Opening Up


After many years of compulsively adopting the latest thing, I'm suddently more interested in flexible and open things. I'm drawn to open source (of varying degrees) products for the creativity and customization they enable and the interoperability they provide.

The last time I shared my tool set (opens in a new tab) seems like ages ago, and I've been through many iterations since. Note-taking and read-it-later apps are still my most churned through category, likely because they are so hard to get consumers to pay for. Ironically, that post on Medium may not be accessible without signing up or buying some silly bundle.

Omnivore (opens in a new tab) is a fantastic read it later app. Since it's free and open, it sidesteps the garbage and common monetization models in these apps: shoving ads into a "distraction-free long form reader", putting a limit on articles, or moving to paid-only for features no one wants like AI summaries. It supports all kinds of content and methods for getting data into it (rss, custom email addresses, extensions). I use the hosted version, but you are free to self-host, and the community extensions are wonderful. I use Reink (opens in a new tab) for reading articles on my Kindle. The Obsidian sync (opens in a new tab) was really slick, but I never actually got around to reading my highlights so I disabled it.

I'm using Obsidian (opens in a new tab) for my note-taking. After moving through Evernote, OneNote, Bear, and countless others over the years I've lost notes or wedged them into weird formats that don't really gel together. The primary benefit for me is its use of vanilla markdown and a standard file system (developers everywhere are rolling their eyes). I know exactly where the files are, what's inside, and how they're organized; I trust that I'm future proofed. Obsidian gets a bad rap for the type of users it attracts: productivity gurus and their followers who appear to spend most of their time building and creating content about their frivolous workflows. There are more features and extensions than anyone could need, but with some restraint you can tune it into a perfect and distraction free tool. Having stitched together my own journaling workflows, I love using Daily Notes (opens in a new tab) and templates. Oh, and tweaking my own themes of course.

Having sworn off social media dozens of times, I've been inspired by what's happening in the Fediverse, and participating on Mastodon (opens in a new tab). The open idealogy and approach feels like a throwback to both the heady early days of the internet (not that I was there) and the early magic of social media (I was there, tuned into from a computer lab and then a Blackberry). I've already found some interesting music recommendations, products, and people that feel like secret treasure. It's also been fun to experiment with different clients (just some of the iOS apps: Ivory (opens in a new tab), Mammoth (opens in a new tab), Ice Cubes (opens in a new tab)) and extensions, and love that there are indie and solo developers participating in the ecosystem. Of course, Fediverse apps have the unfortunate tradeoff of most open source tools: they are powerful, thoughtfully architected, but confusing to most normal users. These platforms have gone through fits and starts with ongoing X drama, and it's unclear if they'll ever reach critical mass scale, but I'm excited to see more platforms interoperating here, including Threads. I hope it lasts. You can follow me here (opens in a new tab).

And of course, what list in 2024 could be complete without some LLMs? I'm only using assistants sparingly, and have never trusted putting personal data into a model that will either re-use it or be visible to the humans training it. It's been much more comfortable to run models locally using Ollama (opens in a new tab) and the excellent open-webui (opens in a new tab) wrapper that turns it into a model agnostic ChatGPT UX. The space is also moving so fast, that the open source community seems to be outpacing the closed models, if not on various benchmarks then on the speed of delivery for new variations and experiences. This has been an affordable (free), private, and fast way to keep tabs on a rapidly evolving landscape.

I used to think the "avoid platform lock-in!" mantra was reserved for paranoid, linux-pilled, old-timers, until I learned my own lessons. All products die: whether by lack of a business model or by degradation in service of a hastily tacked on one. Open tools and their experiences can be more resilient, whether maintained/forked by an enthusiastic community or just by allowing users to move on gracefully to the next thing.