Open Sourcing of Obsidian

Hi! Loving Obsidian so far, seriously great job.

I’ve read some of the HackerNews comments and heard some of the basics about why not to open source Obsidian right now; I understand and don’t want to be a nag, but I did want to just add this into the official feature request forum here for ease of reference in the future.

My thoughts as to why this needs to happen:

  • Currently, while it’s stated that the app only transmits the ‘software version’ info back to the server, there is no way to confirm that this is the case (as far as I can see)
  • Considering that people may well use Obsidian to store private, sensitive material, the lack of a privacy policy / lack of open source code makes it iffy to use the app for anything of that nature
  • Extensibility / dev friendliness will open up immensely when others are able to help squash bugs / improve features / add plugins with ease.

As stated on HN, I think it’s an absolutely viable strategy for Obsidian following in the footsteps of other projects like Standard Notes with a free open source base; but paid plans for syncing, publishing, etc.

I think open-sourcing the core of the product would open up a lot of help with development tasks, and can help get the privacy / self-hosted HN sort of crowd to fully support Obsidian as well.

I love the app so far, I really do; but privacy is a major issue in the world today and a closed-source app with the potential access to my day-to-day journals, notes, and tasks is not ideal for lots of potential users of the app, in my opinion.

Thanks again!

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I think this would also be very reassuring for people (like me) who worry about obsidian being future proof, I obviously hope it lives forever, but if one day the devs move on etc it would be reassuring to still be able to have an open source version out there.

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@okay I can understand why you might want this application to be open source BUT i am much less concerned about this issue than having the features I require be implemented by a dedicated team that can see a clear path to revenue.

(1)
The notes are all in perfectly portable text files so your are not locked in to this platform

(2)
I would hope that the plugin system would foster an OSS style effort…

(3)
It may be nice for the company to make a statement that if they ever stop supporting the product then they commit to making it open source. Their is no loss in making this commitment up-front.

(4)
If this application implements the features I require then I am comfortable to pay.

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Open-sourcing will just create many forks/branches. The progress for the company just now is super-fast compared with an open-source project…

You could put Markdown in a secure location such as your hard drive – and never purchase the sync options.

Note this is Markdown so you are never locked down to Obsidian, you could switch to Visual Studio Code, vi/emacs or TextEdit or anything else that reads and writes text.

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It’s worth reading the Hacker News comments for those who haven’t: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=23324598

In one thread ericax says they will probably do (3).

I think future proofing has mostly do to with costs. The cost to convert your data has to be less than the value of your data. I don’t think (1) really resolves the issue per se. A binary format which follows a known standard might be less costly to convert from than a text-file with all kinds of non-standard, spottily-documented markup.[0]

Likewise, the cost to convert your workflow has to be less than the value your workflow provides. If an application or feature that you depend on suddenly disappears, what will it cost you to replace it or modify your workflow?

[0] - None of this should be read as my take on the current or future state of Obsidian. I’m speaking generally of what I think about when thinking about protecting my data.

Edited to add: I haven’t formed an opinion either way on whether Obsidian should open source.

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It sounds to me like you are asking for privacy guarantees not open sourcing. If the only thing the application sends is version information an option to disable that seems like it would satiate your concerns and be a lot less work than stewarding an open source project indefinitely.

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I have the same concern (not a big one, for all the advantages Obsidian brings to the table) like your first point, i.e. What data/metadata transmits back to their server?
I think I might have read about developers of Obsidian addressing this issue in this forum, with but I think it is worth being stated explicitly in their privacy policy.

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Why would Obsidian care about that group of people? They don’t bring in revenue. Yet they have significant costs associated with them. So trying to serve that target audience makes little sense.

This so much! I used an open source alternative before Obsidian, but that takes way too much time for me. Now with Obsidian I can pay a subscription fee and simply email support if there’s an issue. That’s worth a lot to me, since with open source software you’d have to open an issue and hope and pray that someone replies. :slight_smile:

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If this is a concern, then simply block Obsidian from accessing the internet. It doesn’t need it and you can download new versions when they become available.

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From years of experience, I can guarantee that being open source does not confer immortality. Unless you have the ability to pick it up and keep it going yourself.

Your best guarantee is that you still have your files and you don’t need Obsidian to access them.
Easy to switch to another program if any still exist.

Some additional information: as of v0.7.4, you can disable auto-updater, and the app will not make any network connections at all. Anyone can monitor that and submit a bug report if that’s not the case.

We will have privacy statement soon, basically saying that we do not collect any personal information when you use the app. We do have your email if you choose to sign up for an account and sign in in the app, but even in that case Obsidian still doesn’t make any network connections if you disable the auto-updater.

We have a few opinions about open source that we hope people who ask for open source can consider:

  1. Open source does not necessarily guarantee safety. A specialized team can do a security audit, which costs anywhere between 5-20k dollars, and that’s the closest thing you can get to safety. Even then, it’s not an absolute guarantee of safety; your best bet is to keep all the data in your head if you want zero risk of others seeing your data.

  2. Open source does not necessarily mean faster improvement. Code is not just text that can be easily understood and manipulated; one needs to understand the code architecture and design to make good fixes and improvements. Honestly in some cases, doing a good code review will take us more time than actually fixing it ourselves. On top of that, the code base of large projects like VSCode is almost incomprehensible to anyone other than the core contributors.

  3. Open source projects do not necessarily last forever. It’s not hard to see all those abandoned projects looking for maintainers. Think about incentive alignment: after building a sustainable business, it’s obvious in our best interest to keep Obsidian going, however an open source maintainer may not consider keeping the project alive their top priorities when other life priorities or other interesting opportunities arise.

  4. Doing open source right is a significant effort; it’s not just “putting code on GitHub”. We need to do documentation, reply to issues, do code reviews, help fellow developers get up to speed with the code base, etc. The cost to benefit ratio is very low for our small team of 2, and our plate is already full.

In summary, I think having a privacy statement and a pledge to open up code access if Obsidian discontinues are good ideas, but open sourcing does not make sense given the current circumstances.

Lastly, I’m going to move this to “Obsidian” rather than leave it in “Feature requests”, since I don’t think being open source is a product feature, just like “free commercial license” or “free Obsidian Publish” are not feature requests. More like business model and product direction discussion in my opinion.

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The privacy statement is now available here: https://obsidian.md/privacy

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One more perspective on this (sorry for the necromancy):

I assumed for some reason that Obsidian was open source, and this was the strongest argument as a Roam alternative for me (I’m currently using Roam).

To me, it’d be so valuable to know that I personally can modify the software. Hit a bug or some piece of functionality I’m missing or that I’d really like to work differently? — With open source, there’s always the option to go into the code and just change it, if I deem it worth the time and effort. I’m not at the mercy of some company to maybe, please do what’s important to me.

I consider this openness particularly important for productivity software, because it is so very intimately connected to the way I think and work. It’s basically an extension of my brain, and having control over this would be a huge benefit, if only for peace of mind.

Note that, to get this benefit, it wouldn’t be necessary to alter the development process in any way. The current version of the code would just have to be accessible for download/cloning.

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I just would like to add that I strongly disagree with this post.

The HN type of users are exactly the ones which would be using something like Obsidian instead of Roam because it lets me choose how I want to sync my files and uses an easy and future proof plain text format.
Yes they might be a very demanding group of users but they are also early adopters and usually quite tech savy which has it’s own benefits.
And at least, I don’t have a problem paying for a license if I have the feeling that the software respects me as a user.

In addition just because the code is open doesn’t mean they have to let anyone contribute if they don’t want to.
And they can still have a normal support contact for their customers.
A lot of people seem to confuse open source/ free software with gratis which absolutely doesn’t have to be the case.

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I’m quite disappointed by the stance taken in this thread. I understand concerns that opening the source could make the project slower and more cumbersome to develop for, but I do believe there are ways to mitigate that.

Ultimately, I’d hope Obsidian would take the approach Standard Notes has: a robust open source project with a clear and sustainable financing model. Keeping the project closed does nothing to guarantee it will make money, and everything to guarantee that outside developers who might be able to help make the project successful definitely cannot.

My concerns are echoed quite well in this thread, from security (the ability for technical users to audit the code), to extensibility (the ability for users to provide new code the core devs don’t have time or desire to write), to support (the ability for users to fix bugs).

I really love a lot of the core ideas in Obsidian, but it clearly has a small development team. They’re doing a ton, but there’s always more to do (especially as a project gains steam). I came across this thread after finding “Services item in editor menu on Mac”. Obsidian is bordering on unusable for me without supporting macOS Services, as I heavily rely on Markdown Service Tools (and similar scripts) for editing and altering markdown text. Services support is something I’d be quite happy to provide code patches to support, as plenty of Electron apps properly support them (VS Code, etc). But I can’t.

So I’m basically stuck not being able to really use Obsidian until it starts behaving more like a proper Mac app, which will happen whenever the core devs get around to it (if ever).

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So why not contribute to one of the open source VSCode extensions like Foam?

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Hi @fab1452

Contributing to the project will be easiar once we release a public API.

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So why not contribute to one of the open source VSCode extensions like Foam?

:roll_eyes:

Good to know, but I highly doubt an extension would be able to add services support. But I’ll check back in a while…

Final thing I’ll add… Truth be told I’m not even really advocating for open source. Sure, that’d be nice (IMO). But what I really want is open development. It is possible to develop proprietary software in the open.

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