for me and Tinderbox is a modern version of Hypercard (and I loved Hypercard).
All great points. One perhaps additional aspect of adding tools to the essential kit is the fringe benefits of learning a new app. In the case of Obsidian for me, it was gaining familiarity and muscle memory with markdown and YAML.
I always try to bear in mind that every tool added comes with its own management and maintenance overhead, potentially noisy user groups, development curve delays, etc.
After all - it’s rare that an app comes with a fantastic and responsive forum, dedicated developer, weekly meetups, and phenomenal ever-expanding feature set like Posters and Functions and action code and so much more
Comparing Obsidian (which I use daily for specific, limited purposes) to Tinderbox is like comparing the Betty Crocker Cookbook to Larousse Gastronomique. I don’t know why that sort of compare and contrast exercise is even necessary.
I agree it is like comparing Apples and Oranges, but nonetheless, personally, I find the comparison exercise extremely helpful. For example, I love your comment you use one for daily tasks and the other for other tasks, Exploring the boundaries of the two tools, and if you, fortunately, find a collaborative interaction between the two, like @archurhh and others, that is a fabulous bonus (personally, I’m not there yet).
All Obsidian notes are markdown files (*.md), except for canvases, which are JSON files. All Obsidian notes are in plain view inside folders in the file system. For this reason, the fastest way to access Obsidian notes in Tinderbox is to use the watched folder feature. Watched notes can be duplicated, or moved elsewhere in a Tinderbox document without affecting the original file.
This is one (but not the best) way to capture info on a phone and eventually get it into Tinderbox documents.
A comparison of the two applications is certainly not necessary, but it can bring interesting individual aspects to light. For me, the two apps clearly come from the same family. To describe them as not comparable (Apple and Oranges) is quite daring. Both serve as a platform for knowledge management. Both can manage structured notes. Both can handle Markdown. The main difference: Obsidian is now hip. Tinderbox is a niche solution
It would be nice if Obsidian users would show where working with Obsidian is so much nicer, faster or better than with Drafts or TBX. I can think of many things that I can do better with TBX than in Obsidian, but not much that I could do with Obsidian, but not with TBX… and I tried…
.excalidraw files are also JSON. @eastgate might be interested. Here’s an example. (This example is from the Excalidraw plugin in Obsidian, the JSON is embedded in a .md file acts as a wrapper for the drawing.)