Integrating Obsidian and TheBrain with Callback URLs

Oh, boy, I am a happy camper. I have been a user of Personal Brain or now called The Brain for many years, since version 2. Thanks to another thread on this Forum, I updated to v12 and am very pleased to say that they have changed course quite a bit. Before, it was mostly good at web and item capture, along with easy building of your graph database. Nice, simple visual interface… but it was quite hard before v12 to do good note-making (to use the PKM phrase). Now in v12, they have veered towards the more recent style of PKM apps, with note-making and backlinks etc being front and centre. A nice upgrade indeed.

But, while I have been a big fan of The Brain, this is not supposed to be a plug for it. As pointed out in other threads, while The Brain is now much improved as a note-making and backlinking tool, it is still not nearly as good as Obsidian in this regard. I have just started using Obsidian in the past few days and have been absolutely delighted because it has answered so many of my wish-lists and gripes about how other apps don’t play nice together, make it hard to cross-link, all the kinda stuff which is well documented in the PKM sites and discussions.

This however presented me with a bit of a dilemma: having used The Brain for years, I now have a very large graph database with lots of links and annotations, which I still refer back to and I am loathe to give up - this has been a goldmine for me over the years.

So, imagine my delight when I found that both Obsidian and The Brain now properly support x-callback-url or URI Schemes. A URL that starts with either obsidian:// or brain:// now works properly. And most importantly, works within either program. This means that I can seamlessly cross-link between the two applications, which solves so many problems. Callback URLs are not new but so few apps implement them properly. That both these apps now play so well together opens up a lot of things for me.

I find that it is easier to use The Brain for simple capture of web pages, articles, and the like. And when I am just foraging, it is a fun way to drop in new stuff and easily link them to relevant existing nodes (called Thoughts in TB lingo). The links (more graph database lingo) are more directed and controllable than in Obsidian. It is slightly easier to apply metadata to both nodes and links. But most importantly for me, I can still link in to my existing 17,000 nodes and still make use of that knowledge store from over the years.

On the other hand, Obsidian is so much better for note-making than even the new v12 of TB. So I will now use Obsidian for this purpose, be able to use the simpler and cleaner graph in there, and make good use of the Local Graph functions. And when I get into that grey area where I need to cross-link between the two, Callback URLs to the rescue.

As an incidental finding (slightly off-topic from the thread title), I have also been able to use Obsidian to replace DevonThink. I have also used DThink for years and have a lot of notes in its relational database. It is much more oriented towards an ontological approach, rather than the more free-form directed graphs of TB or Obsidian. I found it useful for holding notes about hardware and software issues. But it has a really quirky sync function that has caused problems for years so I will be glad to switch to the simpler structure and approach of Obsidian for this.

Yet another incidental finding (is this YAIF instead of YAML?), DThink also supports Callback URLs – not quite as seamlessly as between Obsidian and TB, but close enough that I can still link to some of my old notes in DThink, rather than losing them entirely.

One last callout or call-to-arms or gripe (whatever) to the coders at Notion. Last year, I became quite attracted to how easy it was to create new materials and I started using it for a while for note-making. And it does cross-link to standard http URLs quite well, as most other apps do these days. But Notion has mostly avoided Callback URLs, which severely limits its use to me. Well, they don’t entirely. You can use a notion:// callback in some circumstances but it is finicky and it definitely does not play well with other PKM tools in the sandbox. Stop trying to do the Evernote thing and get everyone to move towards your app. It did not work for Evernote in the long run. Being a monolith is no longer supportable in today’s KM world.