Why it’s hard to get started: Obsidian’s not really a note-taking app

Note-taking apps have ways they want you to work, a grain you should follow. Except Obsidian. Obsidian’s grain comes from you.

Austin Govella
Obsidian Observer
Published in
3 min readMay 1, 2022


Updated May 8, 2022

This might sound odd, but Obsidian isn’t a note-taking app.

On its website, the Obsidian team describes the app as “a second brain” and a “powerful knowledge base”, as well as an Integrated Development Environment (IDE) for text files.

And an IDE for text files isn’t a note-taking app.

How Integrated development environments make life easier

Programmers use IDEs. When programmers work, most programming happens in text files. An IDE helps programmers edit these text files. Based on the type of programming, the IDE offers tools like autocomplete and references and make it easy to link to resources and other files. IDE tools make it easier for programmers because they don’t need to memorize everything or worry about typos that would prevent their code from working.

Obsidian does the same thing but for text files on your computer. And images. And PDFs. And audio files. Obsidian makes it easy for you to work with these files and lets you link to and reference different files with autocomplete and makes it easy to embed images and PDFs and audio files inside Markdown files.

Obsidian is an IDE for thinking

As an IDE for thinking, Obsidian also makes it easy to re-discover and re-find other files that are similar to the file your currently working on. Whether you’re looking at a recipe for chicken and Obsidian reminds you about other chicken recipes.

This is why Obsidian is so hard to set up. It’s not a note-taking app. It’s an IDE for working with text files. It just so happens that a lot of times, these text files happen to be notes. Or they can be.

Every app has a grain, a way it wants you to work, except Obsidian

Obsidian is an IDE for thinking, or an integrated thinking environment. That’s why it’s so flexible and can be difficult to get started with. Obsidian is different from dedicated note-taking apps. Other note-taking apps and approaches have a way, a form, a grain…



Austin Govella
Obsidian Observer

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