Quick question to the Academics in here

In your opinion, what prevents Obsidian from being more wide-spread within the Academic community?

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three immediate reactions:

  1. Equation numbering in LaTeX

  2. Better support and feature set for long form writing, a la org mode.

  3. Treating headers within a file as first-class citizens (nodes) in Graph and Backlinks Pane.

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I would say “official guidelines or suggestions for academics”, to avoid deceptive pitfalls. I see Obsidian as a knowledge management and note taking system, and not as a writing tool. By clearly separating the aims of every software:

  • Obsidian + Citations plugin for thinking, managing knowledge, drafting outlines for research papers
  • Your word processor of choice (LaTeX/Word/OpenOffice/Markdown editor/etc.) for writing

then the researchers’ expectations are clearer and using Obsidian becomes more a “what it brings to my workflow” experience than a “what I should change in my workflow” one.

Obviously I express here my point of view that may be very subjective and dependent of the field of study.

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Some good cautionary notes here too that might make some academics wary of software with a Zettelkasten focus (not that one need use Obsidian for that) Rank and File — Real Life

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This is an important caution. Obsidian is only a tool—maybe an excellent tool to some, but not to all, and not an indispensable one.

And remember that Obsidian is a year old, and the university is around 800 years old. Things move slowly (not always a bad thing).

In February I’m giving a talk at the American Philosophical Association on using Obsidian, etc for research and teaching. I’m excited.

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I would add that it is indeed early days for Obsidian. This is both exciting and a pitfall.

The excitement lies in its tremendous potential. With a plugin community and its extensible nature, obsidian can evolve to have many diverse strengths. As plug-ins continue to develop, I suspect obsidian on one user’s machine will be quite different from obsidian for another user. Students and academics (even in the same field) work, learn and create in very different ways.

The pitfall is that most academics are trying to get things done today (well, usually yesterday). Academia might be centuries old, but neither Obsidian nor the user is going to be around to see how knowledge management evolves over that time scale. The practical question that software tools need to address is: what can it do for me today with respect to writing this thesis, grant proposal or manuscript? From that perspective, one debates (I certainly do) whether it is a good use of time to use Obsidian vs something that’s been around the block (e.g., org mode, Scrivener, DEVONthink). People have different tolerance for growing pains. No universal answer but something a user approaching Obsidian (or any other tool) should probably ask before jumping down the rabbit hole.

With regard to knowledge management vs writing, the two are so intimately connected, I (personal opinion) tend to favor a single app that does both well. Why dilly-dally with two environments when a single one can do both? One app is better than two is especially relevant with these classes of apps because they often require significant tailoring and personalized decorations and settings (plugins, keybindings, even some coding). The time invested in getting into one of these app ecosystems is not trivial, and the longer you can manage to stay in a single system the more reward you reap from your early investment of time and effort.

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