Why use links over hashtags? Discuss!

I’ve been using obsidian for about 2 months and while I initially was using links, I found it cumbersome to remember whether I needed to link to a page or a page subsection or whatever. It really wasn’t working.

Enter hashtags/tags. I didn’t get the point of these initially but they’re simply the best and do everything I need. I wonder, in what cases would anyone use backlinks/links/etc instead of tags? Is is simply a style choice?

I for one prefer the networked, un-hierarchical structure created by tags…

Have you read the existing discussions about it?

The ones I’ve seen don’t answer the Q. Do you have a specific one in mind to share?

No, but the topic of links vs. tags has come up multiple times and people have answered all along the spectrum. What discussions did you read and how did they fail to answer the question?


I use both. Tags are useful for categorizing notes. Links are useful for connecting notes together. They have different purposes.

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I agree with your accessement. Tags are more functional than links.

Links are useful for outlining (table of contents, in the traditional book), indexes, and referencing. It is better to restrict the use of links because, given their property, they are terrible destractors of reading. A note overflowed with links is very hard to read from beginning to end because these links attract and distract the attention of the reader. Jumping from one note to another note is not deep understanding. It is a shallow way of linking. A deep understanding is delivered by a flow of text/idea with little or sparse destractors.

For that, this whole hype about zettel, Evergreen blah, blah is just misguided.

Tags are very useful for for oganizing notes/ideas and connect ideas across mulitple notes. They are the prime engines of idea connection.

My process goes as follows:

  • I do Atomic Noting, so I create a note for each idea, concept, etc. An example is “Keep devices out of sight when not in use”

  • I use tags for grouping collections of notes. E.g. the note above has the tags #Concept/Productivity and #Concept/EnvironmentDesign
    I essentially use them in place of folders. In the past I had a folder called ‘Productivity’ in the folder ‘Concepts’ but I ran into the issue of having a note that could be in multiple folders, so I use folders very sparingly and use tags a lot. I nest my tags too as seen in the two examples here.

This gives me a clear method for deciding when to do the two. When I take notes on a book and break its contents up into Atomic Notes, I break the info down into their individual notes, and tag them as I go to group the notes under different categories/topics across my vault.

So notes are where the contents sit, links network them together, and tags categorise them.
I might add a link to my note on keeping devices out of sight to my note on a book that also discusses this, or to a related topic such as [[Minimising digital distractions]].

So to answer why I would use backlinks/links instead of tags, it’s because my notes are where all of my content is, and they allow me to create a web of notes that are related/interconnected.
If I want to go deep on a topic, I can start with one note and go through to other links to see what related topics I’ve linked. I can also do this by viewing all the notes under a given tag to get a broader overview of the topic.

You can see examples on my Publish site:


I agree that notes can be distracting, similar to how hyperlinks on a web page are. The book “The Shallows” talks about this a lot.

However I think Links are one of the most powerful parts of Obsidian when used right.

Because I write most of my notes manually and with intention, I have a good idea and grasp of what is in each of them. So when I read through a note with a lot of links, e.g. a book summary, I don’t need to click into most of them as I know what is in each, and I can read through it like a normal document. If I do forget some of what is in a note, or want to dive further into a specific topic, I can do so.

I’m experimenting with how I do this by trying two methods:
1: Taking notes on a book by having the main note mostly be links with a summary at the top. Example here.
2: Creating long-format notes, like an essay, with Links ‘integrated’ into paragraphs like a normal sentence. Allows for reading of the note with less clicking into links. Example here.

Still not sure which is best!

It works well for me so I politely disagree with Zettle and Evergreen notes being ‘misguided’. There is a good, efficient way to do both, but they can be done inefficiently too. It’s not always intuitive or clear what the right way to do it with, so it takes trial and error to work it out, as well as seeing what works well for others :slight_smile:


I appreciate people when they respectfully disagree. The point of these conversations to learn from each other. If we all say “all of us is right”, then, there is no genuine conversation, and there is genuine lesson to be learned. I know postmodernism wants us to believe that every method or approach is right by its own. NO!. Reality don’t work that way. There are better/right ways of doing sth and there are wrong/ineffective ways of doing it. That is why conversations like this are useful.

On that background:
I would like to appreciate your clarity of thought in the issue. Your use of tags is also brilliant. They are really useful in that way–to categorize notes.

But, I would also like to disagree on your assessment of the two alternatives:
a) the linked method: or the Zettel method
b) the traditional method (long essay) with sparse links.

I think the Zettel method is problematic on a number of considerations:

  1. You said you know your links: that you don’t need to check on each of them while reading as you already know what they talk about.

But, I don’t this would work for a long time. For now, you know what your hyperlinked notes talks about. So, you don’t need to click on each of them. That is fine. But, the problem is as the time passes and the number of notes accumulates, you will start to forget what those links to talk about. You will be forced to click to check each of them—the problem of disruption.

/This argument is based on the assumption that you will keep your notes for a long time. That is actually what will happen in most of the cases, for most of us. Our notes will be laying around for a long time. One might argue that I will process/compose my notes before I forget them, or soon enough. My counter argument to that would be then why that person want so link them in the first place. Why she/he cannot just write them straight to an essay/book/article?/

  1. The second issue is the readability issue for other users(readers). Writing is not always for your self. You are already publishing your articles. AS you have linked above, you have published them using both approaches. The Zettel method might work good for you. But, it is a pain for other readers (users) because we don’t know what those links talk about—as such, we are forced to click on each like to get all your ideas on a certain topic. Your summary of the Shallow, on the other hand, is much straightforward for the reader because almost every relevant point you are making is laid down there. I don’t feel that I am missing something from your review even if I don’t click any of your links.

If I extrapolate Carr’s point, the reason why the Zettel are so popular these days is probably because they don’t encourage intensive thinking and long time concentration on an issue. Zettels are like the Titkok for the knowledge worker. They jump from one medium/note to the other without much using your brain for a focused thinking. They are fun, and entertaining. But, they are the opposite of focused, concentrated deep work/thinking.

  • The links function as the temporary reliefs for the short-wired brain.
  • Since our brain has been tinkered, it struggles to read and write long essays. For that, we want to jump from one snippet to another. The Zettel fit to that paradigm of short-span thinking pretty well.
  • But, the more you use your brain for extensive thinking, for long term concentration, on writing and reading, will get better at it. Long essays will help you in that way as well.

You own note/review has everything I want to say:

Disadvantages of hyperlinks

Links don’t merely point us to related content; they propel us toward them. They encourage us to dip in and out of the content as we please, breaking up our attention.
(Ruairi: This is detrimental to focus as It takes 25 minutes to fully focus on a task after switching from another).
Hyperlinks are designed to grab our attention; their value as a navigational tool is inextricably tied to the distraction they cause.
So they are not merely a new, neutral take on print-based navigational aids like citations and footnotes.

They take advantage of The Habit Cycle; we see them and think that something better or more interesting might lie beyond it, and our desire for the reward kicks off the action of clicking it.

The Shallows - Ruairi McNicholas

Haha yeah when I read that book and what it has to say about hyperlinks, I found myself in the uncomfortable position of taking on information that’s contrary to the system I’ve been using for so long; I’m 1,400+ notes into Obsidian now and use a lot of links.

That’s a good point about the system not scaling. I see people in the community saying to do what works for you, and when you encounter pain points or issues, look for new systems to solve those problems. I might scout around the forums to see if anyone has run into this issue and has a good solution.

Thanks for checking out The Shallows summary and giving feedback, it’s always great to get thoughtful opinions from others on the work you do.

Zettels are like the Titkok for the knowledge worker.
Oof. Painful but true, especially as someone actively avoiding TikTok, even when marketers all around me are saying I’m missing out by not using it.

Do you have any examples in your own vault of long-format notes I could see for comparison?

I think I’ll experiment going forward; do some books with many links, do some long-format like The Shallows, and see what works as my vault grows.

Thanks for the thoughtful input mate!

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I actually don’t have any interesting stuff to share. I am in the academics; and most of the stuff I am working is pretty boring.

You review of the Shallows is a primal example of a great essay; great readability and wonderful organization. That is the kind of stuff we want to write and read.

Thank for putting that passage about links. I don’t know if it is a direct quote or a restatement by you: but it is my favorite thing about links right now.