Newsletter #56: Why Owning Your Notes Data Is Crucial

Ramses Oudt
Ramses Oudt
Newsletter #56: Why Owning Your Notes Data Is Crucial

Happy Friday, fellow lovers of knowledge and tools!

As we're building our stacks of thinking tools, it's important to think about our data. Ever since moving from Roam Research to Logseq, I've noticed how expensive switching tools can be. It has also awakened the realization in me that we need to own our data.

Data ownership means a lot of things. Not only does it mean we get to decide who sees and uses our data; it also means we have ways to read and change that data regardless of anything. When you can only open your notes with one tool, you have no data ownership; the tool owns your data.

In this newsletter, I've selected resources that will help you create notes data that is yours. No matter what tool you will use with your notes in the future, Logseq and Obsidian will ensure that you can access your notes. In other words: data created with either tool can live for decades.

As I'm starting to use Obsidian more and thousands of users are flocking to the tool, I'll be giving it more love. Expect more Obsidian resources in the newsletter and on the blog. And as I'm mostly interested in using different tools on the same data, I'll be writing a lot more about data interoperability.

Let's dig in.

What tool to pick if you have many notes

Do you have thousands of notes and are you wondering what tool you should pick? Apart from thinking about whether you want to write in outlines (Roam, Logseq) or pages (Obsidian, Bear), another crucial part is performance.

You can have the shiniest tool of them all, but it's useless if it can't handle your notes. That's why it's great that Alexander Rink is doing performance tests with different note-taking tools. So far he has covered Obsidian, Logseq, RemNote, Roam Research, and Craft. You can see the (interim) results here. If you have more than 5,000 notes, it's clear that Obsidian should have your attention at this moment.

Logseq tips for (former) Roam users

If you're a Roam user and are looking at Logseq, things will seem very familiar. And while both tools share paradigms (graph-based outliners) and Logseq liberally took inspiration from Roam's features, some things are definitely different.

On the Logseq forum, there's this useful thread by "Luhmann" with tips for (former) Roam users. In it, he explains how in Logseq links are case insensitive, task management, queries, page aliases (which don't exist in Roam), and properties (called attributes in Roam). Definitely check it out for a smooth switch.

How to combine Logseq and Obsidian

If you use a plain text format for your notes like Markdown, a world of possibilities opens up. When data can be used in hundreds of text tools, you can use the strengths of each on the same data.

Two tools that are popular companions are Logseq and Obsidian. As both tools work with Markdown files, you can feed the data from one to the other and keep on writing. Many writers use Logseq to quickly jot down ideas, create outlines, and manage tasks, but then take their data to Obsidian to finish their pieces for publishing.

Jeffrey Webber has created an excellent video walkthrough of how to set up both tools to make them place nicely together.

If you prefer reading, check out my Twitter thread where I laid out the exact same setup step-by-step (including screenshots):

How to use tags in Obsidian

One of the best reasons to use Obsidian is for its graph view. When you link or tag notes in the tool, you can visualize the relationships in a variety of ways. But if you're used to either Roam or Logseq, Obsidian's tagging system can be a bit confusing.

In the video below, Bryan Jenks explains the difference between links and tags in Obsidian and shares how he uses both. It shows the power of leaning on an emerging structure instead of trying to impose one on your notes.

If you want to dive deeper into the world of Obsidian links and tags, I recommend you read this article on the Obsidian forum. It outlines how they're different and when to use which, including examples.

How to integrate Obsidian into iOS

If you're using Obsidian and are plugged into the Apple ecosystem, I definitely recommend you check out the following resources.

The first tutorial is by Chris, AKA TFT Hacker. In it, he shows how you can create iOS widgets that are fed by (several) Obsidian files. If you want to have quick access to the notes you've been working on with an iPad or iPhone, this is a must-read: Creating your own Obsidian iOS Widget.

Another resource to check out when you're an iOS and Obsidian user is the Obsidian Shortcut Launcher by Federico Viticci. Not only did he create a plugin to trigger Apple Shortcuts from within Obsidian, he also wrote an incredibly clear walkthrough on how to set it up and use it. This is the next level of automation, and Federico shows how he has automated publishing from Obsidian to WordPress (including images!).

Atomic Essay: The Need for Data Interoperability

This week another atomic essay from my hand, with musings that were triggered by this week's topic: interoperability of notes data. I'm eager to hear your opinion on the topic, and look forward to publishing your atomic essay. Hit reply and share what's on your mind!

For most of my working life, I've used walled note-taking apps. That meant that my notes were captives, struggling to be used outside of my tool of choice. I never gave it much thought—until the time arrived I had to change tools.

Changing roles every few years means being confronted by wildly different IT policies. Many of the jobs I worked either prescribed a knowledge management tool or would impose restrictions on what I could use.

But plain text files were always okay. Anything that was stored locally was allowed with any IT policy. Even the most neurotic data privacy officer approves plain Markdown files. That got me thinking.

I've been overlooking the need for plain text notes for too long. Using Evernote, Notion, and Roam, I was plainly used to my data being stuck in a silo. But data interoperability matters.

So what is this thing, data interoperability (interop for short)? It means that your data (notes) are in a format or structure that it can be read and changed by different software tools. It also means that when your data can be read by several apps, you can be sure that data won't become inaccessible at some moment in the future.

The most common data interop formats are plain text (.txt) files and Markdown (.md). Both file formats are supported by hundreds of tools across dozens of operating systems. If you ever want to take notes that will last for decades, store them as plain text.

But data interop is more than data longevity. It also makes it possible to work with the same data in different contexts. Want to use the best outliner tool and then bring that outline to the best long-form writing tool? Data interop makes it a reality.

While there's still much to improve in the world of data interop—like links to other notes working across tools—the current state already allows a lot. And with more people becoming aware of the need for owning their data, innovation around interop is accelerating.

Have a good look at your current stack of tools. Do you own your data or does the tool? This is a crucial question to answer. Only when you trust your system will you actually use it. Be critical of your stack.

Join the conversation.

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