DEVONthink + Obsidian

Hey! With the recent release of Obsidian 1.0, I have been trying to figure out if it is worth integrating (no intention of leaving DT behind!) with DT.

I have read a ton of interesting threads here and Twitter threads of users that use both DT and Obsidian. Apparently the best way to do so would be having DT index your Obsidian files.

Yet, I still feel I might be missing something and I am not fully convinced it is worth the hassle of having two different apps. From what I have read, these are the most commonly praised benefits of Obsidian:

  • Note linking. I can do that beautifully in DT. Obsidian’s cloud representation might be useful though.
  • Markdown editing. Although not as clean looking, I can do that in DT.

What am I missing? Those who have integrated both apps, what’s the added value of Obsidian? Do you index Obsidian files in DT?

Thanks!

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Hey mmoren10,

Why would you be missing something when you can use them both ?

Once the obsidian folder is indexed in DT, you can edit the notes from both software (which is my current practice). Everything goes pretty well in my case.

Thanks! That’s my point: why do you use both when you can use just one? What does Obsidian add for you?

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The answer is simple. You do not need Obsidian. DT has everything that you need. Just enjoy it!

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If all you are doing is taking notes with the occasional [[backlink]] between notes, or the occasional [reference to another DEVONthink document](x-devonthink-item://...), and if DEVONthink satisfies your note-taking needs on both macOS and mobile devices, then you probably do not need Obsidian.

I prefer Obsidian for most note taking cases because I get a lot of utility from plugins such as Dataview, Templater, and Readwise. There are downsides, though. Obsidian does not have a share extension on macOS which is a big negative. There are workarounds – ironically DEVONthink is one of the workarounds via indexing – but no extension is an issue. The Obsidian sync add-on is expensive, even if you have the early-adopter discount which I think is no longer available. Obsidian’s mobile platform is annoying to navigate and I avoid it as much as I can. Annotating PDFs in Obsidian is pointless, given the profusion of spec-built annotations engines including DEVONthink.

But, don’t take anyone’s word for it here. Basic Obsidian and all the plugins in the community repository is free. Try it for yourself.

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My experience has been similar. While there are minor benefits like block-level transclusion, overall there is not much functionality in Obsidian that really adds value on top of what DevonThink does.

My only use case for running Obsidian is the Readwise plugin. By indexing the Obsidian folder, I get the different highlights from Readwise into DevonThink.

As a tip for anyone considering indexing their Obsidian vault: Definitely check out the DevonLink plugin and script by Ryan Murphy. This makes it possible to instantly go from the indexed note in DevonThink to the source in Obsidian, and vice versa.

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I don’t use this – but probably should:

Readwise has a tool to export either all highlights, or just the new book and article highlights, into a folder of markdown files. The format and exported fields of the exported file is configurable just as it is with the Readwise Obsidian plugin. So, we can get to the same end state with DEVONthink as we can exporting highlights to Obsidian and indexing them in DEVONthink.

Readwise also has a good API so anyone so inclined (hint, Jim and Criss) could gin up an automatic download of Readwise highlights to DEVONthink. This should become increasingly interesting with the introduction of the Readwise Reader app – Reader’s highlights and annotations feed into Readwise and are downloaded via the methods mentioned above.

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Allow me to add a detail:
It would be the same end state, but with the important difference that it requires repeated manual exports. With the Obsidian plugin, it’s “set it and forget it”: all highlights (incl. new ones) are synced automatically as long as Obsidian is running in the background.

Agreed. I think it would be a smart move.

I actually find that a little bit of friction here helps me. My partner gifted me 3 months free of Readwise to try and it, and I like it. But I’ve purposely not yet activated the Obsidian plug in for it. Why? I annotate too liberally on Kindle. The real value to me comes from thinking once more about these annotations, mostly a day or so after I’ve finished a book. I’ll then manually download the MD files from the Readwise website as @korm suggests, copy them manually into a new Obsidian reading note; probably delete about half of them; and then contextualise the rest with my own thoughts and observations, and of course links to other relevant things. I’ve found that I prefer this buffer, and if I’d simply had all the annotations from Readwise in a big folder, they would be less useful to me in the longer run – too much noise, too little context.

Otherwise I run DT and Obsidian alongside each other with great success. I don’t even bother indexing the Obsidian folder. Many of my Obs notes have links to resources in DT (‘get item link’), and there is huge power in that for me. I have fewer notes back from DT to Obs – I just don’t have the need.

For me the real reason for using Obsidian over DT is that the writing process and markdown rendering is a lot more pleasing on the eye. DT’s ‘static’ modes, either a preview, source, or ‘side by side’ view, just aren’t for me – I find it too cluttered especially when there are copious links; and wanting to edit a file is always a click away when reading ‘preview’.

([Location 131](https://readwise.io/to_kindle?action=open&asin=B07642RQ6M&location=131))
v.
Screenshot 2022-10-23 at 10.03.52

If you have a lot of these, then the md plain text file just looks really cluttered! I am aware that the md purists will tell me I just need to get used to it, and maybe a better CSS would help me here. But Obsidian gives me this out of the box.

All that said, DT is very much my escape plan should Obsidian ever go the way of the dodo.

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Yes, the manual download is friction. But, for some it might be an option.

I’ve actually learned better ways to use Devonthink from watching the Obsidian crowd.

I think my fondest wish in DT right now is for a view similar to Obsidian’s graph.

Imagine selecting a tag, group, or smart group for viewing as a corkboard. Each document would appear as an index card containing the document’s annotation. If a document didn’t have an annotation, it would appear as a quick look preview. Connections would be from links, tags, and mentions.

A few weeks ago I installed Obsidian on a crash-and-burn machine. It’s different and I think it’s a wonderful free alternative, but it can’t do what DT does.

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you might be aware, but just in case there is a really nice script for (limited, but still) graph views in DT:

I stopped co-using obsidian with DT after discovering it…

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I need to revisit that. I think I didn’t get the dependencies copied to the right place the first time I tried this. Stupid error on my part!

Oh, yessss! That’s GREAT!

I added a Keyboard Maestro hot key to do command-A and run the script. I can open a group or smart group and run the KM macro.

Very nice, another navigation instrument on the bridge - that always makes a good day!

Hey - I’m pretty happily using Obsidian and DevonThink together. Here’s why I bother.

Obisidian’s text editing engine is more flexible; there’s just more switches to flip and plugins available, so you can basically make it act however you want. I have it set up to essentially allow me to work with my .md documents as though they were outlines. I have a worksheet I go through pretty often during the week for a work process, which I do In Obsidian because…

  • I can tick off tasks as completed using a single keystroke
  • I can toggle sections of the note visible or hidden (using header # tags to indicate hierarchy)
  • I can step into a section of the note, (“Focus” in OmniOutliner, “zoom” in Workflowy I think)
  • I can split the window to show multiple parts of the note in different panes, so I can easily work in a task section and still keep a notes section of the same text document visible
  • Obsidian has a table of contents/outline view I can keep pinned open. DevonThink has this too, but in practice I find I usually want that pane showing something else when I’m working in DT.

My worksheet looks sort of like this:

# Title
## Info
### names and dates
### additional project info
## Notes
### Directions from team 
### My notes for completing this project
## Tasks
### Prep tasks
### Edit tasks
### Delivery Tasks
## Delivery Note to Client
## Document Notes
### Original document
### Delivered document

So there are parts that are to-dos, parts that are notes I make on the fly about the specific project, and parts that are deliverables. With Obsidian it’s easy to manage all that in a single text document. Then it lives permanently in DevonThink, which has more robust filing and sorting abilities.

I also use the Readwise integration in Obsidian

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I find it hard to decide between the two, but I also really don’t like switching between two apps.

I prefer DT for:

  • Native apps that integrate nicely with the OSes
  • In-doc search (pdf/word/email docs are same-class citizens as notes)
  • Automation (e.g. automatically turning my read-it-later favorites into readable PDF’s which can then be annotated)

But Obsidian’s note taking part is just way better for me:

  • (More or less) WYSIWYG
  • Extensive plugin system with stuff like QuickAdd, which allows me to use templates and fill them with API-data (e.g. books, movies) with a simple click
  • Same functionality on mobile and desktop (e.g. wiki/backlinking)

Especially since 1.0 (which is feeling much more native), I’m leaning more towards Obsidian. Also, it seems that OmniSearch (a plugin) will soon support in-pdf searching. However, I especially miss the automation of feeds towards readable pdf’s. I can see myself in the future using Obsidian as my main driver with the vault indexed in DT just for some of DT’s automation stuff.

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I find I want to like Obsidian for all its plugins, but remain happy with Devonthink.

Devonthink’s tagging is more flexible and replicants are awesome. I rarely manually create a replicant, but they are what make tagging and my new favorite, un-excluding select groups from tagging, work so well.

If Devonthink added a corkboard mode so you could create concept or mind maps directly in Devonthink, that would be dynamite. I can almost do that from Devonthink with Curio’s file-backed text blocks. Unfortunately, I’ve found the linking between Curio and Devonthink can be fragile when data is synched between machines.

Linking with x-url links into Devonthink works perfectly. Direct display and editing of DT documents in Curio is prone to breakage on the Curio end, and even that isn’t really Curio’s fault. It’s a side effect of how Apple safeguards links.

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wholeheartedly agree on the corkboard mode…am using the above mentioned graph view script, ithoughtsx for mindmaps and DT’s workspaces to emulate a kanban view. all of which kind of serve their intended purpose to visualize my DT data, but in the end they are all lacking in some way or another…

am curious to see what the upcoming freeform app as part of mac os ventura can do, but having a flexible graphical frontend to all my DT data would indeed be dynamite…

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Many of my resources in DT (PDFs, primary and secondary sources) have notes associated with them that live in Obsidian (reading notes, essentially; concepts extracted from them, and so on).

I’ve found that the Excalidraw plugin in Obsidian is very interesting – allowing huge freedom of expression and easy linking and even transclusion of notes, in order to start exploring the nature of a link. In my experience, the really meaning or value of links/backlinks can be very difficult to intuit unless we have some information about the nature of a link. If A links to B, is that an elaboration, refutation, further example, analogous case, or what? In Obsidian I try and keep my larger maps of content (just text docs with manually curated lists of subsets of notes), where I write out what I think are is the nature of those links. I would LOVE to do this work in-house in DT as well. But each app has its strengths and DT may need to stick to what it does best, rather than bolt on endless new visualisations.

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Though I’d like to use only DT (seems more “robust”), I ended up with using both.

DT for resource storage because of its powerful searching tool.
I work with academic papers, so I store the PDFs for future reference.
That is, I open it only when I don’t find any info in my Obsidian notes, so that I look into the full papers.

Obsidian (indexed in DT) for note taking.
Here I store the highlights I take from the papers and link them each others.
I live in Obsidian right now, that is my second brain.
I like it because it’s so powerful yet so frictionless.
Furthermore, syncing between devices (iCloud) is much more fast and reliable because it have to sync only text files.
When I need to work on something, I grab my device (Mac, iPad or iPhone) and all of my new notes are synced in an instant.

DT would be my ultimate choice, but creating Markdown notes with backlink and refactoring generates so much more friction.
Moreover, I’ve always found the sync very slow (ok it’s them, it’s because DT has much more to sync instead of simple text files).

But again, I’d like to find a way to have less friction in DT because is much more powerful.

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