A personal wiki is the preferred note-taking format for many power users. After all, having your notes organized in an interconnected wiki makes them much easier to navigate than a linear collection of pages.
But most methods of creating private wikis are rather tedious. Either they need you to set up some sort of offline server, with HTML and CSS, or they just let you access a web page with your web browser.
What if you wanted clean, simple wiki pages that could be stored on your computer in a single file or folder? This is where Obsidian comes in.
What is obsidian?
At its core, Obsidian is an amazing note-taking app. Scratch beyond the surface, however, and you’ll find it’s much more than that.
Obsidian gives you the ability to create your own wikis with a network of interconnected nodes, allowing you to organize your thoughts (or research) in a more natural format. There are plenty of “brain mapping” apps that already do this, but none are as clean and simple to use as Obsidian.
Plus, all your notes are kept in a folder on your own PC, completely offline. This means your data is safe in your hands, to be backed up to a USB drive or your favorite cloud storage.
And the biggest draw? It’s completely free. You can get started with this incredibly versatile note-taking app without having to pay a dime or have your data held for ransom by a third-party server.
Why do you need a personal wiki?
If you’ve ever worked on a complex project that required a lot of research and notes, you know the value of an internal wiki. There’s only so much information you can fit into a series of pages before it becomes an indecipherable mess.
There’s a reason Wikipedia (or any wiki, for that matter) organizes its information the way it does – it’s more intuitive to browse through a web of interconnected topics. Wiki software does the same thing, but for your personal use.
Ultimately, it’s a note-taking paradigm that lets you build a sort of knowledge base, with topics neatly organized according to their relationship to each other. Whether you’re working on a creative project or researching a complex topic, a personal wiki is an indispensable tool.
Obsidian is a Markdown-based text editor. This makes getting started pretty easy – just open a blank page and start typing. Of course, some knowledge of basic Markdown formatting is helpful, especially the syntax for adding links.
- First, download Obsidian from the official site. There is an installer for Windows, as well as Mac and several Linux distributions. Mobile users can go to Google Play Store and Apple App Store to install Obsidian on their smartphones.
- Setup is lightning fast – just run the setup and the app will open in seconds.
- Obsidian Notes are organized into “vaults”. Each vault is basically a folder full of plain-text Markdown files, usually centered around a topic. Obsidian can both create new vaults and open previously created vaults, even from another device. For now, let’s go with the middle option.
- You will be asked to name the vault and specify a destination. You can choose to store it on your PC or on a portable drive connected to it.
- The latest version of Obsidian comes with a live preview feature. Basically, it lets you directly see the effects of Markdown formatting (like a WYSIWYG editor) instead of having to preview. We recommend that you enable it.
- The vault will open in the standard project view, displaying a list of all your files and the text of the currently selected file. Except there’s nothing to show yet, so you get a blank canvas.
- Create a new file by pressing CTRL+N or using the New note left button.
- You can now start typing the content of the note, using Markdown formatting if necessary. Although a complete guide to Markdown syntax is beyond the scope of this article, we’ll show you how to create linked notes. Just put some text in double brackets and it will turn into a link.
- Clicking the link directly creates a new note with the name in parentheses, ready to be edited in the same way. You can also see the ever-growing hierarchy of notes in the left list and change any of them with one click.
- You can also visualize your network of nodes in the graph view, opened by the dedicated button in the side panel on the left (the molecule-shaped icon). It displayed all of your notes with lines joining those that were linked, giving a nice way to see the relationships between them. With just two notes, it doesn’t sound like much, but when you have dozens (or hundreds) of files, it really comes in handy.
And that’s about it. You can create your own personal knowledge base just by typing your notes and linking related topics, without any other markdown formatting.
That being said, learning a bit of Markdown will allow you to include things like bulleted lists and external links, as well as a bunch of other formatting options that make your notes easier to read.
Beyond Notes – Plugins
Obsidian’s biggest advantage over other note-taking apps is its extensibility. With the right plugins, you can turn Obsidian into almost anything from a kanban board to a journaling tool.
And there are quite a few plugins available. As with any free tool, Obsidian has a large and active community. There are plugins to add all sorts of functionality to Obsidian, making it a productivity tool comparable to Trello or Notion.
- To get started with plugins, run the Obsidian app on your computer and open Settings from the gear icon in the lower left.
- Select the Community plugins option.
- By default, Safe mode is enabled, preventing the installation of any community plug-ins on your PC. Use the button to turn it off.
- You will be prompted to confirm the choice, with a warning about the risks posed by poorly designed plugins. Select Disable safe mode proceed.
- The interface will now change, showing additional options to find more plugins and view all installed ones. Click on Browse for a list of all community plugins.
- Plugins are sorted by their number of downloads, so you’ll find the most popular plugins at the very top. Each of the entries comes with a name and a short description, which you can select to see more details.
- After selecting a plugin, simply click on the Install button to add it to Obsidian.
- You have to Enable the plugin too before you can use it. This is also where you can uninstall or deactivate the plugin if you wish.
- The plugin will be activated and ready to use.
Is obsidian good?
Anyone who has ever tried to compile a full knowledge base of their notes knows how difficult it is with a normal word processor. This is especially true for creative projects, where your thoughts branch off in all tangents, rarely keeping a strictly linear flow.
There are Wiki software with internal links, but few are as light and easy to use as Obsidian. Not to mention expandable, with full Markdown support and a variety of community-created plugins.
And the best part? The application is completely free and local. Your files are stored on your own computer, which guarantees the security and confidentiality of your data. This makes Obsidian one of the best ways to organize information.