Folder as markdown note

I’m not sure if this would be better as a Feature Request or as a Plugin based on the architecture, but it seems like something that would have to be integrated into the editor, so I’m starting here.

I’d like to be able to have a note for each folder.

I think this feature would go a long way to making Obsidian more outliner-like, at least for my purposes.

Here’s a couple of possible directory structures.

  • Root
    • Folder A
      • Folder A.md <- Option 1
      • index.md <- Option 2
      • Note 1.md
      • note 2.md
    • Folder A.md <- Option 3
    • Note 3.md

I don’t know if there’s a best case here, or if it’d be preferable to have the option to set which type to use, or if it’d be better to have a chain of precedence that uses whichever file comes first in some predefined priority list (like External Same Name > Internal Same Name > Index.md or something).

When I do a lot of my note taking, I like to be able to describe the categories I sort my notes into, and to be able to link to a category.

A Specific Proposal

  1. enabling the plugin makes any file named index.md associated with its containing folder.
  2. hide any index.md file from the file list or move it to the top of the sort order, so that it’s not cluttering up the file explorer
  3. clicking on a folder with an index file shows the contents of index.md the way clicking on somerandommarkdown.md will show it in the editor / view pane.
  4. (Optional, but high value) Allow users to link to the folder [[some folder]]
  5. (Optional, relies on #3 above) Allow the hover / mouseover plugin to show the content of links to [[some folder]]
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Additionally, it’d be very convenient to be able to take a normal note and turn it into a category based on this feature.

  1. Create note Color Theory.md
  2. Add a couple of bullet points about improving color in my artwork
  3. Realize that color theory is a humongous topic
  4. “promote” Color Theory.md to a directory
    • new directory Color Theory is created
    • Color Theory.md is moved or renamed as determined by directory note structure preference
    • clicking on the folder opens the folder & shows the folder in the editor
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Here’s an example of one of my categories in an old TiddlyWiki.

Each blue element is a link, so I have many notes with many sub-notes, like an outliner, but without the actual outlining functionality.

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I’m not sure about outlining the sidebar like you’re doing, and I agree that would be a great option to have, but I’ve sort of made a workaround that so far seems to work well. I haven’t developed it completely yet but it makes use of the Starred notes as a placeholder for sub-notes.

It’s not as effective as your method because I have a separate folder notes that I have to navigate to in the file view, but I can keep the space relatively clean by keeping the “Bible” folder closed that holds all of the book pages and references I create. That said, it might accomplish what you’re looking for at least partially.

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One issue here though is that it only lives two levels deep (placeholder page and linked pages). Any further and it’d just be more clicks.

Then again this may not be at all related to what you’re looking for.

No, I can for sure see the parallels here. Do you manually generate that second-level content map (the list of books in each testament) or is that somehow programmatically generated?

Generally, my process for taking notes is very organic, and so I don’t usually get to pre-define the structure in a way that would make it easy to generate these MOCs for each grouping or category, which is the basis of my problem I suppose. I primarily use these sorts of software for brainstorming-style activities, which should explain a bit about how I intend to use this feature request.

Now, it might also be a viable alternative to my proposed architecture to use the same sort of starring/marking functionality to actually mark a note as related to a folder, which seems like it might be a happy middle ground, and possibly alleviate the need for configuring which markdown file ought to be associated automatically with which folder.

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Yeah, I generated all of the testament-book notes in-line when making the tables. It would be more friction than one would prefer, but setting up pre-made markdown tables with spaces for new entries may work. Once you create the note and name it, you could go to the category/topic page and link it in the table. A list would be easier, but I like to have all of my pages right there in front of me so a table is more aesthetically pleasing for my use. For your use case, you could even set secondary categories within the table as headers, so each header would contain related notes below it - kind of a pseudo-hierarchy system.

For now most of the pages in my table are still blank, or not even created yet since I haven’t clicked on them, but I plan on using them as the base for a long-term study. I can’t yet speak to how seamless or easy-to-navigate this system is going to be, but my general use for the “Bible” folder is less of a note list and more of a database for individual blurbs, verses, entries - anything I want to link within my notes. I use the Daily Note button with a template for taking notes that automatically stores in a different folder. Everything else is purely for reference.

I tried a quick draft of your subjects and titles and what not, but because markdown tables don’t auto-adjust width it’s really difficult to tell which row goes with which header. On second thought, individual Starred pages like “Environments” and “HardSurface” with a list of child pages would probably be a lot easier to deal with.

Yeah, I do sort of miss the robust nature of tag listing in TiddlyWiki. You can tag one article with another, thus creating an arbitrary hierarchy. But that’s probably a way more in depth feature (and would likely be more of a Plugin I think). Maybe I’ll add that to the Plugin request forum later.

I was just thinking though, another possibility for something like your folder-contents-page might be a simple python script that gets the names in each folder and generates a markdown file from those names, applying formatting and links as appropriate. That would be less work than writing them out manually, but

  • it isn’t internal to Obsidian
  • you’d need to have Python installed on each machine you want to do that on
  • doesn’t really solve the issue of linking a folder to some markdown content, at least not directly

expanding on that thought briefly, I bet one could set up a gulp task or some sort of python file watcher to run that script when the files change, which would be comparatively seamless. You’re right though, the list would be easier to generate.

As for auto-adjusting the table column widths in Markdown, it doesn’t seem (from my very brief meddling) that Obsidian yet supports the Insert key for toggling overwrite, which helps me when I need to do tables that way: I can at least start with a wide column and type into the column without disrupting the spacing and alignment. Doesn’t help adjusting later though.

Maybe more table tools are in the pipeline though? I always really liked Typora (my main MD editor so far) but Dropbox Paper’s table editor is insanely nice. A guy can dream?

The Typora-style WYSIWYG editor is in the pipeline for Obsidian down the road. It doesn’t really help right now, but it’s coming!

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Obsidian is particularly well-suited for Zettelkasten - a particular method of note-taking. In classic Zettelkasten, you don’t use folders to organise your notes - use tags instead. This allows you to place the same note in several categories - I.e., using several tags.

You build relationships between your notes organically, using links. Links are extremely important in Zettelkasten, because it is often by looking at your notes’ links that your Zettelkasten ‘talks to you’, and helps guide your research. For example: in your link graph you might see clusters of notes that you hadn’t noticed before, and this tells you that there might be an emergent topic there that needs a ‘summary’ note to pull it together. You might also see areas of the graph with very few connections, which might indicate you need more research there, or even notes with no connection at all - which might prompt you to either find a way to link these notes, or drop them.

In a classic Zettelkasten, your notes are all placed in the same folder - it’s not necessary to have a hierarchy, because your notes are ‘classified’ with tags rather than by placing them into folders. This seems to prompt more cross-referencing and cross-linking between different areas of knowledge, which tends to happen less often if we ‘box’. our notes into a rigid category hierarchy. Reportedly, the Zettelkasten method increases the overall longevity and usefulness of our notes, and allows for our notes database to grow ‘organically’ - and more creatively.

If you’re interested in finding out a bit more about the Zettelkasten method, start here: https://writingcooperative.com/zettelkasten-how-one-german-scholar-was-so-freakishly-productive-997e4e0ca125.

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Thanks, that’s an excellent rundown of Zettelkasten, in clarity I hadn’t seen before. I understand the workflow much better now, and it mirrors a lot of how I use my notes and generate content. What this Feature Request comes down to is some way to ascribe information to or associate information with categories. In this specific instance, it suggests allowing users to associate a folder with a specific note.

I understand that there’s a particular workflow for Zettelkasten, though I’m not sure what the connection is between Zettelkasten and Obsidian; is Obsidian specifically a Zettelkasten note-taking app, an app that is well-suited to Zettelkasten, or an app that intends to support multiple methods of organization?

I think that either way there’s still a case for this Feature Request: Imagine you have your box of notes, and you want to summarize it. How do you find the summary? It’s just another note in the box.

For my particular use case, I use both methods: I’d like to see the topology of the network visually, ie Zettelkasten, and also be able to organize my notes hierarchically, because my data is often very hierarchical. Even when it’s only very loosely hierarchical, I like to be able to organize my notes into discrete sections for several reasons:

  • the categorization process itself helps me understand the information on a broader level
  • Having one folder for everything seems analogous to having no structure at all, so that pane becomes useless to me. I might as well not have a list of notes, and browse the notebook purely through hard-coded maps of content or the graph view.
  • It’s a lot easier to see gaps in my knowledge when I can see folders that are empty or poorly populated. I can’t tell from graph view whether that one lonely node on the perimeter should have more nodes associated with it or whether it’s just a fairly disconnected topic. However, if I’ve assigned a folder only one note, I already know that I’ve given the folder at least some semantic weight (I made a folder, not a note, thus I intended to have information divided into smaller chunks below it) so it makes sense that I might want to check for completeness if I find a folder with only one (or zero, or just a few) notes inside it.

By no means to I intend to rely exclusively on a hierarchy of unlinked content, but I also believe that the information of most fields is both somewhat hierarchical and a distributed/decentralized network.

Out of curiosity, what are, if any, competing knowledge systems to Zettelkasten?

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I guess the other thing to consider is that I’d also like to use Obsidian to write books, not just do the research, which necessitates a hierarchical structure, at least in the genre I’m writing. Being able to have each section link to others this easily and visually is extremely appealing.

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Niklas Luhmann was the person who probably made Zettelkasten famous. A prolific academic, over a period of about 30 years he reportedly grew his (pen & paper based) Zettelkasten to over 90,000 notes. He published over 50 books and hundreds of academic papers, which were often praised for their creativity and cross-disciplinary insights. So, when you ask “how can you have a summary of your box of notes”, you are definitely not thinking of a life-long Zettelkasten. That’s a bit like asking to have a single summary of everything in your brain.

Instead, you’d find different ways to organise and summarise the bits of information you have. In a Zettelkasten, you could have several summaries: you can create ‘summary notes’ that might contain a list of other notes organised in a specific fashion, to suit a particular analysis or point of view. Then you might have another ‘index card’ that you create to arrange the notes in a different order, or categories - let’s say, because this time you’re using them to write an article, or as the basis for a new course. You could, in fact, create a note that ‘groups’ your notes into the hierarchy you used as an example above - but that would be just one possible way to look at (and use) your notes in a Zettelkasten.

Obsidian can indeed be used for a number of purposes beyond Zettelkasten, but it is specially suited to it. It provides you with tools that help you build links between your notes - like ‘Backlinks’ and ‘Unlinked Mentions’. It has built-in first-class support for tagging - which gives you yet another summary ‘entry point’ to your notes, and helps you build relationships. And it provides you with a graph view that - once you get used to it - is much more insightful than what you get by merely counting files in folders.

There are several methods of note-taking that try to combine the elements of a hierarchical structure with classic Zettelkasten - you can browse through this forum for some examples. But before you dive too deeply into one of them, I’d suggest you learn a bit more about Zettelkasten, as IMHO it is probably the most suited to those in creative fields. I hope this helps.

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…Well, if everything is in one folder, I suppose you’d be right. But again, I’m not using the Zettelkasten method of keeping everything in one giant pile, at least not on most projects. I think that Zettelkasten as described would make a good personal knowledge base (and Obsidian would be fantastic for that), but I would like to use it to write specific documents that do indeed have some hierarchical structure.

I think maybe we’re talking about two specific but different outputs here. You’re talking about a life-long note-taking apparatus that allows you to see structure in a vast sea of interlinked ideas. I’m talking about a project-based writing tool that allows me to organize my thoughts in a way that will make sense to the reader. I don’t think those two use cases are very similar.

I’m not saying that I devalue Zettelkasten, I’m saying that’s not the use case for the Feature Request this thread is about.

I feel like you’re really trying to sell me on this one way of organizing my information, which may or may not jive up with how I want to organize my data. Now, if you tell me that Obsidian is specifically intended to be a Zettelkasten tool, I may have to switch to something more flexible, because that’s not the system I wish to use. I was ultra excited about Obsidian being that exact tool, the flexible, dynamic, configurable, non-opinionated, note taking application that I’ve been looking for for the better part of a decade, but if you’re saying that Obsidian isn’t that thing, I must have misunderstood its purpose and that would be a tragedy to me.

You are right. I am not.

I moved this to Plugin Ideas, because it definitely seems like an optional thing rather than a core feature.

Long way short of that so far. I’m sure it will improve, but it needs much more to be first class.

Nested tags. Required to bring tags up to folder functionality.
Multi file operations to add, remove or change tags in selected files. Especially useful for temporary groups.
Regex queries.
&etc
(without mentioning the multi word request).

Tags can be far more powerful and versatile than folders, but not yet in Obsidian.
Of course, all can be done with these files now outside Obsidian.

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In the article that @icouto linked initially, there was an excellent diagram of a node graph with multiple overlapping tags. Is that sort of thing planned for Obsidian? It seems like kind of a complex feature to implement, though it seems very important for Zettelkasten, and would be very helpful in my work too.

Edit: Here it is

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I’m not sure Obsidian will be that exact tool, but it’s not designed as zettelkasten specific, though the design may be informed by zettelkasten ideas.
People use it with a variety of methods, all of which you might prefer to ignore. It’s flexible.

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I don’t know whether it’s planned, but I’d be confident something like it will happen, even if it requires a plugin.

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