Why I Publish My Notes Online

Published: 2022-03-29

Note taking is the best form of studying I've ever come across. It forces you to think critically about the ideas you're consuming and what's going on in the world. Most of the time, we don't give ourselves enough slack in life to sit with our thoughts. But note taking forces you to do that.

I've tried about every note taking app on the market by now and none of them are everything I want them to be. Notion is great and is what I would recommend to someone looking to take more notes and get organized in life. I've tried Roam, mem.io, Evernote, and many, many more. But the constant switching of systems defeats the main purposes of note taking, rediscovering ideas you wrote about before. If you start from scratch every six months, you won't have many insights to rediscover.

Our of all the apps I've tried, Obsidian is the one I like the most. The customization is nice and the ability to publish via Obsidian Publish is what drew me to it.

Working with the garage door up

The biggest inspiration for me to publish my notes is from Andy Matuschak. He has his notes public and a lot of people know "Andy's Notes." I was exploring them one day and was awe-struck by the ideas he was writing about. Andy writes about this concept called "Working with the garage door up" and is one of the reasons he publishes his notes.

When I was younger, every weekend I'd do projects in the garage with my dad. Since we kept the garage door open, we never knew who was going to walk by. Sometimes, it was the Soto's. Next door neighbor's of ours who always supported my school fundraisers.

Other times it was friends asking if I could come out to play. On rare occasions, it was someone who could help us with the project we're working on! This is what happens when you work with the garage door up. You run into people and make connections you wouldn't have otherwise.

Increasing online serendipity

David Perell, a writer and creator of Write of Passage, encourages his students to maximize their serendipity by writing online. He writes:

Maintain a website so people can find your bio, share your work, and describe you in a favorable light. Once your website is live, publish content to encourage people to visit your website, advertise your skills and hype you up.

But creating polished content on a regular basis is difficult, especially if you're balancing a job, a family, and other hobbies. So, a great way to increase serendipitous interactions is to publish things that are not polished.

Andy, in his note about working with the garage door up, writes this:

This is the opposite of the Twitter account which mostly posts announcements of finished work: it's Screenshot Saturday; it's giving a lecture about the problems you're pondering in the shower; it's thinking out loud about the ways in which your project doesn't work at all. It's so much of Twitch. I want to see the process. I want to see you trim the artichoke. I want to see you choose the color palette.

Taking notes encourages you to think about how you're trimming the artichoke. Publishing those notes shows others how you're thinking about trimming the artichoke. Someone who also thinks a lot about trimming artichoke's can now connect with you to refine their own process. It's a win-win!

Why I went with Obsidian

There are no right ways to publish your notes online. You could write things in a Google Doc and share that in your Twitter bio if you want to. That's he best way to capture notes though, which is why I chose Obsidian.

The process of taking new notes is the most important thing to focus on. I had to make sure I enjoyed the process of taking notes in whatever system I used. I like how Obsidian is a desktop app and not online. This for ease of use and not a privacy thing. I found if I was using a Chrome tab, it would get closed out or I'd lose it.

I also like the free flowing structure of Obsidian and how anything can go anywhere, though I do see how this could be confusing and disorganized. If you want more structure, Tiago Forte's PARA method is recommend, or you can use the Map of Content idea.

What sealed the deal for me was the Obsidian Publish feature. With only a few clicks, I could make my notes public at a custom domain and allow users to search and interact with my notes in similar functionality to how Andy's Notes work. If there are pages I don't want to publish, I can add some YAML to the top of the page which tells Obsidian, "Hey, don't make this public. K, thanks!"

I'm happy with how my notes are coming along both online and offline. I also enjoy how I can share links with people online to ideas I'm thinking about, but haven't thought about it enough to write a full essay. You can check out my public notes here.