I made the mistake of putting the iPad Pros podcast on at 3am yesterday. Ended up listening and not going back to sleep. Even worse, it was an interview with MacSparky about Obsidian. I’ve tried that app several times in the past couple of years but it never stuck for more than a couple of months. It always seemed a bit too much and the interface too complex. Also, I considered the non-native interface ugly. If I’m going to be using an app several hours a day I want to be visually pleasing. I’ve been spoiled by iA Writer which has been my go to markdown editor for a few years.
In any case, listening to the podcast prompted another check-in with the app. But some of what was discussed in the podcast prompted me to take a more serious look this time. So, I spent bits of my day tweaking and moving previous files into an archive folder. I’d previously installed the publish to micro.blog plugin so I used that to post to micro.blog a couple times. It works very well.
I settled into the app for the evening. I spent a bit of time following up on some of what was discussed in the podcast. Back to my earlier points that previously served as blocks to adoption.
- An interface that I didn’t like visually. The sidebar was a particular problem as there was no setting to change the font size and I found it difficult to navigate as a result. I shouldn’t have to strain my eyes to navigate my files.
- An interface that seems too complex because the app itself offers so many features.
Obsidian is not just a markdown editor. iA Writer is a markdown editor. While Obsidian has as its base a folder of markdown files, it is, far more than an app for writing text. It is a modular system that uses plugins to do far more. And so the question becomes, do I need all that it offers? Are those extra features something I’ll use and are they worth dealing with greater complexity?
Right off I’ll say that this time around I’m actually finding the interface not just tolerable but I’m actually enjoying it in a way I did not previously. Particularly the sidebar of the app is working for me now because after a brief search I found a way to modify the font size. This was a hurdle that had to be overcome for me to continue using the app. It is much more usable for me now and if I need to tweak it further I can. I’m not sure why this is not a setting in the app preferences but it should be.
Something else about the sidebar that I value now is how the app does folder navigation. iA Writer, like many other text editors, has folders that a user taps to navigate into. It’s not an huge problem but it came to bother me that I had to navigate back and forth. Obsidian has a sidebar than can be pinned and even better, the folders are navigated with disclosure triangles so that I can see the content in any or all folders at the same time. Additionally, drag and drop of files into folders which iA Writer does not allow.
Based on previous experience I didn’t expect to actually enjoy the visual design of the app so this is a big change that’s clearing the way for me to better appreciate all of the additional interface features. Honestly, I think it’s worth calling this out again: The tiny text of the sidebar was putting a kind of cognitive load on me that made the rest of the interface seem overly complex. It IS more complex because the app is more fully featured. But I was struggling just to navigate my files.
So, now that I’ve got that sorted I’ve spent the morning reacquainting myself with other features of the app though I’m sure I’m still in the realm of the basics. For example, there’s a right sidebar as well that can be swiped in or pinned but I’ve no idea yet how to customize it. There’s the bottom row or ribbon of tools that I should probably customize. And then the “Command Pallette” that I need to investigate further.
To sum up the experience thus far, this time around feels a bit more comfortable, exciting even whereas previous tries felt more like efforts that left me strained. Of course, it’s to be expected that a powerful, fully featured app requires more effort. I accept this with apps like the Affinity suite. I suspect that starting out with Obsidian requires users to have a patient, slower approach with an initial understanding that it will require more time and effort.
After a day of use I have a feeling that it might just stick this time.