Using Readwise with Obsidian for Note-Talking
I recently rediscovered Readwise again. I’ve heard of the service before, but couldn’t see the immediate advantage for me and had forgotten it again.
I read a lot: books, articles, or tweets and use Feedly (my RSS reader), Pocket, and Instapaper to highlight interesting sentences or paragraphs. I highlight on my Kindle, in Pocket, Feedly, PDF, and in Markdown files which made it confusing to find a highlight again later.
I highlight too much to extract everything into my Zettelkasten, but I would have loved to be able to search my highlights later. Searching in Feedly and Pocket is possible with a premium account but not comfortable. Searching in DEVONthink is nice, but I couldn’t get my highlights from Feedly or Pocket into it. Readwise solved this problem for me.
Readwise has many possibilities to import highlights. You can import highlights from your Kindle, Apple Books, or Google Books. You can even scan paper books with fantastic OCR. You can drop your highlighted PDFs into Readwise and it will extract the highlights.
Articles can be imported from Pocket, Instapaper, Feedly, Medium, or from every webpage. I like in particular how easy it is to send Twitter tweets or complete Twitter threads into Readwise.
It’s even possible to get your Podcast highlights from Airr. I started using it in combination with the “Request Transcript” feature (Airr allows to request one transcript per day). Mark the podcast in between two timecodes and the text will be imported into Readwise.
And these are only the services I use, Readwise has more and they constantly add new services.
It’s also possible to get the famous highlights of other readers from Goodreads or Supplemental Books.
Review of Highlights
I started reviewing my highlights of the day. Sometimes I correct or improve the metadata (Title, Author, or Category) or add tags. If a highlight is really important I immediately create a permanent note in my Obsidian Zettelkasten.
Readwise also sends out emails at a preferred time to review the highlights, but I prefer to use the app. Every morning 5-6 random highlights are presented in the app. With a simple touch, it’s possible to reject or keep a highlight for spaced repetition learning or mark it as a favorite.
Since a few weeks ago it’s possible to create Themed Reviews. These allow creating custom reviews of a specific source and review them at a specific time. It’s possible for example to create a “Stoicism” Review and add everything tagged with
stoicism and specific Stoic books as a source.
As I mentioned before in my essays, I stopped using web services that don’t allow the export of my content (in a comfortable way). I don’t even consider them.
Readwise goes beyond exporting the highlights. It allows exporting continuously every highlight to Obsidian, Notion, Evernote, Roam, and others. And as Obsidian’s content is offline with pure text (Markdown) it is impossible to be unreadable in the future.
Readwise Obsidian Plugin
The Readwise Obsidian Plugin (in Beta) is fantastic. It automatically exports all highlights as Markdown into the vault. You have the freedom to change the template, select in what time interval it should import the highlights.
Every section (Books, Articles, Tweets, Podcasts) is a separate folder, every source a separate Markdown file. The highlights are listed in those files, including metadata as tags, categories, author names, or URLs.
If a file was once downloaded, additional highlights will be added to the end with a date and timestamp. This allows to add or change the content without overwriting the changes with the next synchronization. If needed a file can be deleted to import it fresh the next time.
I started my test by adding the Readwise imports into my Zettelkasten vault but quickly decided against it. The Zettelkasten should be reserved for your own notes, written by you, and not hold any references. References are to be stored somewhere else. I store my references in a DEVONthink database.
I decided to create a new Obsidian vault for highlights to have my highlights—which are references until I write them in my own words—separate from my own notes. Another advantage is that the imported tags and links don’t mix with mine. As the imports are from various sources, you can’t control most of them but you can change them after the import.
The Graph View gets more useful over time, as sources, authors, and tags are connected over time. The full-text search of Obsidian or DEVONthink, in which I indexed the vault allows finding the highlights again.
Needless to say, I subscribed to Readwise after the trial ended.