I’ve been using Obsidian and DT for my research. I thought I’d try a Things 3 Obsidian plugin just to check it out. When I went to the community plugin for Things, I saw this message: “This project is currently unsupported. Please feel free to fork :)”
This is one of my concerns about going all in with Obsidian. If plugins are abandoned, one’s workflow is broken, especially for those of us who are not coders/programmers.
How significant is this risk? People are devoting a lot of time and energy in Obsidian. If plugins stop working, then what?
IMO, not all plugins are created equal. There are plugins that are more susceptible to break than others, and there are plugins that are more devastating to your workflow if removed than others.
As an Obsidian user, I don’t use community plugins that affect my actual notes, to ensure that they remain portable markdown. The few I have are mainly for convenience:
System Dark Mode automatically switches Obsidian to use my system theme, which is nothing I couldn’t do with the press of a button anyway
Front Matter Title is purely for the aesthetics of nicely formatted note names
Citations saves me two keyboard shortcuts in Zotero
Vault Statistics shows me how many notes I’ve accumulated, out of curiosity
If all of these were to disappear tomorrow, the worst that would happen would be that my Obsidian would look a little less pretty and I would need to run two extra keyboard shortcuts - this isn’t a major workflow disruption in my book.
So I think the key is to evaluate what a plugin is doing before you add it to your setup, and make sure that its disappearance wouldn’t create a massive amount of extra work for you. In your case - what is your use case for the Things plugin? What does it do? I would offer to fork and maintain it for you, but sadly, I do not own Things, so I have no way of testing it
It depends on how important the plug-in is to your workflow.
I worked on some plug-in code for Obsidian in the early days. As far as I know it still works, but as I no longer use Obsidian it won’t be updated unless someone else has the time, inclination and knowledge to take it over. The latest update to Obsidian breaks some themes which are now uninstallable until someone updates them.
Major plugins like Dataview would almost certainly be taken over by someone, assuming they’re well written (although no guarantees there!)
I was burned a couple of times with WordPress plugins ceasing to work because the developer lost interest - they have a similar model to Obsidian - basic product and freely offered plugins. I ended up limiting my use of them and going for the most used plugins.
This is why I dropped Obsidian in the end. Vanilla Obsidian didn’t do it for me and building my workflow on plugins felt like building on a house of cards. In the end I moved to an alternate solution. I may come back when Obsidian is more mature and feature rich. The downfall would be if Obsidian left the heavy lifting to plugins.
The Obsidian model is very similar to the WordPress model, and your usage of plugins should follow accordingly. Limit your use of them, choose plugins that are among the most popular (less likely to be abandoned), and that won’t completely kill your workflow should they fail.
IMO, the users who rely on dozens of plugins and who install every new thing that comes along are at the most risk.
But by the same token, you run a similar risk with any app. Way back in the day I used Circus Ponies Notebook. Then one day, they up and vanished. The same thing can happen with any app, and the fact that Obsidian is, as @MacSparky likes to say, “a folder full of markdown files,” makes it probably less risky than others, even with heavy plugin usage.
It depends on to what extent the plugins turn the text into Something That Is Not Markdown - I use plugins that are mostly cosmetic, so opening my Obsidian notes in other apps gives the same result - but there are people that use plugins that add lots of extra syntax, specialized previews, etc, that are not compatible with the wider Markdown world, and heavy usage of those kinds of plugins may partially nullify the portability of Obsidian’s text files.
But how Do you know, if your alternate solution still will be there tomorrow?
There are so many examples of abandoned software, even from major player in the market, that I would not build a Decision on something that might be, or might be not happening, without any real evidence, or at least hint, towards the one or other!
Look at the many user within this forum (and allover the internet), who turns their back against Evernote. A lot of them trusted Evernote for a long period of time, and they “build” their workflows around that, with nowadays certain problems in leaving Evernote, and taking the notes, and upholding their workflows.
Obsidian has at least the advantage of the Markdown files, residing save on your system, and could be read out and still used with a lot of other apps.
The Wordpress comparison is almost apt, but misses something really important: Wordpress is the web. It’s very complex, and many of its plugins are commensurately complex. They deal with databases and user management and web technologies, all things that are constantly in flux. Something that worked one day might break the next because of something changing elsewhere in that system.
Most Obsidian plugins work with plain text files or CSS. They are simple and, therefore, hard to break.
Take, for example, Shortcuts Launcher. It reads some text and then launches a shortcut with that text as the input. So simple yet so powerful!
So, and this is worth underscoring: if you’ve got a set up you love, you actually don’t need to update the app nor the plugins and it will work indefinitely. At least, until some major OS change forces your hand or something. And lets be real: we’ll all have changed how we work dozens of times before then anyway. (It’s called “work_flow_,” not “work_stagnant_.”)
Which reminds me — another way of looking at this: are plugins going to break faster than you would be changing apps or workflows?
Actually yes. I was using a task plugin that was abandoned pretty early on. People share plugins they use, but as you stated, they also change their workflow rather often, so the plugin gets dropped.
That’s a pretty big “what if”. I’ve heard that about Microsoft Word for nigh on 30 years! It’s still going.
If I’m only going to use what is certainn to be here tomorrow, I’ll be chiseling my notes into stone. “What ifs” are often too ambiguous. As others have stated, if the software has a good user base and proper business plan, it has a future ahead of it.
As much as I appreciate all this “everything must be plain text”, I disagree. Plain text is a regression not an advancement for the simple reason that most people don’t want plain text as the end result but rich text. Even markdown demonstrates this.
This brings up an important point about risk mitigation. How do you mitigate the risk of a plugin being abandoned? Depending on your risk tolerance level, you can:
avoid using plugins entirely
only use plugins for “cosmetic” or “convenience” purposes, so that your data isn’t affected
only use plugins developed by yourself or by devs you know
fork plugins yourself if they are abandoned
These are not all mutually exclusive - if you can limit yourself to the subset of plugins that meet your risk criteria and also find the things you need, you’re set. This means that Obsidian won’t fit everyone, but I think there’s a large amount of people for which this does fit. And if it doesn’t fit for you, well, there are more note-taking apps in the world than there probably should be so there’s probably one that fits for you.
This is similar to questions about privacy: how high is your tolerance for being tracked across the internet? Some people don’t care, some people care a lot, and everything in between - I think similar things can be said for data and software longevity/portability. How technical you are willing to get also plays into this. If you want or are able to maintain a plugin in case of abandonment, the plugin model is likely a lot more attractive to you.
The software may have a future ahead of it, but this future may not be one that you like. Evernote is still around, yet many have switched off of it for one reason or another. Similar to how there are often discussions around here when apps go subscription. If you are in control of your data it makes it a lot easier to switch when you don’t like where a company is going. Once again, this comes back to risk tolerance - it’s something everyone needs to assess for themselves.
I agree - what we actually need is widely-adopted open formats. It’s just that Markdown is the best option we have at the moment for “rich text” that is imperfectly-but-easily interoperable across a wide variety of software. I hope that in the future, things like Project Jupyter/Jupyter Notebooks and Block Protocol will allow us to have our cake and eat it too - rich text/data, but in an open format that we can easily work with and parse as end users, available almost everywhere. But for now - we have Markdown. And Obsidian is built off of local Markdown, making it one of the best note taking apps in terms of sheer data portability.
Forgive the long post - I have wrestled with these thoughts for a long time, and even got into programming because of them.
I don’t think there’s an easy answer to this. I pondered it during my quest for The Perfect Task Manager. I started building something in Obisidian with plugins, then worried about the plugins and switched to NotePlan. But realistically, NotePlan is no safer than a group of volunteer-created plugins, it just feels more comfortably psychologically.
I think others have touched on the right points in this thread, of which 2 stood out for me when I was trying to ponder this.
does the plug-in do a job you need right now? If so, use it? (But weigh up need vs. want vs. nice to have and use accordingly.)
Obsidian isn’t some isolated app with little to no community behind it (unlike many apps out there!). If a major plugin failed for some reason, chances are someone would pitch in to save it. The web has a long and glorious history of fans building things just for themselves or others, and it’s lovely to see Obsidian embrace this. (I dont necessarily like the WordPress comparison because although the optics are the same, WordPress is a hell of a lot more complex. I think of Obsidian more like a “fandom”, with people uniting and contributing to discourse around one topic - knowledge management.) And as @ryanjamurphy has said, these plugins are generally less complex and less liable to break as in a sense there are less moving parts (off the top of my head I can only identify three problems that would cause a plug-in to break: a change to Obsidian code, a conflict between the code in two plugins or a change to OS function). We’re subject to the whims of Apple in all our apps anyway, they could make an OS change tomorrow that has unintended consequences for something (how many apps have become redundant because Apple built into their OS a process that did what the app did?). You can avoid the second problem (conflict between plugins) by not downloading every plug-in available, but using reliable plugins that many users use. Obsidian are at least aware of the potential for changes to damage plugins, and have hired from inside their plug-in community, so I think this risk is less than it could be.
Although I ventured away from Obsidian for my task manager, I’ve ended up installing a couple of plugins for my vault anyway after I reasoned more carefully about this. I only use very popular plugins that have a lot of praise, and they only ever add value to my vault (nothing makes significant changes to my files that would render the files a headache to use outside Obsidian).
Building a task manager for example was silly because the entire system would break without plugins, but using plugins to e.g. serve up data to another app, as I think you want to do, is fine. The data would still be safe and useable if the plug-in failed, and for something as popular as Things 3 I suspect someone else would step in if it did fail.
I don’t think of plain text as an end in itself so much as a foundation I can build on depending on my needs—roughly equivalent to say, a csv file or a camera raw file. In that sense, I don’t see them as a “regression” so much as modeling clay.
I’m old enough to have seen hard work—or worse, valuable data—vanish into a no-longer-supported proprietary format more than once. To me “everything in plain text” coupled with “and stored on a drive I control” means I’ve got something I can build with, or, in the case of a disaster, re-build with.
That being said, I’d think twice about using a community plug-in to produce data I couldn’t replicate using some other tool.
Yes! Plug-ins are eeeeeeeeevil Since Wordpress has come up, I’ll mention that Wordpress plugins are a common form of compromise. Sometimes a very popular or reputable plugin is put up for sale and purchased by someone with less than wonderful intentions.
It’s good to remind yourself that plugins for any application are code that you download and install, that bypass some security mechanisms, that usually come from a 3rd party, and that usually run with the same access and privileges as their host application.
Including things like previously-free apps going paid, paid apps going subscription, developers jacking up subscription prices, devs deciding that your text editing app needs to have its own built-in mail client and custom task-tracking system and raising the price commensurately, etc.
Agree 100%. The question is more one of who sets the standard, and what the standard is. The Internet is colossally bad at this.
Agree. Developing for WordPress seems considerably more involved than developing for Obsidian, at least partially because the attack surface of the application is much smaller. WP needs to be secured against an always-on web environment, whereas Obsidian just needs to run on the desktop.