Experiments with Markdown Editors, Saving Content and Obsidian

Background

This post began as a post over at this thread at the Mac Power Users Forum. I started with Obsidian a couple months back but a funny thing happened. Because I do most of my computing on the iPad and there was at that time no Obsidian mobile app (it‘s in beta now), I started with my trusted iA Writer for the back-end editing of files but it does nothing with Wiki links. So I moved to experimenting with a couple of other Markdown apps, 1Writer and Taio as they both do well with wiki links (more on these two apps later). I figured I’d just hop onto the Mac occasionally to use Obsidian. A couple months in and I’ve hardly touched Obsidian but I’ve been much more proactive in writing of daily notes (a new practice that I’d long pondered) and more writing generally as a result of starting the day with daily notes.

Another result is that it’s got me thinking more actively and critically about what/how/where/why I save files. In yet another post at Mac Power Users, the topic of saving web pages as html rather than pdf files also got me thinking about file format as it relates to what I do with stored files. As a part of considering my intent, I’m also considering the saving process and the information I actually want to save. To put it plainly, I’m trying to be very deliberate about my accumulation of information I may never need. Be it whole files, text, or images embedded in pdfs, etc. The deliberation and a slightly different process adds a bit of friction but that’s good in this case. I’ve generally been pretty good about not saving everything just because I have the thought this might be useful someday. It’s a trap a lot of people seem to fall into.

An example, a few nights ago I happened upon a recipe and considered whether I wanted to save it. Recipes are a new thing for me to bother with but I am starting to save a few. Rather than just save to pdf I used a shortcut to save a markdown/text file to Files in my 1Writer folder. I hop over to 1Writer and open the new document, clean out any cruft and tag it both in the text and also in the Files app. Within just a minute or two I have a very tiny, tidy, portable text file that works in 1Writer and Obsidian and also fairly easy to find in Files/Finder. I’ve since created a Shortcut that outputs nice, clean markdown via reader view which I’ll mention later.

So, rather than dive into DEVONthink (which I had been considering) as a catch-all tool my plan is to go the opposite way. It’s also got me looking at how I use Apple Notes… largely, I’ve been far too lazy and sloppy in throwing stuff in there and not cleaning up after myself when notes are no longer needed. So, avoiding the trap of over-collecting via DEVONthink, cleaning up Apple Notes, and now…

Markdown Editors

Gah!! I consider this useful fiddling but I try to keep app jumping to a minimum as that seems to be a huge time suck. That said, I’m experimenting just a bit. As I mentioned, iA Writer is the app I’ve been using for the past couple years. Love it for compiling podcast transcripts, writing and blogging. But it falls short on Wiki links. So I did a little poking around and found Taio and 1Writer. Here’s how they compare.

Overview

  • In general, I prefer the Taio interface as it always shows the sidebar of files. If I want to go full screen I can but I like seeing the files all the time.
  • Taio does nothing with hashtags for searching whereas 1Writer recognizes tags and a click to a tag brings up other files with that tag, showing them in the sidebar as an auto-populated search which is fantastic.
  • Search in 1Writer is generally much better as it also searches file content. Search in Taio is nearly useless as it basically searches titles.
  • When it comes to editing vs previewing Taio creates a mess of tabs along the top of the document window. Open a file to edit then switch to the preview and you get a new tab showing that preview. Tap on a link in that preview to another document? New preview tab of that document. Want to edit that document? New tab. Now you’ve got 4 tabs open! It can get out of control quickly. By comparison 1 Writer does everything in one window. Much tidier. And if I want nearly real-time html preview with clicking to other files I can bring up a second window of the file I’m editing and put it in preview mode. Works very well.

Exporting

Both apps offer a variety of export options though with a very different interface. With Taio I’m presented with a simpler interface to export files to markdown, pdf, html, Docx, RTF and web archive or by copying text to clipboard as markdown or html. After selecting the standard share sheet interface comes up.

1Writer has a preconfigured set of export options with similar formats:

  • Copy plain text, formatted text or html
  • Email plain text, formatted text, pdf attachment or plain text attachment
  • Print as plain text or formatted text
  • Open in plain text or pdf which then goes to the standard share sheet

Nearly equal but Taio offers Docx and web archive, neither of which I need but might be useful to some. 1Writer allows for creating new actions for sharing but I’ve not explored what’s possible there.

Shortcuts and automation

Taio is much better in this regard! It offers a variety of actions to the Shortcuts app as well as it’s own built-in shortcuts like action editor. It’s not even close. 1Writer offers 1 action for Shortcuts which is to create a new document. Better than nothing! Taio offers 11 actions. Most important of these in my use thus far, I’ve got a shortcut that takes a web page I want to save, generates cleaned up markdown with a link to the page at the bottom. The Taio version of this shortcut results in an actual file containing content. The 1Writer version creates a new file for me with the text copied to my clipboard. All I have to do is paste it in. But it seems silly that there’s no way (that I know of) to create the file with the content already intact.

The built-in action editor in Taio seems very powerful. I’ve not explored it much just yet but I did create 1 automation to create a daily log file with a pre-populated template and ready to go. I’m looking forward to using it a bit more.

Extras

Last, Taio offers an interesting clipboard saver. I’ve not used it much and I’m not sure I will but it’s there and might prove useful. I’m not really prepared to offer any thoughts yet.

Both of these are excellent markdown apps that will create a folder or folders of markdown files that will play well with Obsidian. Not only are they feature rich in terms of editing they are excellent for viewing, interacting with and exporting documents. For the moment I’ve currently settled on 1Writer and expect that to stick for awhile.

All this to say that it’s great that we have so many apps/tools but I’m recognizing how easy it is to get lost in them, jumping from one to another looking for the perfect tool with all of the exact features we need or think we need. It’s easy to focus on the new shiny tool rather than actively engage with and use the information in a meaningful way. I suppose that’s one of the pitfalls of being a geek.

I guess that was a bit of a sidetrack but I think in looking at the bigger picture it can be helpful to ask what it is we’re hoping to do with apps. I expect I’ll get around to actually using Obsidian more often and it’s feature set will prove helpful when I need them. But for the most part I’m currently just enjoying the focus on writing and more active engagement with information processing for a more tidy and deliberately curated set of open, accessible files.

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