February 14, 2020

Early notes about Roam Research

Roam is A note-taking tool for networked thoughts.”

There’s nothing better than trying a new tool and having it feel immediately right. Roam thinks the way I do. Or at least it behaves in a way that makes sense to me.

The world is short on tools with nicely-implemented bi-directional linking. I LOVE bi-directional linking. This is why I’ve continued using TheBrain for so many years. I connect two things and suddenly they both know about each other forever.

Roam handles this in a lovely way. I’ll probably have more to say about it some other time, but I love the way it pulls in context based on links/mentions. Here’s the bottom of my note on Roam (in Roam)…

Every time I’ve mentioned Roam while writing a note, it’s tracked and automatically included, with surrounding context, at the bottom of the target’s page. You’ll have to try it yourself to get a feel for how useful that is.

Anyway, this post was supposed to be a quick log of my impressions so far, so here they are.

What I like

  • At first glance, it feels like Workflowy plus TheBrain plus TiddlyWiki.
  • I love the Daily Notes feature. It’s not difficult to mimic this in other tools but it helps that it’s automatic and sort of forced on me. I always have a place to type.
  • I can rename pages without breaking links! This takes so much overhead away I can’t believe it. No need to spend time over-thinking how to name things. I’ve already changed the way I’m naming pages in Roam several times and so what?! All the links are updated automatically. This is really great.
  • I can copy a reference to any block and include it anywhere else. It’s transclusion at a nice, granular level.
  • I’m not using it for research or study, which is what I suspect Roam is actually designed for, but I don’t feel like I’m fighting over it. I’m using it for project notes and topic journals mostly so far. I’ve been using Orgmode for this, but Roam’s bi-directional linking has me thinking otherwise.

What I’d like to see

  • There’s no way to export single page. I’d like to copy the current page as Markdown or export as a nice clean PDF. (Update: Added markdown export in Dec 14)
  • Editing is just a tiny bit weird. For example, I use the built-in Emacs bindings on my mac, but Control-a doesn’t go to the end of line if the line ends in double brackets ]]”. I have to hit Control-a twice. I’d also like the Control-N and Control-P bindings to move between nodes. Those only work within a node currently. I want to keep going up and down!
  • I feel a little twitchy about privacy, since the notes aren’t encrypted.
  • I struggle a little selecting nodes. Getting used to it, but still fumble a bit.
  • Overall, I am very much enjoying putting my notes into Roam. I think they’re onto something. I keep the Daily Notes open in a tab and just type what I’m thinking, adding links where it might be appropriate. It feels like time spent entering notes in Roam is an investment whose returns increase with time.

It has some minor rough edges, but I consider that to be a good thing. To me, rough edges just mean that Conor (@Conaw) is focused on making Roam do the right things. Loose ends can be dealt with later. This is in contrast to the very polished and popular Notion. I wrote somewhere that Roam …feels like it’s built to solve a real problem, whereas Notion seems built so that productivity bloggers have something to make youtube videos about.” That’s of course an exaggeration, but I’ve tried using Notion three or four times and I just don’t like it.

In my workflow, Roam competes with TiddlyWiki, TheBrain, and Tinderbox. Right now, putting things in Roam is as easy or easier than those, and it feels like I’m getting a nice return on my small investment. Stay tuned.


Emacs Roam


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