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The Less-Sad State of Personal Knowledgebases

A few years ago (2015) I wrote about the sad state of personal knowedgebases (PKBs). This is a quick check in 6 years later to see how we’re doing. First of all though, what is a PKB?

Personal knowledgebase:
Software that lets you store all your thoughts, research, bookmarks, etc. in a single organized place. It’s different from a normal notes app in that:

  • Notes should have a hierarchical relationship to each other. There should be a visual representation of the hierarchy.
  • Cross-note links, wiki style, should be simple to create and first-class citizens.
  • Sync should provide access to notes across devices.
  • Search should be excellent.

That’s the basics anyway. Almost every true contender for a first-class PKB will have lots of other features.

My PKB of choice remains The Brain. I’ve been using it for about 15 years now and haven’t come across anything that wants to make me switch. I love it.

My section on Personal Knowledgebases in The Brain

It’s not for everyone though, and that’s fine. In my last post, I lamented the lack of options. Fortunately since then some new contenders have arisen and competition is heating up.

My favorites are Obsidian and Roam Research. They’re very similar and I’m not particularly qualified to discuss their specific pros and cons. The main difference seems to be that Obsidian is free (at least for personal use with no sync) and Roam is commercial. Both models have their upsides and downsides.

In addition to these, there are some less traditional options like Notion and Zim that, while they don’t satisfy the requirement of having hierarchy visualization, are still close enough to qualify as a PKB.

It’s nice to see renewed interest in what, for me, has been an essential tool. Hopefully competition will continue to spur innovation.

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