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Roam’s Biggest Threat Obsidian Shares All

Obsidian’s team explores their journey, future & more

Obsidian is the new hottest networked thought tool on the block and with Roam gaining lots of attention, Obsidian has a lot to offer…

🙌🏼 Curious what Obsidian is?

  • There’s also Justin DiRose’s channel to check out: here.

1. What made you want to build Obsidian?

We have been wanting to build Obsidian for a long time.

Managing knowledge has always been a fascinating topic to me. Over the years, I’ve experimented with apps like Notational Velocity, TiddlyWiki, TheBrain, and even hosted a personal MediaWiki (the software that powers Wikipedia) instance at one point.

However, I never found a modern solution that worked for me.

They generally provide good support for connecting ideas, but they usually use non-portable formats (except for Notational Velocity) and have a fairly rigid way of working with notes. If you like the way it works out of the box, great; if you don’t like it, there’s no way to tweak it to you needs.

Starting from these observations, we decided to make a modern knowledge base app that puts longevity of your notes and customizability above everything else. This is how Obsidian started.

Part of the inspiration also comes from using code editor as programmers every day. Each programmer has their own workflow, and we see that programs like Visual Studio Code or Sublime Text solves this problem by making the core extensible.

And unlike programming in Excel, most code is written in plain text, and they would work perfectly if you decide to switch to another code editor one day.

2. How will Obsidian affect Dynalist in the future?

Obsidian will stay independent of Dynalist and they will not be merged.

In fact, they are too different to merge together, as Obsidian is Markdown, plain-text based, whereas Dynalist is an outliner that works with bullet points and assign an ID to each bullet — an approach that’s incompatible with a plain-text approach, as each line in a file does not have an ID attached to it.

Obsidian reads your Markdown files from a local folder, whereas Dynalist is a cloud app.

They are also quite different functionally. Dynalist is best at breaking down large projects and ideas into finer granularities, and lets you quickly rearrange them. It’s frictionless and fast, ideal for a brain dump.

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Obsidian lets you take long-form notes with paragraphs, and encourages you to make connections between your notes. It’s slower and more deliberate.

We intend it to be an interlinked web of your long-term, thought-out notes, although you can also put some temporary notes in a scratchpad or in your daily notes.

Obsidian will stay independent of Dynalist and they will not be merged.

3. What key features do you want to add to Obsidian in the next 6 months?

We want to bring a much better editing experience to Obsidian, so that you don’t need to open the editor and preview side by side or toggle between them. Typora is the kind of editing experience we look up to.

  • We also want to roll out our Sync and Publish add-on services, as well as the mobile apps.
  • To all the interested developers out there, we will also start beta testing our plugin API within the next 6 months.

4. Where do you see the fight with Roam Research?

Although quite a few people seem to use Obsidian as a Roam Research alternative, we did not intend to compete with Roam Research. Apparently Roam doesn’t regard us as a competitor either: Generally I think the market has place for both Roam and Obsidian.

With a Markdown plain-text approach, without plugins Obsidian’s core features will never offer what’s possible in an outliner, and that’s a trade-off we made when envisioning Obsidian.

Although there are lots of power in a database approach, it also puts your data in proprietary formats that are hard to retrieve later on. Our take on this is to let users develop plugins that work on top of plain text files.

That way, by installing Obsidian and the plugins and having your folder of Markdown files, you’ll essentially have a “self-hosted” offline knowledge base on your computer. I would say that’s desirable for people who look for future-proof solutions or have suffered from vendor lock-in before.

Obsidian’s plugin first approach would also help people who like to tinker build their own workflows. Obsidian is un-opinionated and there are fewer assumptions we make out of the box, but by investing a little bit of time, you can selectively enable plugins and configure them to meet your needs exactly.

5. How do you see the networked thought market evolving?

It’s hard to say where it would end, but I can say the space will get very interesting as more and more products try to tackle the knowledge management problem from different angles.

We believe the market is big enough to accommodate multiple players.

6. What do you say to those Obsidian users who have jumped onboard and made some wild set-ups?

We’re really, really grateful for all the feedback you’ve given, and our special thanks to all the people who got Catalyst and business license to support us.

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We’re also pleasantly surprised by the interest in developing with our forthcoming plugin API, as well as all the quality themes the community has created so far. We look forward to the adventure with you guys!

Big shout out to Obsidian team for sharing this story and journey!

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👨🏻‍💻 Host of Keep Productive — talking about the future of productivity software here on Medium 👋🏻

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