General knowledge base apps vs. dedicated tools

Hey all,

This is something I wrestle with mentally often enough that I’m curious how others approach it. I love using tools like Craft and Obsidian to manage my book highlights and general notes, but also sometimes my tasks and data like recipes.

There’s also tools like Mela for managing recipes, Sofa for managing movies to watch and games to play, and so on. If you do use something like Craft to manage big chunks of your life, how do you decide when to use your knowledge management tool, and when to use a dedicated, domain-specific solution?

How great does the benefit or the domain-specific functionality have to be to be worth having things spread across multiple tools?


I come at the question from another direction: why would I want to put these different things in the same bucket? (I ask myself this every time I’m dealing with a new project or a new type or work—or, especially, when I’m trying out a new app.) For instance, why would I want to use the same app to house my recipe collection and my subject matter research? Especially when there’s a very good purpose-built tool for the former that will do things that my notes repository wouldn’t do half as well out of the box. It’s not much of a cognitive lift to minimize Obsidian and open Paprika to find the recipe I need; indeed, it would be more of a cognitive lift to try to shoehorn recipe management into Obsidian.

In sum, I don’t see “spread across multiple tools” as necessarily a problem. Splitting my subject matter research notes over several apps would be a problem; spreading my recipe collection over several apps would be a problem; spreading my photo library over several apps would be a problem. Keeping each type of document in a separate app suitable to its purpose isn’t a problem.


Adding onto @krocnyc’s point above, I use links to connect data from different apps where it’s related. For example, some of my Obsidian notes have links to items in my Zotero collection, when I need to reference papers in my notes. Tasks on my Trello board often link to Obsidian notes or collections in Calendar items might link to Obsidian notes with meeting agendas. And so on. For the most part, this lets me fluidly switch between different apps while still taking advantage of their domain-specific functionality.

Annie Dillard once said, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing.” Because so much of my life is spend using a computer, it’s important to me that I use tools I enjoy. Generally this means using tools that are made well for one thing.


I like to keep my notes in one place, especially those that aren’t part of a specific project or work (which has its own processes). I like to use plain text so I’m not locked into one app or another. I keep them in a single place so I can link them.

Notes contain details I want to keep around. By contrast, tasks are ephemeral; I don’t need to keep them once I’ve done them. Most reminders are ephemeral also. I’m happy to use specialized apps that do lock me in for ephemeral stuff, because I don’t need access to years of previous items.


I think almost all the tools I use are quite specific, plus I enjoy using them! Those two factors make them very appealing and wonderful for me. Specific tools help me focus better. In RapidWeaver: doing web development work. In iA Writer: writing. iThoughts: planning/mindmapping. And on and on.

I don’t care how much I’ve paid for a tool if it’s one I use regularly and enjoy. I stumble a bit more with apps like DevonThink and Curio and some others. They all seem to be perfectly fine apps … but I’m not sure what to do with them in my life. I guess I would feel differently if there were some super big gaps in my tools … but there aren’t.

Oh, I would love a tool that would transcribe my audio, auto-remove umms, auto-detect new paragraphs, and so on. I have a tool that does a decent job, but not that magical transcription-unicorn I’m hoping for.

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I tried using Obsidian for everything but it felt like there was too much friction and it didn’t handle different file types. I receive and review PDFs and Word docs and I’m not about to convert them to plain text. You can create mind maps in Obsidian, but not as well as IThoughts. You can create notes, but not as quickly on the go as in Apple Notes. You can highlight PDFs, but not as well as Skim. You can maintain references, but not as well as Zotero.

I use Eaglefiler to act as a better ‘finder’ and to easily keep copies of email alongside other docs. Its search means I don’t have to be too precise when filing. I also use Hook to link to files from documents. I use Exporter to create local markdown (and therefore searchable in EF) copies of Apple Notes.

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Excuse my lack of knowledge but how do you get links in? I just tried Things, Agenda and Notes and I can’t figure it out.

Depending on the app you use, some may be easier than others.

Relevant Things Support article:

Relevant Agenda Community article

There hasn’t been an easy way to link to Apple Notes from what I’ve seen. I remember using a custom shortcut for it before but can’t find it again now. Will post if I find it.

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+1 for EagleFiler as a second “Finder!”

I would argue that you might not want to think about Obsidian et al. as tools for general use; rather, they are general tools for specific uses.

The power of these tools is really in their extensibility. Out of the box, Paprika makes for a good recipe manager, Obsidian does not. But, if you install a few plugins*, you can get Obsidian to do things with recipes that Paprika cannot. It depends on what you want to do.

That isn’t to say you should try to use something like Obsidian for everything. Paprika has been one of my most beloved tools for years (although I’m playing around with Mela now).

Instead, I think the rule of thumb should be something like: if a specific tool exists for a specific use case, and you have access to that tool, use it. If the limitations of that tool are preventing you from doing something you want, then look into extensible tools to figure out if you can configure them to suit your use case.

FYI, I wrote a big thing in an attempt to develop a general sense about these integrated tools a few months ago:

Edit: I forgot to extrapolate on the *. Just one example: install the CookLang, Workbench, and Kanban plugins. Use CookLang to manage recipes, Workbench to quickly add items to a grocery list, and Kanban to coordinate meal planning (e.g., a column for each day of the week).


Exactly! So well put.

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I almost always use Hook for that. Can’t live without it!

Thank you so much!! I appreciate your help!

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This advice works for things other than integrated thinking environments, too.

Here’s a dumb one: I’m a trophy hunter on my PlayStation. If I’m working towards a platinum, I dump down my task list in sequential order into Omnifocus. Keeps it easy to keep track of.

I also take tasks out of OF and put them into Craft’s daily journal as part of my work prep. It gets me out of OF (which can be overwhelming if I’m in it all day every day), and helps me stay focused on work.

But I would never, ever, ever take tasks for my Dark Souls III platinum list and put it into Craft. Not only is it unnecessary, but it’ll break the focus of the tool.

And if I’m playing a game just for fun, I don’t need to keep a todo list for it.

Our brains are pretty good at managing their own level of complexity. It’s good to try and listen to what they’re saying to us and just do that for this sort of thing.

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I don’t know which advertising platform this should be a pull quote for, but it should be for something.

I’m thinking something like the old EverReady battery commercials where he dares you to knock the battery off his shoulder. Kinda the knowledge worker update…


How do you think EF compares to DevonThink? And I mean as a 2nd Finder, I mostly use DT to organize and tag and find my documents … But I do use some of the other features too … Just curious

EF is very much like the Finder although everything in a given library is in a single parent folder or within one of its subfolders. Here is the sidebar for my main EagleFiler library.

So, similar to the Finder, I can search or navigate to a few well-known locations within this structured collection of documents and graphics that I’ve built over time. I find that I don’t use tags much but I imagine that works for some. In a separate space, I have two Finder windows arranged to deal with things like Numbers spreadsheets, downloads, applications, raw and processed photos, ebooks, and music. I have one other EagleFiler library that contains my archived email. There is no overt attempt at Artificial Intelligence, backlinks, or Obsidian-like graph view.

Sorry if that didn’t answer your question. I’m not really sure what you are after here. I left DEVONThink back on v2 because I didn’t need its complexity and got tired of its complaints of databases not being closed correctly when some other program crashed my Mac.

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Yes. That answers things. Juts looking for ideas. I like DT and don’t have problems but I don’t use most of the complexity and wondering if the main things that I like are found in a “simpler” program.