One of the best ways to define what Obsidian is is to compare it to what it's not. So let's just take a minute and look at some of the big applications in the same or similar space and distinguish them from Obsidian.
The first one is Roam Research. Roam was one of the very first applications to the game with this idea of linked thinking. Now I understand Wikilinks go back a long time and I talked about that earlier in the course, but Roam Research really tied it together. Roam is a web-based tool where Obsidian is a local application, and that means there is a very different philosophy behind the apps, even though on the surface they look very similar. They both use heavily links and backlinks to tie your thinking together. One of the big advantages of Roam, because it's a web app, is you can log in from anywhere in the world and get full access to your knowledge base. Obsidian is more localized, it's on an app, but that allows you to get more customization in the way the app works for you. It also allows this great plugin architecture. There are a lot of people that prefer Roam over Obsidian. For me, there's no question that Obsidian is a better application. I like the data portability. I like that I control my database. And that's one of the big distinguishing facts, honestly, is that with Roam, your data is in their cloud. And with Obsidian, it's stored locally on your computer with a folder full of markdown files. and that was one of the big reasons why I leaned into Obsidian as it developed over Roam.
Craft is another linked thinking application. It is more graphically friendly. It does a better job of including multimedia. It also does a very good job with sharing where Obsidian really doesn't have a sharing story, but it's not as nimble and it's not as open as Obsidian. If you wanna work with a team, you may wanna look at Craft over Obsidian, but if you're working on your own and you want a very fast customizable system for linking thoughts and ideas together, Obsidian is probably better. I can tell you that in my life, I use Obsidian for my personal stuff and I use Kraft for my team-based stuff.
Notion is another team-based tool and this one is more universal. It's not just on the Mac platforms. It is much better at collaboration than anything I've talked about today and it is very customizable. It is not, however, that folder full of Markdown files that Obsidian is and it's not as nimble with respect to words as Obsidian is. Notion leans heavily into collaboration and shared data and Obsidian leans heavily into giving you every possible tool you could need to work with text. This is another one where many people successfully run both Notion and Obsidian at the same time.
I'm frequently asked about the differences between DEVONthink and Obsidian as well. DEVONthink is the subject of another field guide, and I'm a big fan of that application and use it daily. DEVONthink is a native experience on the Mac, iPhone, and iPad, and is much better at multimedia than Obsidian is. If you're tracking a lot of files, pictures, images, PDFs, whatever, DEVONthink is going to do a better job. While Obsidian has support for attachments, DEVONthink masters them.
I also often get asked if Apple Notes can replace Obsidian, and the answer is it cannot. Even with recent updates to Apple Notes where it's going to allow you to link notes, it doesn't have backlinks, it doesn't have plugins. For the types of things we're going to do in this course, you'll see that Apple Notes simply isn't up to the task.
So what is it that makes Obsidian different? It is that laser focus on taking that folder full of markdown files and giving you a seemingly infinite amount of tools to work on them with. It excels with words and it also excels with ideas because it gives you this really powerful way to link between these and see connections between your ideas and your words that you wouldn't see otherwise. Put simply, it gives you insight, power and flexibility over your words.