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Show HN: Obsidian Canvas – An infinite space for your ideas (obsidian.md)
1380 points by ericax on Dec 20, 2022 | hide | past | favorite | 387 comments



Obsidian Canvas uses a new JSON-based file format that we have open-sourced under MIT license. You can see the spec here:

https://github.com/obsidianmd/obsidian-api/blob/master/canva...

Just like all other files in Obsidian, canvas files are your own and local to your device. You're still linking to your own Markdown files which are just as future-proof as ever.

We decided to create the .canvas format because there wasn't any pre-existing canvas-type format we could find that fit our priorities around longevity, readability, interoperability and extensibility.

The .canvas format is designed to be as easy to parse as possible. We've already seen a few plugins take advantage of it, and we hope that more tools will become available that can use the .canvas format.


Why every electron app feels the need to reinvent the window border/title?

Does this look OK? https://i.postimg.cc/4ymyHWxF/window-border.png


The local first approach is the primary reason I use Obsidian. I trust that I can _depend_ on Obsidian because of this.

On the other hand, this has also caused some headaches around using it on mobile.. but so far this has been a worthwhile tradeoff. Thanks for all the hard work!


I use iCloud Drive as a vault location. The trick is to create it first on the Mobile app and then use the desktop app later to point to that vault.

If you are transferring from desktop to mobile, make sure the .obsidian folder inside the vault is copied also


Syncthing comes to my mind for that specific need. https://syncthing.net/


Syncing bytes is easy, many solutions exist (and syncthing / syncthing-fork is good at it).

Syncing by merging changes and resolving possible conflicts is a much harder task. Theoretically git has all the right bits, including the pluggable diffing and merging. In practice, I haven't seen it seriously used in this capacity.

This is to say nothing about files you only want on one node but not on another (heavy stuff lives on server and laptop, but not mobile, etc.)

This is why special-case syncing tools that know how to sync semantically are indispensable.


> In practice, I haven't seen it seriously used in this capacity.

What do you mean? What is preventing you from using git to sync your notes?


Most apps aren't built to use it, especially on mobile. Think of the use case of your grocery list--you want one tap, open the list, type type type, and done. Anything else--having to tap save, sync, write a commit message, etc... anything, is a fail in my opinion. Git is great to use behind the scenes but I don't want to see it in the UI or slow down my workflow.


Why the need for another step? Just have it auto save/commit/merge/push in the background once you finish typing.


Indeed, this can be done, but usually isn't. And when it is done, it looks like another proprietary syncing protocol.

The thing is that you should not expect a user to explicitly host a git repo somewhere to for a grocery list app. Most apps are designed for users who are unwilling to do that, and are actually ready to pay to avoid whatever technical hurdles.

OTOH I see a niche for an app geared towards more technical users, chich would, among other things, allow you to point at a git / hg / whatever repo to use as the synchronization point.


Syncthing on mobile is a little clunky because of OS limitations on background processes. Basically the reason I pay for Obsidian's own sync addon


I've turned on the settings to keep the service on in the background and start on system startup, no sync issues for me.


You can always use Mega sync.

And it has 15 GB free forever, just like Google Drive.

Mega sync has native clients in MacOS, Linux, Windows, iOS, Android.


Does it not ultimately have the same problem? i.e. when you open obsidian, there's no guarantee the files are up to date as Android may have killed the third party sync program. And on iOS, there's no way for the sync program and obsidian to share the same filesystem short of the obsidian devs explicitly integrating


Android does have Content Providers [0], basically apps can provide a "filesystem" which isn't locally stored on your phone and act like Network Shares. Caveat is that you need an internet connection.

[0] https://developer.android.com/guide/topics/providers/content...


Good question, because it is indeed the default behavior.

But you can always tweak settings to run the 3rd party sync app always in the baclground, and override the battery optimization setting for that particular app.


I use syncthing together with wireguard to keep my vaults synced across devices.


Syncthing works well on Android for photos, music, movies, and downloads. Not so much for notes. You'll end up with conflicts, and there aren't many great ways to merge changes on mobile.


Obsidian Sync is by no means cheap, but I've never used a better syncing service. I'm on my second year and can't think of a single issue I've had across laptops, desktops, an Android phone, and a Chromebook.


I can think of a number of other notes syncing that's better -- probably even Evernote's. As a happily paying Obsidian Sync customer, I'll drop some reality, so new people aren't caught off-guard.

- Obsidian Sync is pretty slow.

- Obsidian Sync doesn't happen in the background, at present. That means, if you just made a bunch of updates in Obsidian, or you haven't opened the Obsidian mobile app in a while, you're in for a wait.

- Obsidian Sync occasionally has sync errors that involve manual interaction.

That said, it's fine and the overall Obsidian experience makes it worth it (well, if you can swing a discounted price).


What's faster than Obs sync? Genuinely curious since I thought I tried most of the options out there apart from syncthing.


I use Microsoft Word’s multi-editing feature at work. The sync is essentially real-time (setting aside other opinions in Microsoft Office). You can see every change that your co-editors make as they make it. You can work on one file on two different devices at the same time. That is the kind of sync that I’d like.

More realistically, I used to use a custom sync setup with a WebDAV server I set up and Goodsync software. You can set it to sync in file change, and it was fast, with changes replicating in a few seconds.

As it is, the Obsidian sync takes a few minutes. And if you edit the file on another device before sync goes through, you’ll lose the changes from one device or the other.


> As it is, the Obsidian sync takes a few minutes. And if you edit the file on another device before sync goes through, you’ll lose the changes from one device or the other.

Clearly we have had very different experiences. I have mainly markdown notes, PDFs, and screenshots and it syncs everything continuously as I work. As for "losing" the changes, I'll have to push back on that. You have full version history, so while you might have to look at an old version, you won't lose anything. There's certainly nothing unique to Obsidian with respect to conflict resolution. If version history isn't working, you'll have to talk to the developers because there's a serious bug.


> "As it is, the Obsidian sync takes a few minutes. And if you edit the file on another device before sync goes through, you’ll lose the changes from one device or the other."

This has been my biggest fear using sync. So far I haven't had any issues, but I just get a" feeling" (maybe it's the lag between syncs) that this could definitely happen.

Can you explain in a little more detail how it might actually occur? Maybe so I can prevent it from happening.


Usually, I've had it happen when I try writing stuff on a device that's been offline and I haven't brought it online to pull in the latest changes. We essentially have a merge conflict. Thankfully, they're not a pain to resolve.


OK, got it. Thanks. So, to prevent from happening in the first place, it'd make sense to give the recently sleeping device a moment or two to catch up.


1Password sync is definitely the fastest sync I’ve ever used.


Totally agreed. Obsidian sync is pretty disappointing, honestly. I still use it, but I would call it just barely good enough.


It significantly improved for me a few months ago. The syncing seems to start much more quickly after I open the app. Not perfect but much better than it had been when I had to keep the app open by constantly touching my screen and hoping it would even start the syncing process.


I love Obsidian Sync as well but to be devil's advocate, it doesn't "just work" as a lot of people claim. It's still a bit rough around the edges. For example, it doesn't sync settings or starred files immediately. I've also noticed it dropping some text if I edit the same file on multiple devices simultaneously (or even in quick succession before sync is able to catch up). I'm sure these issues and more would exist with a 3rd party syncing solution but Obsidian sync still needs some work before it's perfect.


> I've also noticed it dropping some text if I edit the same file on multiple devices simultaneously

I don't think that's the intended use case of Sync or anything they've ever said it could be used for.


When I say simultaneously I mean typing something on a file on my laptop and then putting that away and making more change on my phone a few seconds later (sometimes the gap is even longer than that). Sync is pretty slow especially since it doesn't sync in the background.


It depends on your workflow. I use git to sync my obsidian vault. There's plugins to automate this, but doing it manually isn't that bad either. I use mobile mostly to read notes, and occasionally I'll write down a short line or two which I can sync over and edit and organize on desktop.


Some options for syncing on mobile:

Obsidian sells a first party syncing solution, which I hear works well:

https://obsidian.md/sync

I do git syncing on Android via termux (It works most of the time, except when git decides to shit itself every now and then on my tablet):

https://forum.obsidian.md/t/guide-using-git-to-sync-your-obs...

I can't vouch for it because I don't have any iOS devices new enough to support it, but supposedly you can use Working Copy to sync via git on iOS:

https://forum.obsidian.md/t/mobile-setting-up-ios-git-based-...


I went for the paid syncing because I want it to "just work" while still having the futureproof way of storing the data locally in an accessible way.

So far it has worked absolutely flawless. If I change a file it's changing on my connected device in seconds. Not exactly like working on a shared google doc but close enough that I would even use it as a hack to quickly share links between my mobile and my desktop


I’m using Working Copy on iOS with the setup described in the post. It’s working like a charm for me


I just use DropSync and put all my Vaults in one synced Dropbox folder (to get around DropSync's folder limit). Works like a charm.


I use it with Working Copy git client, nice and properly nerdy setup. There are nice ready-made guides for this combo.


So simple, they combine the best of all eras: local first, open, published formats and pluggable/byo multi-device sync/backup – Cloud if you wish, but not required. It gives me hope for the future, I wish more software these days followed this model.

Caveat: not an obsidian user (although I am a big step closer after this)


This is great. Just testing it out with a goal to switch from OneNote to canvas.

It can borrow a few things from OneNote e.g.

- cards resize automatically with text.

- OneNote starts with a cursor, clicking anywhere on canvas and writing is a single click operation.

- There are no hard borders around cards in OneNote.

- OneNote is WYSIWYG which this canvas isn't currently.

This is not a definitive list and I know its too early to ask for new features and stuff. Good things to consider IMO.


Just as a data point. This feature of one-note (text boxes where you click) is the single reason I’m looking for something else. I absolutely hate any interface that has me fiddle with layout when I’m trying to focus on semantics.

Not that this should impact Obsidian much, since I assume the canvas thing is optional there, just a data point.

Related to infinite canvas _do_ checkout “The Humane Environment” [1] it has a few interesting takes

As for a more semantic approach to layouting, I think Flying Logic[2] makes a decent job of it

[1] https://www.goodreads.com/en/book/show/344726.The_Humane_Int...

[2] https://flyinglogic.com/


I use OneNote extensively and as I understand each page is like a white board where you can write anything anywhere. If I wanted a linear interface I would be using Word instead.


I like the hard borders.


Markdown was never intended for data with a graph structure, so I think it's the right decision to use a different simple format instead of creating yet another bloated non-standard Markdown variant.


Yes! Compliment the standard, don't obfuscate it even more. As someone who mostly write org rather than md, but sometime have to write md in various places, it's confusing that they're not all the same.


Agreed here too. This was a poor choice IMO. They call it canvas but it looks like a poor hybrid between mind mapping and UML. Markdown already supports hierarchy. I am guessing this let's you set coordinates for how to lay the canvas out but this is exactly why I'd never use it.


You say you agree but then state the opposite opinion?

> I am guessing this let's you set coordinates for how to lay the canvas out but this is exactly why I'd never use it.

You wouldn't like a text editor that automatically rearranges source code or sections of a document without you having a say in it, and for the same reason I find manual layout for this graph feature absolutely necessary. And beside that it's very likely you'd want some other metadata that just have no place in standard Markdown. Maybe a viable alternative would have been generating graphviz dot code and embedding it in Markdown code blocks, which would make it compatible with other tools as well - that could still be added via plugins.


What does it mean to open-source or MIT-license a "file format"?

The MIT license is a license about copyrighted software, allowing people to use/modify/publish that software. But a file format isn't a piece of software.

Are you open-sourcing the specification document for the file format? (people are still free to write software that reads+writes the file format even if the specification document isn't open-sourced).

Are you open-sourcing your particular library for reading the file format? (I'm confused here, because you stressed that the file format was so simple, so I'd have expected it easy and maybe even desirable for many people to come up with libraries for reading+writing the file foramt?)


It's just a marketing gimmick.

Anyone is free to write software that modifies a file - there is no copyright law protecting that. This is one of the reasons why many large corporations are pushing hard towards cloud - they can protect the format AND the platform then monetize it at will. End users lose control.

I will give them points for putting it in a readable file format. But placing it under an MIT license and "open sourcing" it, doesn't do anything - and they know that. It's just fluff to market their new features.

Edit: Re-reading what I posted, In case it's taken the wrong way, I am not disparaging the team at Obsidian in any way:

I think they do good work and make great software.

IANAL

> The file itself is considered instead to be an idea or a system and is therefore not protected by the laws of copyright. So the description of a file format is copyrightable, but the format as it exists in its medium is not.

https://www.fileformat.info/mirror/egff/ch08_09.htm


I wish I could edit my post to simply say open format for now. The MIT license currently refers to the spec and the documentation. Over time it will also include any tooling we open source (e.g. validator, linter, migration tools). The intention here is to work towards a shared format for this type of relational+spatial data, and we're hoping to collaborate with other members of the ecosystem to make something that can have interoperability and longevity.


Great! I love the philosophy around open and clear formats. Like I have said before, a second brain should be as open and reliable as possible.


Trello boards export to JSON, would you consider it open? OneNote notebooks are also an open and well-documented specification, as well as local first and backed by a very reliable company, which makes them just as open as Obsidian by those standards.

https://learn.microsoft.com/en-us/openspecs/office_file_form...


The Canvas JSON is not an export format, it is the file that the app actually reads and edits. Being explicitly MIT licensed also gives permission to other people/companies to build their own tools using that format.


Exporting is different than "being stored in". Since it does not represent the full state of the data, no.


OneNote and this canvas format might be equally open and interoperable, but it's a hard claim to justify that onenote notebooks are as open as a folder of mostly standard markdown (the two exceptions being wikilinks and embeds)


I peeked at the onenote format standard [1] and the obsidian canvas standard. The difference is hilarious. The onenote standard is painfully complex, provided as a .pdf, and binary to boot. Compare to an example obsidian canvas - this is obvious, text-based (I could read it with notepad++) and easy to understand just by reading it:

  {
   "nodes":[
    {"id":"6c711bf8c24c4f5b","x":-226,"y":-62,"width":400,"height":400,"type":"file","file":"testin/2022-10-14.md"},
    {"id":"4dd7d04cdd0b379c","x":-530,"y":-209,"width":250,"height":60,"type":"text","text":"this is a note"}
   ],
   "edges":[
    {"id":"0c589a4d6bbb06aa","fromNode":"4dd7d04cdd0b379c","fromSide":"bottom","toNode":"6c711bf8c24c4f5b","toSide":"left"},
    {"id":"eda9f3edb3ec232a","fromNode":"6c711bf8c24c4f5b","fromSide":"top","toNode":"4dd7d04cdd0b379c","toSide":"right"},
    {"id":"abf404722ba48c3b","fromNode":"4dd7d04cdd0b379c","fromSide":"top","toNode":"6c711bf8c24c4f5b","toSide":"right"}
   ]
  }

[1] https://interoperability.blob.core.windows.net/files/MS-ONE/...


Long time user. It’s so fast and fantastic to have full control.


We're using whatboard.app for this at present. A bit different in approach, but a more more manageable and less infinite canvas. That said, this looks really cool and may be worth the desktop-app install.


I can't use this for work unless I pay $50 per year, is that right?

If I sign up for the Sync or Publish plans, do I still need to pay $50 per year to use it at work? Or is that included?


I don't think you would need either sync or publish at work. I haven't used canvas yet, as it's a new feature, but obsidian is a key app at work for me. Up to this point at least, it's been free :)

Make a private repo, and git commit / push / pull your obsidian notes and canvases just like you would any other shared repo


> but obsidian is a key app at work for me. Up to this point at least, it's been free

That's against their license. You're essentially pirating it.

https://obsidian.md/eula


I didn't know that actually, I will re-evaluate my usage


A few days ago I wrote a small utility to setup cron-like timers to pull/push my Obsidian notes :-)

https://pypi.org/project/grony/


Love when someone find a solution for his issue. For your convenience try the Git Plugin in Obsidian. Probably it will help you.


Thank you!

I know the plugin, but it seems to work only for Github hosted repos. I want my notes to be elsewhere.


If you want to use it for work, you need a commercial license. That's $50/month, yes.

https://obsidian.md/eula



It's $50/year.


Of course, my bad, I went too fast.


I was just researching graph representations. I would have used dictionaries for edges and nodes indexed by their IDs.. because that representation is json-merge patchable, which is useful for specifying atomic bulk graph operations.


Yes, I much prefer local and do my own backups (rclone to backblaze) on just about everything. I only drop stuff on iCloud when I need to share it and a couple of ongoing spreadsheets I use to track stuff.


small thing but downloading and installing the obsidian snap package requires the `--dangerous --classic` arguments with snap (since it's not coming from a repository); may want to add that to the instructions


~Can't wait to try this out~ just installed, thank you!


Thank you.


This isn't what "open sourced" means.

Photoshop is proprietary software with a well documented file format anyone can read and write.

So is this software. "Open source" is not branding, it means something.

It's okay to make and promote and sell proprietary commercial software. That's what you are doing, be proud and clear about it. Pretending your efforts have anything to do with free software is deceptive.


You are confusing two different ideas here. The Canvas format is MIT licensed in the same way that Markdown uses a BSD-type license. That means we are giving explicit permission for anyone to use the format and build apps, scripts, plugins on top of it.

Photoshop/PSD on the other hand is a closed proprietary format: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proprietary_file_format


Nobody needs your permission, explicit or otherwise, to read or write files in this format. This is a nonsensical statement.


correct, see my reply in the sibling comment


This is a pretty grating response, given how pointed it is. It's not made any better by the first sentence; it seems that you are the one confusing two different (types of) things:

> The Canvas format is MIT licensed in the same way that Markdown uses a BSD-type license.

In no sense are these two things comparable. "Markdown uses a BSD-type license" is a true statement because "Markdown", in the context where it makes sense to say this, is a Perl script—a program, licensed in a way that is not uncommon for open source programs to be licensed. Your canvas format is not a program. It's a 70-line TypeScript interface definition, going by your own link:

<https://github.com/obsidianmd/obsidian-api/blob/master/canva...>

To call this "open source" (let alone open source "in the same way that Markdown" is) is a very odd choice. It's less odd for anyone who recognizes that it follows a common pattern, where folks with something to sell often openwash what it is that they're selling based on the (not unfounded) perception that having it be thought of as more open than it really is tends to confer certain positive benefits. It's why Steve Jobs lied about FaceTime being an open standard, for example.

Whether or not you're giving any explicit permission to build apps, scripts, plugins, etc. is largely moot—to be frank, you don't have the power to dictate otherwise. On the other hand, if you're saying that you're aiming to steward and participate in what (you hope) turns out to be a vibrant ecosystem built on a common format, then that's cool. But say what you mean, though. Calling it an open format or an open standard would be fine; "open source", however, this is not.


I appreciate the distinction you're making. I could have been more accurate in my description. Markdown states in its own documentation that the name refers to two things, and "Canvas" to date fits mostly in (1)

> Thus, “Markdown” is two things: (1) a plain text formatting syntax; and (2) a software tool, written in Perl, that converts the plain text formatting to HTML.

What we have done so far is shared an open spec for the .canvas file format, with a type definition that helps developers understand how to create properly formed Canvas files. We also are giving permission to people/companies to use this format with the freedoms that come with the MIT license. In addition we're also putting forward the intention that there should be a free and open format for this type of canvas data, with some similar properties to Markdown. Perhaps in the future there will be more open source tooling fitting into definition (2).

The goal here is simply to help people feel more comfortable that the canvas files they create are their own, and can eventually accrue longevity as more tools get built around the format. I hope this will lead to a rich ecosystem outside of Obsidian. We're committing to keeping it an open format, and hope to collaborate with other people who might want to adopt it.

The same can't be said about the PSD format, so I do think there is a difference in the level of openness that we're aiming for.


You’re focusing on a single word in a sentence which was just about the format.


Yeah and its developed by Adobe which creates a walled garden around there products making file format interoperability very difficult.

Obsidian on the other hand uses open formats with open standards. The difference is NIGHT and DAY.

And if the goal is taking freedom away from the people who are using your product, or to artificially keep people using your product because you know you are making the world a worst place to live in, making that type of propriety software is not OK, even though there are plenty of misguided organizations and people who do it.


As evidenced by a link to AlternativeTo on their own site, this space has a lot (145+) of competition [0]. At some level, I worry about using things much more complex than a text file, because of portability and longevity. It's enough of a pain transitioning between Google and Microsoft (and back) every few years based on various jobs.

I have files from the late 1980's that I can still read, but only with Libre Office because Apple's supplied apps can't read old MacWrite files.

Some people swear by OneNote or Notion or Keep or various mind mapping software, but keeping things cross platform and simple is a challenge. I was never an Evernote person, but it sounds like that turned into a bit of a debacle. These tools work for now, but will they work 5 or 10 years from now?

[0] https://alternativeto.net/software/obsidian/


That's kinda the biggest selling point of Obsidian...? It's all just markdown files. Markdown is a standard format, so you can open it in many other apps as well.


Markdown is fine for formatting text, not convinced it's great for knowledge management.


I disagree; I think a system like Wikipedia shows that a textual and visual format like markdown provides the flexibility to convey pretty much any information. For any formal and semantic storage system, you will probably spend more time adapting it to each specific use case than to actually fill it with content.


yet has no metadata or any semantics, its basically just how you layout text ...


it can, using plugins. i.e. i use schema.org's things as fileClasses, which are enforced using a metadata schema for attributes which are extensible and excludable. My ontology is based on FRBRoo and I have link visualization for ease of reading.


Formatting and knowledge management are somewhat orthogonal concepts, aren't they? You store information in a textfile, have rendering thereof based on Markdown, and another layer to reference and index files.


Which is basically my point!


The thing is that if you want something portable where if the app goes down you can still use it, you don't have many options. There aren't really any formats that support the kind of note linking used in PKM by default, besides maybe HTML but if you think that's a better solution than markdown I think we have a difference in values that can't really be remedied here. So assuming you're not using HTML, now you're looking for a common format that is easily parsed so that you can have links, and also simple enough that you can look at it on pretty much any PC. That really only leaves markdown and plaintext (and maybe JSON? But again, same as HTML, that technically works but it doesn't really fit the bill here), and markdown is just better for notetaking


I agree. Markdown is way too much overrated as a multi purpose document format. I find it very limiting even w/ Obsidian. It would probably work well for some text-people, but anything more complicated than 1D character stream won't fit well into Markdown.


So what would you prefer?


Org-mode works well. It is essentially just a markup like Markdown.


it works well for laying out information for reading, and has some additional markup beyond just layout (unlike markdown), I'd argue it is fairly rudimentary and not extensible.


It's extensible in other ways.. but either way i'm moving back to Obsidian due to constantly tinkering and trying to improve my "experience" on Emacs. Obsidian gets me 90% of the way there without much fuss. It has far better image handling, and with Canvas - the possibility to lay out my own notes in various configurations is nigh endless.


On the other hand, the fact that there are so many Markdown-based editors that can read the files you create in Obsidian gives plain text format more resilience over time. Even if Obsidian were to disappear, your writing and ideas will still be accessible in the future.


Also I would argue that you can rather simply write a parser for the basic markdown syntax and convert it to e.g. HTML or plain text if necessary by getting rid of markdown specific syntax.


Or use pandoc[0] to convert a markdown file to an HTML file (and many other file types)

[0]: https://pandoc.org/


Markdown is plain text, with conventions. To lose the ability ti see your data would requiring us to lose utf8 encoding which is unlikely as it is self perpetuating.


Maybe many people on HN can do this. A lot fewer people than that on HN want to do it. And many people who use Markdown outside of HN can't do it.


Realistically, only a few people have to do it and open source a toolkit. Also I don’t really think that we’ll have that issue with markdown because it’s widespread and rather well established. This doesn’t invalidate your point, which I absolutely agree with.


Also it’s not true for the file format for canvas which is probably way harder to parse correctly.


Way harder means what? An extra 3 days of effort to the future open source Obsidian clone?


If I may interject, AlternativeTo is a pretty shallow platform for finding alternatives (I do wonder if you even checked their listings), and it's also biased - run by a moderator team that can deny/approve listings as they please.


> AlternativeTo is a pretty shallow platform

I've found AlternativeTo to be the complete opposite of shallow. In most cases its pretty precise in exhaustively listing every viable software alternative, which abundant filter options. Even if the ordering is "biased" (which I haven't really encountered), the site is quite useful without having many alternatives itself.


Well, what's the alternative to AlternativeTo then?



Wonder if AlternativeTo is listed as an alternative to AlternativeTo?


This made me laugh.


I'm also worried by this, which is precisely why I'm considering a move to Obsidian from Notion. I'm pretty much writing everything in Markdown by now, including my personal blog.


How is moving from Obsidian to Notion relevant? They're basically the same thing?


I keep losing my files with cloud-first systems. I had a trove of notes in Evernote and I don't even remember which email I used to open it, nor if they are there anymore. I'm pretty sure I wouldn't lose local-first markdown files, as I could do the same thing I do with code: keep them in git, and then have a cloud backup for good measure.


Ah, i didn't realize you said TO obsidian. For some reason I read it as the other way around, which is why it really confused me.


The difference is with a local-first editor (like Obsidian) you hopefully get to keep your files if the company stops being nice


From FOSS alternatives listed there, LogSeq [1] looks quite promissing! It also mentiones canvas feature in their docs [2] (which are written as LogSeq graph, too). I am still evaluating it but so far so good, it even has an Android app (as a pre-release on GitHub).

[1] https://logseq.com [2] https://docs.logseq.com/#/page/whiteboard


Not everything needs to live for decades. Sometimes the ephemeral capture is just as important in sorting out your ideas.

What doesn't work for me with these tools is that once I've gone deep I still need a tool that offers the absolute MINIMUM friction in its interface and for me nothing has conquered an A3 sheet and a box of coloured pencils.

Perhaps I should invest my time in really learning one of these tools but they never seem to be seamless enough to pose a real challenge to a pen and paper. Maybe if I had a Wacom tablet...?


A drawing tablet helped me some, when I paired it with Xournal++. I think there are apps for iOS and Android tablets with nicer and faster interfaces, but I don't use tablets, so they didn't help. But the ability to quickly select a group of pen strokes and just move them around to make new room, as well as the ability to quickly paste screenshots of anything I was doing anywhere else on my computer made a big difference.


i bought a remarkable tablet for that purpose but still failed to adopt it.


Yeah, the Remarkable looks like the most likely candidate to be able to displace a sheet of paper but my hangup is that the lack of colour will hinder its usability too much for me. I always use a few coloured pens when I scribble my notes.


I went paperless this year as an engi student with dendron, xournal++, a (used) wacom tablet, and some pdf editors. The main benefits were avoiding scanning, instantly being able to reorganize or copy/paste diagrams, and not having to carry notebooks. Pencil or pen and paper still feels the best but in order to keep everything digital, this was reliable and cheaper than an ipad or tablet. https://alternativeto.net/list/34598/paperless-student/


One thing that's really missing for me from Obsidian is a view similar to that of Google Keep. Like sometimes I want to drop a small note "my stuff is in locker 2130" or "Look into Open Library <> WikiData linking percentage" and then easily be able to see it again in a few of all notes most recent.

A thread on Reddit give me a small hope this update may do that but I don't think so.

PS: I'm aware of the daily notes viewer, and that's what I currently use for most of these situations. But it doesn't help with having a simple way to see contents of all recently created notes.

Edit: this is something I mostly want for mobile


I'm using both Obsidian and Apple Notes, both on my iPhone and MacBook, and that's also the main thing I'm missing in Obsidian and keeps me partly on Apple Notes: it's faster and easier to create a note in Apple Notes, retrieve it (as they as are sorted from most recent by default, and also I can pin some notes), search, and navigate in folders (especially on mobile, navigating across folders is so much better with Apple Notes than Obsidian). I'd really like to see Obsidian takes some inspiration from Apple Notes there and improve his. Otherwise, it is fantastic tool and it's really good to know that everything is stored locally in plain text.


Preface: I am a massive Obsidian fan and use it everyday.

The problem is they wanted it multi platform on iOS, Android, Mac, Windows and Linux so they made it using electron. Unless they either do native versions for each platform (5 apps!) or rewrite the entire application in something quicker like Tauri it’s never going to be as fast as apple notes, and will only get worse every time you add a new plugin.


My interpretation of their word “faster” was in terms of UI design, not physical app speed.

Please, we don’t need to have the electron rant every single time an app that uses it is discussed.


You can't just declare your interpretation of faster to be correct and then denigrate someone else's interpretation by classifying it as a rant. The comment:

> it's faster and easier to create a note in Apple Notes, retrieve it (as they as are sorted from most recent by default, and also I can pin some notes), search, and navigate in folders (especially on mobile, navigating across folders is so much better with Apple Notes than Obsidian).

Yes there are UI elements at play here. But even UI elements are dependent on the language and framework you have decided to use. For example, it is common on Android to use an expanding sidebar whereas on iOS it is more common to use a dropdown menu. If you are developing a one size fits all app then design choices that feel native on one platform are going to feel non-native on another.

And in addition, physical app speed matters. If you want to create a brand new note and you're not already in the app it takes significantly more time until you can start typing with Obsidian than if you use Apple Notes, 1Writer etc. If you're doing it multiple times a day this time adds up.

If you don't think physical app speed matters then why do you think big companies spend thousands optimising webpages to reduce latency? It is because the consumer gets bored of waiting and goes elsewhere. If another app comes along that offers the same functionality of Obsidian but is noticeably faster, people will migrate to it. Everything is a tradeoff, but pretending framework performance isn't a relevant factor does not help anybody.


Part of the reason on iOS it takes longer, at least in my vault set-up, to begin throwing in a new note is that Obsidian has to finish syncing and show me notifications (that I wish I could turn off) from a plug-in I value before I can begin navigating to a "new note" screen.

Not just for the speed, but also for (personal) mental simplicity, this is one of many reasons I use [Drafts](https://getdrafts.com) for so much writing. I also use a few other notes apps in concert with Obsidian, and if I just hit Drafts on my iPhone or Apple Watch I can start getting the idea down. If it's going to Obsidian, it's an action from Drafts to just dump it in there without using Obsidian's interface at all. If it's not going to Obsidian (and instead going to Bear or OmniFocus or into an email or a text message or appending to an existing note or a million other things) then it's just a different action.


> You can't just declare your interpretation of faster to be correct and then denigrate someone else's interpretation by classifying it as a rant.

I'm not declaring anything. I gave my interpretation of the intended meaning, which didn't mention speed or electron at all. Thus, there were two options:

- My interpretation was correct, and it was _the exact same rant every electron app thread ever has_

- Your interpretation was correct, and it was _the exact same rant every electron app thread ever has_

As it happens - it was the first.

The electron rant is about as useful an opinion as the "Python 2 to python 3 migration was botched" that is brought up in every single thread about python.


> The electron rant is about as useful an opinion as the "Python 2 to python 3 migration was botched" that is brought up in every single thread about python.

Just because you know about electron and its performance issues doesn’t mean everyone who is reading this thread does. There may be many people using who don’t even know what electron is or that Obsidian is an electron app and may find the information informative. Last time I checked, this site was for everybody. Or is it only for you and your superior knowledge, oh mighty one?


Your interpretation is correct: I meant "faster" (and easier) in terms of UI/UX, not app speed. I'm confident the problem I'm experiencing can be fixed only by improving the UI/UX within the current technical stack. No need for a rewrite or a port to native apps, Tauri or Flutter.


Huh. It's almost like writing native guis with cross-platform bindings was a thing for a reason.


They could consider rewriting it in Flutter/Dart. My understanding is that Flutter is faster than Electron.


Dart/flutter sound good and I have heard good things. The downside is you’re rolling the dice on whether it will still exist in five years because it’s a Google project.


A lot of companies would be really upset at Google if this happened.

Besides Google, who re-wrote several of their own apps with Flutter, like Pay and their Home devices (which some are apparently running fuchsia now?), there's BMW, eBay, STAIR (US Department of Veteran Affairs), Nubank, and plenty more.


> A lot of companies would be really upset at Google if this happened

There's lot of projects that Google has killed for which this is the case, though. Stadia had people building for it, and Reader had people building atop it to name maybe the two highest profile ones. Of course, the cost vs value of maintaining those for Google was a very different question, but on its own, other companies' interests don't seem to move the needle much for Google when it comes time to kill a project.


It’s open source, so it will likely exist in some form.

GWT still exists and had a release last year. It’s been 9 years since it fully transitioned to an open source project. I’m not sure at what point Google stopped contributing since I see old team members in the commit history.


There are community-extensions for this. "Vault Changelog"recently edited files, and "Recent Files" recently opened files. Not sure how well they work on mobile.

But true, a google keep like tile-view with auto-layout and filters would be a useful enhancement for obsidian.


Could probably do it with obsidian dataview + embeds which would work on android at least. Not sure how they deal with community plugins + app store policy though on iOS.


If you look at the Quick Switch view on desktop or mobile it will show you most recent.

Also, if you use a 3rd party storage solution instead of Obsidian Sync, you can view recently modified/created notes in the Recents on there.

If you wanted to see the content of all recent notes, you can write a custom query for the dataview extension that attempts it.


I had the exact same problem. I ended up writing a small ios app. It only contains one textarea and sync text between devices.

It was rejected by appstore for simplicity. But works well for me.


Seems interesting ! What did you use to sync the text between devices please ?


Would adding a setting for the backend server sufficiently increase the complexity to get it published?


Agreed - I have the very same issue as well. Google Keep is my goto mobile app for most of my note capture just due to its speed and ease of use. Now I have a few github utilities to download my Keep notes to markdown for Obsidian use later - but that isn't really ideal yet.

PS - all I can say about Canvas is 'wow'!!! Awesome feature!


Drop these quick notes into a folder (can be automated with Templater). Create another note that uses the DataView plugin to show you a table of all the files in this folder sorted by the creation date.


I use Nextcloud Notes for that. It has decent mobile app and works great with few notes (Nextcloud Notes doesn't work as second brain very much).

I have two notes in there - Buffer and Shopping list. Buffer is one note for all the small stuff you mentioned. I also have widget on phone homescreen for that note so I can access it pretty seamlessly. Of course, it also means, you need to access some Nextcloud instance (I run my own).

Edit: I use Obsidian synced with Nextcloud for all the "second brain" things.


I use Craft for this. Short term notes or stuff like receipt scans. Then (where relevant) I copy paste into Obsidian for longer term linking or whatever


I search for 'path:/' and sort by 'Modified time (new to old)' which isn't quite what you want, but improved things for me.


I just shifted from Logseq to Obsidian over the last couple of weeks. One of my reasons for doing so is that while Logseq does technically store your notes as local markdown files, there's so much added on top of that, that I can't really open my notes folder in Typora/[markdown editor of choice] and have a smooth experience reading my notes. The underlying format might be open, but there was still lock-in. Obsidian seems much better for that - there'll always be a tradeoff between features and portability, but I do prefer Obsidian's balance.

I wrote a very rough Python script to help me move my graph over to Obsidian - if anyone else is in the same boat, feel free to try it out https://github.com/NishantTharani/LogSeqToObsidian


I feel like common markdown notes is a myth.

Once you start getting into your notes you quickly run into common markdowns limitations and it's super simple stuff like centering images or adding captions. Then you choose to either flavor your markdown or use HTML and it's no longer common markdown.


Thanks a lot for sharing the script!

I too am considering switching to Obsidian at least to see the difference wrt LogSeq as per my current note-taking approach.

I like Obsidian's community and development better but used LogSeq because of the outliner experience.


I've been concerned about Obsidian sync. IIRC, data goes to AWS servers but where does it go from there?

From reading the Obsidian website, they seem a tiny company. However, it is unclear where they are based and, therefore, what legal obligations they are operating under. What more, Obsidian has so far avoided the levels of compliance that allows for adoption by big businesses.

I love me some Obsidian but I'm mindful that, using their services, I just don't know how my data is being treated.

I realize vaults are encrypted locally. However, do we know that our vault secret isn't shared with Obsidian? Sure, it's (mostly?) an Electron app. But just how transparent and accountable is Obsidian about their operations?


No, we do not use AWS. The Sync and Publish servers are running in Digital Ocean datacenters in the US. How sync encrypts the data is documented here: https://help.obsidian.md/Obsidian+Sync/Security+and+privacy

As others have already pointed out, Sync is not the only option to synchronize notes, Obsidian sync is just a convenience option.

For compliance, I am guessing you mean certs like SOC 2 / ISO 27001?, or what are you referencing? As we are a tiny company (6 people, not all full time) we just can't expense the time needed to get such a certificate.


From the link:

> AES-256 is a military-grade encryption specification that's widely used in for example online banking.

The term “military grade” is meaningless and if anything raises a red flag (at least to me). What would be more useful is a detailed spec on the implementation.

Are the crypto routines implemented in house or has a well tested library been used? If in house, had there been an external code audit done? What were the results ?


The data is successfully encrypted before it's sent (which you can verify with wireshark). What exactly are your concerns, given that the data isn't encrypted locally in the first place? And seriously with the question...what do you think is more likely, that the tiny team of 6 invested a ton of time reinventing the wheel with a custom in-house AES implementation, OR that they used any of the readily available and extremely well tested libraries? SMH


Your response indicates you may have limited knowledge on the topic.

> what do you think is more likely, that the tiny team of 6 invested a ton of time reinventing the wheel with a custom in-house AES implementation

AES is a cryptographic primitive. No one ever implements their own. What developers implement is the cryptographic system - the block cipher mode, initialisation vectors, rounds, salting etc. It all very easy to get this wrong. Their site does state they use GCM cipher mode which is the right choice (say over ECB, CBC…)

> which you can verify with wireshark

Viewing encrypted material in a packet capture is meaningless and provides zero assurances

> What exactly are your concerns, given that the data isn't encrypted locally in the first place?

The encrypted data in their cloud solution is adequately protected.

Companies that take end to end encryption seriously will generally provide details on how they went about their cryptographic system.

For example, is the encryption key derived from the password? If so what is the key derivation function? How many rounds didn’t get select? These are generally the responsibility of the developer to responsibly choose.


Small nit: I'd guess it is not that easy to verify this in wireshark.

I'm not an obsidian user or familiar with the code base, so could be wrong here.

The data is probably encrypted with AES before being sent (the E2E bit), though probably there is some metadata unencrypted.

When the data is actually sent, the entire thing would likely be encrypted again with TLS while it is in transit. This means, for example, your ISP cannot see the unencrypted metadata or the encrypted data.

So if you open a capture in wireshark then you would likely see this. Of course it is possible to decrypt the TLS to check the underlying data is encrypted, but it is not trivial for most people.

An easier way to see what it is doing may be to run ltrace on it and check what it is writing to the sockets. Or gdb, break on the SSL write function and inspect the registers to see what is being written.

e.g. gdb --args wget "https://www.google.com"

    b SSL_write
    r
    x/s $rsi

    > "GET / HTTP/1.1\r\nHost: www.google.com\r\nUser-Agent: Wget/1.21.3\r\nAccept: */*\r\nAccept-Encoding: identity\r\nConnection: Keep-Alive\r\n\r\n"
Though it would just tell you if the data looks encrypted, not much else.

For example they could use a super secure key, or the "1234" for everyone, just looking at the data probably wouldn't tell you this.


Sorry that's my bad, I meant *Fiddler not wireshark. Fiddler makes it a piece of cake to decrypt the extra tls, leaving you with just the encrypted data you were sending.


We did not implement the crypto part ourselves. We use the SuptleCrypto Web API implementation and a library called scrypt (this one: https://github.com/ricmoo/scrypt-js).

We also had someone from the EteSync/EteBase project take a look at the code before Obsidian Sync was released.


Thanks for taking the time to respond. As SuptleCrypto's states themselves:

> Warning: This API provides a number of low-level cryptographic primitives. It's very easy to misuse them, and the pitfalls involved can be very subtle. Even assuming you use the basic cryptographic functions correctly, secure key management and overall security system design are extremely hard to get right, and are generally the domain of specialist security experts.

Errors in security system design and implementation can make the security of the system completely ineffective.

Given the potential volume of people's personal data that might be stored, this is certainly an area you would want to get right.


SOC2, yes.



Obsidian is based in Canada. Obsidian Sync is E2E encrypted so the company has no way of accessing your files. The privacy policy is here https://obsidian.md/privacy

You also do not need to trust Obsidian with any of your data. The files are local to your device so you can sync them however you want. If you don't want to use Obsidian Sync you can use Git, Dropbox, Syncthing, etc.


I can't answer any of your other questions but Obsidian is owned by Dynalist, which is based in Oakville, Ontario, Canada. Their OCN number is 2538019 if you want to search them up, they're also on CrunchBase https://www.crunchbase.com/organization/dynalist


You don't have to use obsidian sync. Workspaces are just markdown files in your prefered folder structure, with some obsidian metadata (plugins, recently opened, etc). You can back them up in the same way as any files/folders.


https://syncthing.net/ is your friend, too.


I just have Obsidian save locally, and I use Sync to sync those files between machines.


Coupled with a dynamic plugins ecosystem, this is going to be a game changer (even in an already somewhat crowded market [1])

For example, (future) plugins for advanced filtering and automatic layouts [2] will certainly help manipulate very large canvases.

[1] Most of it is online/collaborative (https://infinitecanvas.tools/gallery/) though so it is not exactly the same.

[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yrbLZvHDPqI


This looks like Obsidian's first move away from using some dialect of markdown? The .canvas files appear to be human readable json, but certainly not as readable as markdown. I'm excited to try this out, but I hope this isn't a trend towards using proprietary formats.


We considered many options to use Markdown but came to the conclusion that Canvas is not something that can fit into a readable Markdown file. Either the Markdown file would so messy that it becomes pointless (i.e. you would never open it in Typora to edit), or it would severely limit the power of Canvas.

After much internal debate we chose the JSON format. We stay committed to keep it as open and easy to work with as possible. Plugin developers are already parsing and modifying the JSON file to programmatically change a Canvas view, and I think that's a fantastic start!


IMO it is the best compromise.

Now that you crossed that line, I hope the next "custom format" will be a "real" outliner. You are surely familiar with outliners ;-) It is about full block-level support really, and all what that allows (API, backlinks, query, aliases...)

Anyway, Canvas Rocks! Thanks!


Opportunity cost. I wrote on your forums about the decioson of using plain markdown. Consider other formats to stop bloating(yaml and dataview variables) markdown files. Now you have bloated md files and another format. Now i am saying you will add sqlite after one or two years. Waiting for extra file formats making existing files ugly. Also obsidian needs multi user vaults. Start to think what extra file format needed for this.


The .canvas files are a JSON-based file format that we open-sourced under MIT license. Just like everything else in Obsidian, it's still all local files on your device.

You can see the spec for .canvas here: https://github.com/obsidianmd/obsidian-api/blob/master/canva...


The linked documents are still Markdown.

If I understand it correctly, the use case is to link existing MD notes visually. That's a different way of looking at the data than the two-way backlink approach that was the foundation of Obsidian (and other personal wiki tools).

I'm interested in this, as I currently use a combination of Obsidian + SimpleMind, but currently SimpleMind has more features (full fledged mindmapping app), and I like having two separate spaces to sketch out ideas.


I also use both, Simplemind is a fantastic mind mapping app.

For smaller scale mindmapping though, I am finding Canvas very usable already for such an early release. The ability to easily link or embed to markdown files (or create new ones) is really nice, and I like having all my work in a common area. Community created plugins will also dramatically expand the app.

There will always be advantages for the dedicated apps as well, but this is going to be a great option for many.


And there's nothing saying you have to use it, this doesn't remove the regular notes.


Or even harder-to-parse open formats. Doesn't have to be proprietary to be a pain.


I am amazed how Obsidian adds new features that are exactly what I was looking for. I already liked using it with the Kanban plugin, and I think adding such support for graph/diagram-like notes is the last piece of the puzzle for many users.


While the feature itself was interesting, adding such a feature made alarm in my head. I don't think this is necessarily a good trend. Please Obsidian needs to be very, very cautious about adding such large features.

I won't forget why I, and many others, gave up Evernote. It did too much, not too little.


Obsidian is built on a modular architecture. Canvas view is a plugin so you can turn it off if you don't want to use it. Not much is changing with the core. You can still run Obsidian as a very lightweight app with most plugins disabled.


I've taken to calling Obsidian "The VS Code of Text" for this very reason. Thanks for all you do for building a fantastic tool that I use every day!


It’s in that direction, but I also think VS Code offers more and more flexible extension points.

I was reading the plug-in development documentation [0] this morning and the ways in which you can extend Obsidian feels relatively limited. I hope they’ll add more things to hook into.

0: https://marcus.se.net/obsidian-plugin-docs/user-interface



Thanks. That's what I like about Obsidian, a flexible tool kit, instead of KFC party bucket. I just wanted to (self-servingly) remind Obsidian to keep in mind not to go down that road.


Hmm, not sure what you talking about (and I also never use Evernote), because I always see Obsidian as a Toolbox that you could customize personally to your own taste.

But I do understand why you came up with that thinking, can't denied that a lot of us did fall into that pitfall of overcomplicating stuff.


> It did too much, not too little.

Not sure whether this is true. Evernote did much, but on the wrongs parts, in the wrong ways, and then abounded them often in poor state. So in fact they did not enough on the important parts. They barely added the things people demanded, instead added features barely anyone asked for, or rewrote the clients for third or fourth time.

Obsidian on the other side has a sleak core, and everything else is in extensions. Even the core-app itself comes with most parts in extensions. While also allowing the users themselves to add extensions for their demand. This is significant more healthy than whatever evernote did.


It wasn't the feature-bloat that made me give up on EN. It was the broken sync, the difficulty getting an export of my notes from their server, the brutally sluggish mobile and desktop apps, etc.

Obsidian doesn't seem to be going down that road. Using another provider to store the notes (Dropbox, S3, Blob, self-hosted disk space, etc.) takes care of issues #1 and #2. Making this an optional plugin answer #3.


Did it do too much, or was it too opinionated and bloated? Obsidian is neither!

Obsidian devs have shown repeatedly that they understand why Obsidian is successful - just look at how they released this. No canvas-specific core software changes, just a new plugin that can be disabled.


Like any core plugin, you can just disable it if you don't need it.


this feature is actually related to note taking though. its not like evernote where they were off making nonsense contacts or food rating apps instead of improving their core note taking app


I would kill for some sort of integration between Remarkable and Obsidian. Both are excellent tools and the Remarkable is great for sketching on the go. I just wish I could keep both in sync somehow.


I'm working on a sync tool specifically for ReMarkable to Obsidian.

https://scrybble.ink

It's still in beta for now, so it's definitely not flawless, but it does work! You can choose which files from your tree to sync, they will appear as pdf files in your vault.


Just purchased the "Early bird tier" to give it a try. I just get a "500 Server Error" when clicking the "View Content" link in gumroad.


Just fixed the error, I was loading an old page


When this gets to reasonable stability, this may be enough to get me to buy ReMarkable just for it. It might be worth seeing if they have any sort of referral program. "Buy ReMarkable through me & get X months syncing free!" type deal.


A dream would be first-party integration. Syncing from one to the other is one thing, but a first-party obsidian application running on the ReMarkable? I'd let ReMarkable hire me to make this happen if this is something they'd be interested in

(I love my current job though!)


This is exactly what I've been looking for. Thank you! Very excited to use this.


The page isn't loading for me but I'll take a look later on as this could be super interesting!


Fixed, I keep forgetting I got a novelty tld (.ink) rather than .com :p


Hey, I just paid for a subscription but I'm getting a 500 on the manage membership page - any idea what's up with that?


Oh... I forgot to adjust that page with the recent full redesign. Will fix it this evening.

The page is not important for anything however, it just says "thanks for your purchase, you can now make an account"


Page is fixed!


Cool project! Note that if you want to support the Remarkable scribbles, there's a Python project that does that:

https://github.com/rschroll/rmrl


It's called scrybble because it already supports scribbles and highlights :p


The roadmap says it doesn't support notebooks or quick sheets though. Those are kind of the main feature of the remarkable.

EDIT: Roadmap updated, so we're on the same page :)


I'm not 100% certain about quick sheets just yet, I'm going to do a more thorough test soon, but notebooks _are_ supported as of last week, the Roadmap hadn't been updated yet.

Good catch though! Thanks

Edit: The roadmap has been updated: https://scrybble.ink/roadmap


That's one of the reasons i went with an Onyx Boox tablet instead of a Remarkable - that way i have the Android Obsidian app, in sync, and i can sketch on it (with Excalidraw, i haven't tested Canvas yet).


Onyx + obsidian is such a great combo


It appears to be convoluted but Remarkable -> Rextract -> Readwise -> Obsidian looks like a path.

[0]: https://github.com/zachwick/rextract


Supernote is the superior device compared to Remarkable


Feels nice and solid!

One thing I immediately wanted was key commands and fast clicking to create cards like FigJam https://www.figma.com/figjam/ This is an amazing tool for brainstorming and collaborating during meetings.

It looks like we can't assign key commands for the canvas actions yet. That will make it much faster to work with.

Imagine: - C then click to place a card. This would go into text edit mode inside the card right away. (currently it gets snaggled up with VIM mode requiring me to go into insert) - I then click to place an image, then the asset search dialog opens - N then click to place a Note, then note search dialog opens

When you are brainstorming you want to add cards really quick. Deleting, moving, cloning should all be really immediate. I'm sure this can be easily achieved.

Thank you so much for Obsidian!


This is fantastic development, something that really makes a difference in how you can use Obsidian. I got notified from LogSeq group that they are also introducing whiteboard, so clearly innovation is happening at really good pace.

There is more room for innovation, as these "thinking spaces" are still inflexible and I expect to see more good things. Obsidian has huge advantage that is open and you are never scared to lose your work in somebody's walled garden.

To me, this is more important then any VR or anything like this as it helps us use computers to think and collaborate, augment our abilities. What were original reason for making computers, not just enslaving our attention in dopamine loop.


Is there anyone else's brain doesn't work well with canvas like mine? It looks unorganized to me with "group" and "arrow". Unlike structural design like we are used to on daily basis like "order" (left-to-right + top-to-bottom), "index" (several kind of nav). When I look at this type of canvas my brain is confused where to start, what's the order because it looks like a mesh. I guess this is for popular brains?


I find it useful for some things and awkward for others.

I've been using Gingko [1] for a long while now. The ever-expanding-but-hierarchical structure it uses hits a sweet spot for me.

1: https://gingkoapp.com/


Yeah it's called "miller columns" which I tried (as a implementer) once. The width constraint per column is not quite nice, and when it has more than 3 columns, the horizontal scroll ux makes it worse (I think it's ok on mobile). I haven't found a good ux on tree structure in general, it's just suck.


This is cool, but the killer feature I'm looking for is a UI that matches the functionality of grit https://github.com/climech/grit. Grit itself isn't particularly functional for every-day use, but its write-up in the readme is excellent and the DAG hasn't been realized by any existing task tracking software (as far as I'm aware).


Obsidian Team, help me out here. What are some actual use cases for canvas? Specifically, how does this enhance the user's ability to record, synthesize, and recall their ideas? I am a huge Obsidian fan, I fully understand what canvas does and how it's used. But I don't get the point. I see the team devoting lots of energy to this feature, so I assume I'm missing something.


It's another level of organization and visualization of Obsidian content, and is extensible just like Obsidian's other core features.

But the spatial dimension really opens up other opportunities. For instance, I've been using the webviews to create workspaces for the various tasks I do - code review, writing/drafting documents.

Being able to drag and drop content from various places (including webviews) into the canvas feels magic.

With a few minor usability enhancements I'd probably be ready to call this my new favorite web browser!

But generally, it's an interface for expressing relationships between pieces of Obsidian content. Absent additional plugins, these relationships are user-defined, but they could easily be generated since they're pure JSON. Sky's the limit if you ask me. I'm excited to start writing a plugin that enhances the webviews a bit.


Check out the #showcase-canvas channel in the Obsidian Discord group https://obsidian.md/community

Use cases I have seen shared in the channel: family trees, storyboards, taxonomy, mind maps, workflow diagrams, roadmaps, research notes, project management, etc.

In my personal use of Canvas, I have been using it for planning house renovation project, developing a new baking recipe (with images of the various iterations).

It can also be used as a scratchpad alongside YouTube videos or web pages that you want to annotate.


I honestly cannot grasp how is it possible for the Obsidian team to consistently release such high quality software on a regular basis, almost for free and with such a small team.

Just incredible, and if anybody from Obsidian reads that, you have my utmost respect.


I kind of wish they would plant a stake in the ground and declare it feature complete and then go into maintenance mode. It's almost inevitable that they are going to keep adding features, give up control to VCs, and then fade away like Evernote.

This feature is neat, but it feels like a turning point. I believe it's the first betrayal of the it's-just-a-folder-of-markdown-files principle.


I agree that VC basically killed Evernote. Obsidian is completely user-supported, no investors, we're explicitly avoiding the VC route.

As far as features go, we're continuing down the path of a modular architecture. The core will continue to be as streamlined as possible. Canvas is like any other plugin, you can disable it. We think that flexibility is important, because not everyone thinks the same way. You should be able to create an environment that fits your way of thinking. However not everyone needs every feature, thus the modularity/extensibility approach.


Did the core of Obsidian have to be changed at all to support Canvas? If so, then I don't think it is like any other plugin.

If this were just another pluigin that you could download and use if you want, I really wouldn't care. It's the fact that it's considered part of the core product that gives me bad vibes. It feels like the project, even without VC money, is doing what almost every other successful project does - expand.

Do you think Obsidian will ever be considered "done"?


We did make some API changes that would make it easier for a third party to create a plugin like Canvas. But there was nothing changed in the core solely to support Canvas.

There were two under-the-hood changes required to properly facilitate Canvas:

1. Redoing "embeds." We decided it was important for cards to work the same way our inline embeds work. So we rewrote the embed system to be properly extensible and useable by plugins. Canvas is leveraging the same system that powers ![[embeds]]

2. Untangling our editor. Previously, editors were a construct constrained to a markdown view in Obsidian. We've also done some refactoring so that a "editor" can be used anywhere, and doesn't need to be backed by a file. We see this a another big win for plugins that want to build their own editing experience

We want to keep pushing what third party plugins can do on top of Obsidian, so implementing a feature like Canvas forces us to find the limitations that exist in the API.

The question of whether Obsidian will ever be "done" is a tough one because operating systems and user expectations are a shifting landscape. Our intention is that the writing and thinking you do inside of Obsidian can be future-proof for decades, even if Obsidian itself is no longer relevant. That's why we're focused on portable formats like Markdown. However we cannot know how operating systems will change, and what will be required for Obsidian to continue working well on macOS 30 or Windows 20. Similarly, we can't close ourself off to new UI paradigms like Canvas that open up new thinking modalities our users are asking for. We hope that the modular and flexible architecture of the app allows it to remain very performant regardless of what plugins a user has turned on.


You can represent a collection of nodes like that, but human readable/machine readable flow configuration, highlighting, plus composition seems like a tall ask, and JSON is a small extension that's mostly human-readable as it is.

This is adhering to an obvious crack showing in Obsidian as it is: how do you store a graph view configuration? Right now, per vault, you get one slot unless you draw in something like Juggl, which is... well it raises serious usability concerns.


It's just a plugin i believe, you can choose to not use it. There are _many_ community plugins that go well beyond just-markdown, i don't feel this is any different.

Remember, most of Obsidian is just plugins. Even core functionality. Which is a big reason i use Obsidian.


I really like https://kinopio.club/. This canvas is definitely a step in that direction. I hope they (or a plugin) support a feature parity too


I really don’t get Obsidian and why HN seems so obsessed with it. Can anyone please enlighten me? Why do they call these notes “a second brain”? How is this “a new way of thinking”? What are you people even writing that requires this? It just seems silly, honestly. What am I missing?


It's decent note-taking software with useful features and a storage medium that's currently in favour. If you have a use for such a thing, it's one of the best options available right now.

But that's all. You can forget all the "second brain"/zettelkasten stuff. It's just marketing gumpf used to build careers prattling about notetaking methods (dressed up as something fancier).


I have my own knowledgebase in my own format and TBH I'd say it's one of the most valuable things I own. I don't think the second brain "marketing grumpf" is false - once you get rolling, you have a personal treasure trove of knowledge without having to dedicate every piece of info to memory.


The value of whatever style of note-taking suits your work and personal style has been well understood for centuries. All the productivity piffle has added nothing to it, though it has earned a few bucks from book sales, youtube ads, and merch.


I had doubts about the second brain stuff as well, but I am seeing that with the connections I make to my notes using links/backlinks tags while hanging out in the graph view allows me to see connections between notes and helps me with idea generation, so I can see why people call it a second brain. It helps you think about writing in a different way. That has been my experience though.


It's the messianic fake novelty and loathsome invented marketing terminology that I'm objecting to. You can unfussily make notes, using your own emergent organisation exactly like people have done for centuries at least. Tech can add searching and organisational niceties, and it makes sense to use them. Obsidian is good at this (I use it).

Or, alternatively, you can do exactly the same thing and get terribly zealous about it as a grift, or a way to mask the fact that your notes are all about notetaking systems and just add nothing to the sum of human (or even your own) capability.

I'm not arguing against the activity of taking notes, nor working with different representations and arrangements of them to discover what emerges, nor against note-taking software, just all the timewasting blather that goes with it. "Second brain" (probably TM'd somewhere) is by the way only a dull grey businessy echo of Andy Clark's (much more interesting) 'extended mind' theme.


A second brain is a bit on the nose for me.

I use Obsidian to organize my notes about DIY, cooking, and gardening. For example, I store the recipes I found in a single place. It allows me to adjust them (as opposed to browser bookmarks) and write down my observations or experiments. Some concepts can be applied to multiple recipes, so linking them helps. Over time I memorize the concepts, but I struggle with remembering the ratios of ingredients. Having them written down is handy.

I used to have a local instance of MediaWiki a long time ago, but it was clunky. Then I moved to plaintext notes, which I used for many years. Easy to take, but lack of linking made reviewing them hard.

Localized markdown wiki (Obisdian) is a happy middle ground for me.


I don't think it's terribly special. Second brain seems to value the connections between fragments of thought over the thoughts themselves, that these connections will guide the creation or your outlook on thoughts originating from them, a focus on process rather than output, assuming that the output is the result of the process (oftentimes not true). Alternatively, when you are thinking about something, you can quickly find the related thoughts quickly by this organization that can help you advance it faster or more creatively. This assumes that your past thoughts are relevant to your future thoughts which are oftentimes not the case.

It can work well for technical topics that are not quickly outdated and usually have less transitory interpretations, but not as great for subjective things. If you want to have a consistency in your thinking, it can be helpful, but the value of that is also questionable. The last is more psychological, but if you keep getting distracted by a lot of thoughts, by putting them down there and being able to retrieve them when you want, it lets you focus more on things in the present without being distracted by them. If you are exploring a topic over a long span of time, and need to keep reorienting yourself back to the topic, it can be helpful.


Not trying to evangelize you, but you may not necessarily see the value in gathering random notable ideas somewhere until you put in the effort of documenting them and then see the network effect in action, i.e., new meta-ideas and patterns emerging from linking those ideas in a central location.


> may not necessarily see the value in gathering random notable ideas somewhere until you put in the effort of documenting them and then see the network effect in action

or it could be that correlation doesnt imply causation.

People who have lots of ideas might just generally be better at ideation, have high intelligence, and perhaps also good at evaluating their ideas quickly. Their success is not _due_ to their jotting down of ideas, but that there is a confounding factor that influence both.

People who would copy the actions of successful people may just be cargo culting.


if it's any consolation, I don't get it either. Heard about it a few months ago from someone at a kids birthday party, who said his life was completely transformed by it. He seemed to have the perspective that having a giant waterfall of amazing thoughts with nowhere to put them (until Obsidian!) was like normal for everyone. Whenever I asked him "well what are you writing" he was like, "everything! just download it and start writing!" OK.... Guess I'm just boring?


I wasn't sold on it previously but downloaded it based on this new canvas feature. I'm creating a mind map for my new project and creating notes and organising them in a way that is helpful to me to plan the project.


It allows me to dump thoughts, ideas and things that I need to remember in one searchable and organizable home. Obsidian makes this easy by not getting in the way and it's highly customizable. I find it fun to use.


Same. I've given it a spin a few times now, usually when it crops up here on HN. I guess I'm just not a huge note-taker.


That’s fantastic. Are use obsidian somewhat casually, but this could turn it into a bit more of a daily driver.

I just wish that their sync service was less expensive, say $30, instead of $100. Because that’s the difference between being willing to pay for sync vs using any number of computer sync services (be a dropbox, Google Drive, or anything else) to get synchronization that is good enough that committing to either $10 a month or $100 a year just doesn’t seem worth it for the incremental gain.

I don’t know, it’s a difficult balance to strike between customers that need it enough to pay their current prices, and more casual users a bit on the borderline like me who are no power users enough to pay that much. Price elasticity is not an exact science and it’s entirely possible they have already filed in the optimum amount for it.

Although I wonder if there might be room for a tier that was quota driven. For example a certain amount of megabytes of data or number of notes or some other combination of factors, and charge around three dollars a month.

Basically I would like to give them more money to use their sink service, but I might be in too small of a user group for it to be worth it for them to try to target me and others like me with a specific type of plan.


I guess the high cost of the sync is to subsidize the actual development of the software, not just to upkeep the syncing.

A potential alternative revenue source is to produce enterprise features (like single sign on, or have vaults connected to corporate directories/departments). These features discriminate against casual users vs corporate users, who would tend to be able to afford a higher cost.

Obviously, a corporation would then want more, and different, features vs casual users. You end up developing the software biased towards one or the other, potentially fracturing the userbase. it's a double edged sword to play with.


Dear Obsidian team.

Thank you from my heart. As a designer, I have visual thinking, which requires clear representation of relationships between information objects.

No more fiddling with mind-map apps which cannot offer this level of integration with my vault.

Now I finally have focused workflow.

Thank you again.


The only thing I am missing from Obsidian is PDF annotating as Logseq has it. Basically, you open a pdf and whatever you highlight you can copy as a link and put on any page. Then, clicking the link opens the pdf back up at that spot.


Not quite there yet, but there is an Obsidian plugin developing similar functionality: https://github.com/MohrJonas/obsidian-ocr


is there a video of this feature?


Found this YouTube video showing and explaining it: https://youtu.be/OOZA7APwZy4


I've been wanting a tool like this forever - ideally you can enter/exit these scopes/contexts so that everything above fades away. I like to think about problems in these scopes and then have the ability to "zoom out" to collect/link things, without disturbing the internal contents. Kinda like the C4/icepanel stuff but without so much pomp and circumstance.


museapp.com works like that. Also heptabase.com and many others https://infinitecanvas.tools/


That is fantastic! I've never been satisfied with Draw.io at a cross platform option for this after getting so comfortable with OmniGraffle in my OSX days. Can't wait to take this for a spin.


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