Note taking apps seem to be growing in popularity as of late. But not just for taking notes in the conventional sense.

They’ve grown to be useful for developing what are increasingly being called atomic notes. These are notes that are tiny in nature but, when linked together, they become a powerful database with which to explore thought and build ideas. It’s been called a SlipBox, Notebox, and Zettelkasten, likely among other monikers.

Certainly I’ve been quite keen on DEVONthink, as my recently released Taking Smart Notes with DEVONthink can attest.

But another one that is certainly worth exploring is Obsidian. I’ve been kicking its tires quite a bit, and it’s really quite neat. It provides a solid linking and back-linking system, and has quite a snazzy graphing mechanism, to boot.

Now, you may be worried, as is often the case in the world of productivity, about choosing what to use. Especially if you’ve invested considerable time into one program or the other. Fortunately, you can use both.

DEVONthink is the sort of app that plays well with others. It integrates a whole host of functions and then lets you use most any other app alongside it. For example, while you can create texts or edit PDFs in DEVONthink, you can also launch your favorite editors to work on them outside the application, while still keeping the advantages of them being within DEVONthink’s database.

DEVONthink has recently had a small but quite significant change in its WikiLinks preferences that accommodates this rather well for note-linking apps. Specifically, DEVONthink now allows for choosing both “Square Brackets” and “Names and Aliases” as WikiLink options, instead of only one or the other:

Checking both Square Brackets and Names and Aliases

Until this change, I would consistently remain within DEVONthink specifically for the Names and Aliases option. I had tried, on a couple of occasions, to integrate DEVONthink with Obsidian, but found myself wanting. I just didn’t like the double brackets that Obsidian requires when creating a link. It’s just so neat to type and have those words auto-magically turn into links. I often discover having written about something without remembering having done so. And, I don’t like having double brackets appear in the middle of the body of text. And, I really like the workflows, the integration with all files types, not to mention the AI that DEVONthink has to offer. So I wouldn’t budge.

Now, however, because of the change to the preferences, I can have both. Here’s an example of a note in Obsidian, where I can see a graph of notes:

Note in Obsidian

Meanwhile, I can still use DEVONthink to use the See Also and Classify Function to see connections to my notes, the actual PDF references as well, as well as enjoy the smooth experience that I have while working in DEVONthink:

Note in DEVONthink

You can see that the note shows links within the body of text, but I also use the bracketed links. The bracketed links have become a way to signify linking on a more meaningfully-near scheme, while the in-text links also function to help me discover softer links, ideas that are further off perhaps. These can really help me consider those interesting connections I might not have otherwise considered.

Set Up

In order to set this up, you only need to have both programs point to the same set of files. I’ve been using a Dropbox folder. However, I am debating on using iCloud instead.

In DEVONthink:

  • Select Menu > File > Index Files and Folders

Indexing from DEVONthink

and point to your desired set of text files.

In Obsidian:

  • Select “Open another vault” option in the lower left:

Open another vault in Obsidian

  • Select “Open folder as vault”:

Opening a folder as a vault

The system is not perfect.  I’d like to be able to have a quick way to jump between either program from the vantage of a single note. Currently, I don’t have that.  Instead, I have to individually find the note in the other app from wherever I am.

You can use the same concept to connect with other note-taking apps such as nvAlt or, I imagine, nvUltra which I’m super excited about giving a whirl once its out.

I continue to live mainly within DEVONthink for doing my work, but it’s nice to see the graphing that Obsidian includes as well explore its development.

Consider checking out Justin DiRose’s Obsidian videos with Effective Remote Work. He does a nice job of introducing the software.