Obsidian gets so much right! And, I really appreciate the team’s generally respectful approach to users. I would like to ask for more of an understanding of their thinking on a few points that they express prominently but which seem at odds with the fact that the software is not open source.
In the help page “How Obsidian stores data” it recognizes the benefit of open formats, saying:
We believe your data is always yours to own and control. Your notes are stored in markdown, which is an open format based on plain text files, and so should be readable in the future by any computer that can deal with text files. You can freely edit notes in other software, even while having them open in Obsidian.
This is very compelling; it’s one of the reasons I want to use markdown (and Obsidian). However, an open format for files is not sufficient for the future or compatibility. File content is often not totally independent of the application that it was produced with. Here’s a simplistic analogy: consider a film on a tv in your home… it’s not the same experience as that same film in a theatre. The application (theatre screen vs. small tv screen) changes it (e.g. the need for letterboxing).
In a note-taking/knowledge base application like Obsidian, content is created a little differently than in alternative applications. The features of this tool, its interface, and the inherent workflows all cause the way a person structures notes and folders to be somewhat different than in other tools.
Yes, I can open my Obsidian notes in Zettlr, Joplin, or Zim (with its markdown import) but to use them well, I need to adapt my personal processes to those interfaces, features, and the worklows of those distinct tools (sometimes equivalent features that we rely on for creating note content, don’t even exist in the other tools). That means, I’m going to have to change things about how I structure my notes for them to be the most effective in each tool.
I’m pretty sure that the Obsidian developers recognize this because it says the following on the homepage:
Note-taking is incredibly personal. Tried every app, but there’s always something not quite right? You deserve better.
I agree that note-taking is incredibly personal and their sentence linking the personal aspect to the application itself, speaks to this.
Finally, the Obsidian team makes a great point about cloud services, instability of companies being bought, and data lock-in. As I mentioned and the Obsidian team seems to agree with, my way of taking notes is personally affected by the application I use. My notes, while not entirely locked-in (due to their text markdown file format), are at least partially locked-in due to the way I’ve adapted their content, folder structures, etc. to Obsidian’s features/workflows/etc. They get inreasingly locked-in if I adopt some of the great plugins developed for creating content in Obsidian. Obsidian’s website says:
Definitely. A proprietary format holds no value to me. Yet the solution, as far as I can tell, to all of these issues is not just for the data/content to be open but for the application itself to be open source too.
Only if Obsidian were open source, would users, with all of the content we’ve created in the tool, truly not be locked in. And why? Because at least if something happened to prevent users from continuing to use the tool as we expect, it could be forked, and that fork could continue to allow people to access and use our content, in the way that we adapted our personal workflows and thinking for, with Obsidian. (And that’s irrelevant to Obsidian’s pricing model, which doesn’t appear to offer anything that would lose any of its value from the software being open source.)
My initial request for more understanding comes down to the fact that the things the Obsidian team is in favour of, do not appear to be possible so long as the software itself is not released as open source. I would like to understand how Obsidian can hold on to this seemingly contradictory position? Is there some good reason that I am overlooking?
Thank you for considering this..
If my point about the tool impacting content or structures that I create with it seems ambiguous, here is one very basic (though not the only) example illustrating what I mean.