Starting to make use of Roam Research

I’ve been playing with it on and off for a week but I guess I am now starting to make some use of Roam Research.

The automatic creation of day notes, outliner, bulleted list format (although you can use numbered lists and “document” mode too), and ease of linking makes it really easy.

So I am now making book notes in it as I read “Thinking in Systems” while also adding reflections from my work and things I need to do.

I actually didn’t want to like it this much and it’s going to interfere with other things. At the very least I need to think how I use it and Mentat together since they are very different approaches to related problems and I have to understand some kind of interface.

If you haven’t tried it yet, I would recommend taking a look. There’s something about it that… just works.

Interesting. I may try it out next week, time allowing.

How is Roam working for you?

I’ve tried it now for a few days and I’m struggling to make it useful so far.
(I am yet to try making book notes tho.)

Hi Indy.

I’m making quite extensive use of Roam, modulo no mobile client (and it doesn’t work well on my iPad Pro) and offline support still being in beta (I am trialling it) and having some issues yet.

I tend to use it for unstructured day notes, as a personal CRM, for TODO’s (although I still mainly use Things for those so more about research tasks and intros), book notes, and so on.

My approach is just through everything in Roam, use it as an outliner, but liberally link things together. So everyone is [[Firstname Lastname]] or [[Company]] or [[Book Title]], or markdown links with tags, for example I use #quotation for tracking quotes I want to move into Mentat or #question for recording questions I think are interesting.

For #introduction I write the introduction message in Roam first and can follow the link to previous introductions to borrow from them.

I’m not sure how much this helps without either seeing my instances or following along as I do it. But I like the fact that I don’t have to think too hard about structure and it emerges gradually as stuff gets linked together.



Here’s a silly little example of how powerful Roam can be:

  • [[Diagrams App]] 1.0 will be on the [[Mac App Store]] [[February 5th, 2020]] with a 33% discount

(Type /date for the date-picker if you haven’t come across that function yet)

Doing this, this “block” will now automatically become a back-reference when the 5th Feb comes around in the Day Notes (in fact it has already latently created the page for 5th Feb).

I primarily see Roam as a capture/analysis tool as I think it excels from this perspective.

Whether it has deeper significance that might (for example) cause me to abandon my Mentat plans is an open question. Certainly it has hoovered up some simple Mentat use-cases (in a far superior fashion, the open nature of Roam makes it a natural capture tool). It remains to be seen what is possible with Roam for example in terms of integration with APIs (planned for Mentat) or creating scripted applets (possible now —with bigger plans on the way — in Mentat).

Here is another example:

  • [[ProductCraft Event]]
      • Pro’s
        • Maybe network with other professionals
        • Despite myself I might learn something
        • Opportunity to speak there next time maybe?
      • Con’s
        • Unlikely to be prospects in the audience
        • Don’t feel like going to this kind of event / likely to be bored
      • #Decision by [[February 14th, 2020]] for discount

So you can see how I am using it as a kind of reminder app for non-critical stuff that allows me to link it to other things and record more information around the decision.

The date stuff is interesting.
I’ve been an Omnifocus user for years, but the interface is quite streamlined around “task list” and the idea of being able to more smoothly “write notes to my future self” is thought provoking.

I find, to put a GTD analysis hat on for a minute, that making an OF task often leaves contextual info sat in my memory. And at some level that means the system is not freeing up my mind the way it should. OF has somewhere to put notes, but formatting is rudimentary.

That said I’ve played with Roam a little more now and particularly around an upcoming trip to Paris and (a) iPad pro quirks have been very annoying (as I won’t be taking my laptop on that trip, that’s one of the experiments of the trip) and (b) I’m reminded again how much I value offline support (OF in recent years has been rock solid on this).

It’s interesting how useful the date thing looks the more I think about it, but at the same time the more it implies a big shift - or running two systems. (Or 3, if we include the Calendar, although I don’t “schedule tasks” in Calendar very often.)

However, I plan to try out a bit more seriously for some idea mapping after Paris, so I’ll let you know how that goes.

At this point Roam has completely replaced my use of The Brain. I’ve started porting across thoughts from my copy of brain into Roam although that’s going to take a long time. It’s a good opportunity to garden that stuff. The one lingering thing that kept me thinking TheBrain was viable was file-attachments but with Hook now supporting Roam I don’t think that use-case is justified either.

Playing with TheBrain again reminded how much I like it’s focused-graph view UI but I think eventually Roam will duplicate it, even improve it, and, in the meantime, Roam is a fundamentally better product concept (even if their growing pains mean they’re less stable and have less features right now). They have also committed to an API which I no longer believe TheBrain is ever going to do.

I’m digging the light-weight task management approach of Roam more and more. We’ll see if that lasts because my history with such tools is a very checkered one. I’m not sure what the sharing story is going to be like. At the moment it’s kind of all-or-nothing and that doesn’t work for me. I’m not sure if TheBrain scores highly here either though.

If you haven’t tried Roam yet and have any interest in Personal Knowledge Management you really should. Nate Eliason has published some interesting notes as well as a video course on Roam, worth checking out if you’re getting started (and, even, if you are not).

Hey Matt,

Great to meet you today.

Couple of tangential questions which sort of relate to Roam:

  1. Your notetaking with your iPad looked very smooth, which app do you use to write in?

  2. Do you have a process for moving those notes into Roam?

It was a pleasure, I’m glad we were able to meet and I enjoyed the conversation very much.

You ask two good questions, alas I only have one good answer:

  1. I use Notability with the 13" iPad Pro 2018 and Apple Pencil. I’ve found this to be an awesome tool for taking notes, incorporating audio (that is synced to the handwriting, you can scrub to find the audio for a point where you were writing — invaluable for meeting notes), and photographs. It’s brilliant. There is a companion iPhone and macOS app (backed by iCloud) which both have their own utility. Totally recommended.
  2. And this is where everything breaks down. No. I have no smooth process for migrating anything out of Notability and I really wish I did. I make TODO’s as checkboxes in Notability and I would love for even just those to appear in some kind of task management system. I’ve asked several times for this kind of feature as it would be a life-saver.

If I had the ability to share part (but not all) of my Roam instance with Mel I would be forwarding notes to her as PDF (again Notability doesn’t have any magic here, so probably share-via-email) and asking her to transcript some/all of them into Roam for me. I should do this myself but c.f. lazy & undisciplined.