Over the past year, I’ve spent way more time than I will ever get back looking at Personal Knowledge Management (PKM) options as they continue to evolve. Three options that have received particular attention from me are Roam Research, Obsidian, and Craft. While I could make a case for any of these three, I’m leaning toward Obsidian.
Why I’m Leaning Obsidian
I continue to be impressed with Obsidian’s feature set and release cycle. We get updates weekly, sometimes multiple times a week. Obsidian’s developers have thus far made a stable, fun-to-use Electron app (I didn’t even know that was possible) that gives you all the expected PKM tools: Wiki-style links, backlinks, and graph view. Just take a look at everything already completed on the Obsidian roadmap. Like all of these apps, Obsidian makes contextual computing so easy. I embed links to OmniFocus task lists, DEVONthink libraries, websites, and anything else I can tie to a URL with no problems. Obsidian also supports creating links to files on your file system or just embedding files right in your Obsidian library.
Moreover, they have added the ability to add third-party plugins, which has spawned a rich assortment of interesting additional features from third parties. Simultaneously, the Obsidian developers plow forward with their app. (They are now close to releasing a mobile app.) Best of all, everything is based on a collection of Markdown files, which means you control your data and can easily get it out of Obsidian if you get drawn to something else new and shiny. Of use to me, but not necessarily everyone else, they have already put together their own end-to-end encryption solution with version history. I’m able to sync my data with my own encryption key.
Why I’m Not Leaning Toward Roam
Roam Research is a web-based linked-text system that lets you link ideas between each other with ridiculous simplicity. Roam, of all the options, is the most granular. For Roam, every carriage return represents another block and linkable entity. Obsidian and (to a lesser extent) Craft are more engineered around the document model. That makes Roam perhaps the easiest solution to laser focus on linking one bit of data to another (which is good) and less useful for writing (which is bad). Along that theme, Roam also uses a weird variant of Markdown that makes writing in Roam even harder.
My biggest gripe with Roam is the data model. With Roam, all of your data goes into their cloud. They don’t have end-to-end encryption. They don’t even have two-factor authentication. If you get a user’s login email and password, you get everything.
Craft is the newest entry and, to me, more attractive than Roam. It’s the only native Mac/iOS app in play. It also has a very responsive developer that seems to be iterating fast. Craft is the clear winner if you are primarily working on iPhone and iPad. Roam is a lousy experience on mobile, and Obsidian has yet to release their mobile app. In the end, however, it was the idea of local Markdown files, end-to-end encryption, and the lightning-fast development that pulled me toward Obsidian.
These aren’t the only three apps in this space. I’m getting emails from other developers nearly weekly now that are building similar tools. The PKM gold rush is on.