Recently I heard a lot about a new software called Roam Research. According to its website, it is “a note-taking tool for networked thought”. Especially Anne-Laure Le Cunff of NessLabs seemed to be full of praise for the application. I still remember when Evernote launched and was described as “an extension of your brain”. But Roam seems to be the one fulfilling that promise because its structure is much more like a brain. I’ve used the tool for roughly two weeks now and wanted to write a summary of my experience and why and how I use it.
Generally, I do quite a bit of reading online, and I collect information that feels important to me from the articles I read, mostly by copying verbatim quotes. I used to copy those to Evernote, where I had notes for different topics in which I would collect those quotes and their source URLs. Titles of such notes could be something like “API Design”, “Developer Experience”, “Digital Transformation”, or “Climate Change”. And this is where the problems start. For example, what about an article that covers the impact of digital transformation on climate change? It should go in both notes. Instead, I could create a note for every external piece, of course, but then the only way to connect the thoughts would be to make extensive use of tagging, which I don’t use a lot in Evernote.
Roam is a web-based combination of a wiki and an outliner. Even though you also create notes or pages, Roam makes it very easy to link different pages together, inline using hashtags (#) or double brackets ([[ ]]). Every page is a hierarchical list of hypertext paragraphs, and you can link from different hierarchy levels. The application also shows you when you have used a term for which a page exists but not linked, so you can decide whether you want to connect the thoughts or not. It can also visualize your whole database as a graph. In Roam, it is not a problem to add new articles you read as a page on their own and then establish links to the other material you have read, which makes the whole thing more comfortable and more rewarding.
I have a wide array of interests. Even my primary professional area has many interconnected aspects if you look at an API lifecycle and all the factors of an API - design, implementation, security, etc. - and then look at developer experience and developer relations, which involve, for example, technical writing. Then, there are many other areas of interest from my, such as self-development, future of work, basic income, effective altruism, and environmental issues. I don’t see different interests as separated domains but rather as various aspects of a whole that can influence each other, and where unusual connections can appear.
There are links, for example, between the API economy and the future of work. However, the picture in my mind still feels incomplete, and I lack the language to describe how it all fits together and what it means. I will continue and try organizing my thoughts in Roam, and I’m confident it will help me complete my mental model.
If there’s anything negative I can say about Roam is that it’s quite new, so it’s not sure how it will develop. It doesn’t have an API (or integrations) of its own yet, something I believe is a minimum requirement for any SaaS product launching today. Still, you can import and export data. Also, it’s free to use with no pricing or published business model yet. I assume it will be a moderate monthly subscription, but it would be nice to know for sure.
Have you tried Roam already, and do you have any tips for me to make the most of it? Please let me know what you think! Thank you!