Jack Baty

Director of Unspecified Services

Software that sparks joy

I’m just coming off a week using Obsidian. Obsidian is really good and powerful and easy to use and extensible and probably the correct answer to the question, “Where should I keep my notes?”.

I love Obsidian for a minute because of what it does and the fact that it’s not whatever I’d been using previously. It’s refreshing and finding new plugins to play with is good fun. But it’s janky. Why don’t more people complain about it being janky? It’s just blech to actually live in. It feels weird and loose and sloppy to me.

I don’t enjoy using Obsidian. At all. It sparks zero joy.

The whole Kondo-ian “Sparks Joy” thing is cliche by now, but it’s a useful guage for measuring the long-term viability of a thing.

So, what software sparks joy for me? Here are a few recent examples.

Tinderbox has been sparking joy for me since the early 2000s. It’s a powerful outlining, concept mapping, note taking, timelining, researching, and publishing tool. Its author is thoughtful, helpful, and continues to improve Tinderbox in meaningful ways. The community is smart, very helpful, and spends its time solving real problems rather than competing in the PKM influencer space.

TiddlyWiki is weird and fun and clever and I’ve dumped nearly 4,000 notes in my public wiki at wiki.baty.net. It is a single HTML file that runs in a browser. It has a weird but powerful internal scripting language. It’s a sort of Quine in that it uses itself to make itself. I often consider other tools for creating this sort of knowledgebase, but TiddlyWiki is too fun so I continue pouring stuff into it.

Emacs is of course something I dig probably more than anything. What’s not to like? It’s free, old-school, infinitely extensible, wildly powerful, and as nerdy as it gets. I have ten years worth of my “stuff” in Emacs (mostly as Org-mode files). I can make Emacs do anything. And writing Org files in Emacs is such a pleasure. The text feels “tight”, you know? Not like Obsidian. I’m writing this post in Emacs in markdown-mode and holy cow it’s a nice way to write. I sometimes try to stop using Emacs because I get “tool-sick”, but it rarely lasts more than a week. So much joy.

Those are the top 3 joy-sparking apps at the moment. Others include CurioBBEditThingsCleanShot, and certainly more that I’m forgetting.

I almost forgot, Blot.im sparks a ton of blogging joy, which is why I’m posting this here.

Software can be so much fun. Too much, maybe, as it becomes a distraction and constant cause of churn in my brain. But fun is fun and joy is joy and what could be wrong with that?