What am I missing about Obsdian and its ability to connect ideas?

Hi guys - so far I love the software, but I am finding that it’s not quite clicking for me in terms of the usefulness/functionality around linking ideas.

Am I right in thinking that the linking between notes is mainly through the backlinks? So for example if I have a note on an author, say Jonathan Franzen, I can then open up his note and in the links section I’ll see both the linked and unlinked mentions and…I don’t mean to sound ungrateful here…but is that it?

Honestly I feel like it’s my lack of understanding and familiarity with tools such as these that is holding me back from figuring out the power and benefit so if anyone is able to enlighten me, I’d really appreciate it.

Thanks!

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As an example. I have a note on the debate about Communism v Capitalism, and within that is a reference to South Korea. So I have created a bi-directional link for South Korea, which gives me a new note. Then when I cmd+click, it opens the note, but the only way to see what I have about SK elsewhere is through the links section - is there any way that the note itself could be a collation of all references to South Korean?

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To clarify: are you saying you’d like the links section to be the body of the note?

Many in Obsidian’s community would advocate that if you want a collection of notes in a note, it is a good idea to create it manually—otherwise you just get the same thing you’d find in a file system folder, and Obsidian becomes no more useful than that plus your preferred markdown app.

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Just create a South Korea tag?

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Thank you Ryan, yes that’s what I was getting at.

I accept what you’ve said, it makes sense to me, and would ask as a return question - what is it that makes Obsidian more useful than another markdown app?

Thanks Dor. I have considered tags, but I’m not sure if that is the most elegant solution as one needs to know ahead of time the tags that will be used. Are tags considered ‘best practice’?

Unless I’m misinterpreting, but how is that a file system folder?

Isn’t Rufus, describing an aggregation of instances of link [[South Korea]] (including the sentence or paragraph they appear in, I assume) in the body of the SK file or at least a panel window/view that achieves this?

So at a glance you can explore your thoughts & view on SK throughout your database. Not just seeing a minor peak at Files that they occur in, as the backlinks panel currently works.

The concept being, your aggregating/viewing the all the actual writing, the real meat of your use for this backlink, in a single view. Not just seeing a list of where you can find them - which right now just functions as an slightly enhanced index/search.

Even browsing the tag returns isn’t very readable. So it’d be nice if every tag had some kind of “Tag Page” which allowed you to view an embed (probably defaulted to the nearest header) of each instance so you can have a more engaging, explorative, reflective place to browse/use your notes.

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Everyone has their own system.
You have links (forwards and backwards), tags, search, and folders. And graphs. The main advantage of links is establishing relationships and navigation between documents. From that perspective I’d regard a term like South Korea as too broad to tell you much about relationships, though it might be useful for quick reference; I’m not sure what you would write in a document with that title unless it was a TOC or extraordinarily long. You might though just want a quick reminder page with some basics.

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I have struggled with the same questions for months. And I think your problems doesn’t have anything to do with just Obsidian rather the overall method of note-taking. Now, if your confusion is about the note-taking method – I suggest you read more about Zettelkasten and the benefits of note-linking. You can also read Scott Ahrens book on How to Take Smart Notes. link to website)

Coming to your exact words - If you are just confused why Obsidian as an app is better than any other markdown app - here are some points that come to mind:

  • Note-Linking: Not many markdown apps allow you to link notes as easily as Obsidian. Even if they do this, there is no back-linking. Yes Obsidian’s back linking can be better (read discussion on fully trasnclude links - discussion on the feature you want), but it is still far better than most markdown products.

  • Linking to Headers and Visualizing Linked Notes: Obsidian also helps you to link to headers inside notes that makes it easy to locate the point you have linked to. Also adding (!) before a note-link allows you to view the linked-noted in preview mode. A feature I find really useful.

  • Configurable UI: One thing that I love most about Obsidian is the new customizable panes. You can use the app like a workspace. It’s easier to work in split mode with two or more notes in Obsidian then on other apps.

  • Graph View: Graph view is a great place to visualize how your notes are connecting and helps in figuring out themes in your notes. Again, it goes back to different principles of note-taking.

  • Folders and Tags: This feature is present in most markdown apps so it’s not new to Obsidian. But I am happy that they are here. Answering your question about tags - Yes, tags are best practice for non-hierarchal organization so your notes can live in two places at once.
    The idea behind tags is that notes are not exclusive to a single category. A single note can belong to different categories. Siloing notes in a single folder may curb your chance of using those notes in other contexts where they might be useful.

I can go on, but I hope this big overview can help you understand the benefits of Obsidian. I still think you should read on taking linked notes and method and benefits of this process to really understand the benefits of Obsidian. It’s a bit meta and requires you to have at least a few hundred notes before you start seeing the picture. I am still learning and hopefully someone more pro can help you clear these ideas more.

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Thanks, I think I understand. So this request is the same as the following?

Also, I like your tag suggestion —you should make that a Feature Request topic!

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Yep I second this, a really good idea.

Thanks for the responses to this. I have found this article from Nat Eliason for a quick and dirty breakdown on taking notes and it really resonated with me.

One of the most powerful notions I had from the piece was that by taking ideas and references from disparate sources you are able to organise them into the most relevant contexts and so develop new ideas. Obsidian appears to be the perfect partner for this. Thanks again for your feedback.

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Similarly, when finding out about Obsidian, I was searching for an app mainly to help me with connecting ideas. There are many great aspects to Obsidian - it has great features, it is free, privacy and longevity-oriented and the community is helpful and inspiring.

However, I find that for the connecting ideas what is needed is effortless and synced transclusion of knowledge-bits and the ability to quickly arrange these knowledge-bits in a logical fashion. In short, the ability to quickly remix knowledge.

Those familiar with RoamResearch will have noticed, that I am already using the Roam-Lingo here. RoamResearch has its pitfalls: Users have to trust them for their privacy-policy as much as they have to trust them for not losing their data, again. Also, it is not quite free.

Nevertheless, RoamResearch for me is definitely the best tool for connecting ideas, as it does just that: Effortless and synced transclusion at the block-level, and the ability to quickly rearrange these blocks in a logical fashion. I have found that these features speed up my academic writing in the social sciences a lot.

I wish there was a possibility to implement these features in Obsidian aswell. Actually I don’t really understand, why it can’t be done using temporary files and a simple copy-and-paste syntax such as in Emacs Org-mode. At least that’s how I imagine it to be?

Therefore, for now I am siding with RoamResearch, but keeping myself informed about Obsidian’s development and hoping :slight_smile:

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I noticed more reports of Roam losing data again yesterday.

Or, as I would put it, it’s very expensive.

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This losing of data with Roam makes it totally unusuable software. If you cannot belive that software will hold your data safe than is better to run than to use it.

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Databases always have more to go wrong and you need rigorous backups to reduce the cost when they do. Roam does seem to have particular issues with it though.

OTOH, they also have advantages, including being easier to have a web app. And some types of speed.

I think Roam will always suit some people more than Obsidian and vice versa.

I much prefer being able to work with my own documents and being able to use a number of programs with them concurrently if not simultaneously. At some point, when users have huge numbers of documents, I expect to see the ability to save search results etc in local folders to help maintain speed.

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I would like to help @RufusResearch with finding software that can help him connect ideas, which is why I would like to expand further on the aspect of data loss in RoamResearch.

As of now, it is possible to circumvent this problem of data loss by regularly exporting your databases as markdown and tracking the changes via git. If I see unintended changes to the database, you can go back in history and quickly add any pages or blocks that went missing. It is important to notice that I myself have had this happen to me only once, back in the beginning of May. Since then Roam research has seen improvements in this regard.

If RoamResearch goes offline completely, you can fall back to Obsidian. For this to work, just make sure you use Obsidian-compatible syntax in the Roam-documents.

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I appreciate this reponse @Bourdieu and I have used Roam, but there is something about the human aesthetic that is off-putting for me. The guy who runs it, there is too much negativity swirling around him and I feel that in future there is going to be a stand off between him and his users, and his belligerence will be in full effect. I do not wish to be tied to a ship with such an errant captain.

I may be wrong, and I hope so, but that is my sense on how Roam will go. I have great hope for Obsidian, in part because of the community, but also because the people developing it seem to listen to their users and I am therefore hopeful that the qualities of Roam can be found here also.

All the best to you!

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This reduces but doesn’t circumvent the problem. One case reported had been ‘in the flow’ for two hours, watching it save in Roam, until it all disappeared. And that was a few days ago. The main impact of a Git sync in this case would have been to give Roam an excuse to deny it was their problem. And some have failed to get the Git route to work; lack of familiarity presumably, but not necessarily.

I think people should try it for themselves, if they can afford it, and, if they can’t, try one of the other database solutions coming on the scene.
But not if they’re hypersensitive to data loss.

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I agree with you in some points, but tbh i dont wanna pay some software 15 USD and than plan whole contigency plan how to backup something through github and check files if something is messed up. I wanna real backup system in place from their side for that money. Also agree with @RufusResearch that something is putting it off for me to use it. But nevertheless lets all freely choose what we will use and that is cool. For me knowledge that OBS files are on my machine is killer advantage, also idea that i can easily export them if needed somewhere else just additional point. Thats why OBS has all i need in this moment.

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More or less. That thread is pretty sprawling & don’t have time to see actually where the topic landed, but overall it’s about seeing more of the text of the paragraph/sentence that the link is in so it’s not just findable, but also the instance readable from panel.

I finally added the request as per your suggestion and expanded it to include backlinks as I think the concept of request could cover both tags & backlinks. Possibly achieving some of the power of backlinks mentioned across similar topics.

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