Why Is Roam Research Becoming So Popular?

Productivity Jul 01, 2020

Even if note-taking is not your cup of tea, you have probably heard about Roam Research and wanted to know what the hype is all about. Well, to be frank, that's what I wanted to do as well. Let's figure it out together.

What is Roam Research?

If you don't know anything about Roam, but have used some online outliners, such as Workflowy or Dynalist, the interface will look strikingly familiar:

The core unit of thought encapsulation is the page. Each page features an infinite bullet list with an unlimited level of depth. Analogous to Workflowy and Dynalist, one can click each of the bullet points, and it "zooms in", focusing the canvas only on the selected point and its children.

A note taking tool for networked thought

If I only stopped here, I would not have given Roam Research nearly enough credit, though. Roam's official website calls it "A note-taking tool for networked thought As easy to use as a document. As powerful as a graph database."

Where Roam really stands out among its competitors, is its ability to bi-directionally link between pages, essentially turning the flat structure of pages into a graph of networked thoughts and ideas. Linking forward is as easy as using the wiki-style of linking [[Page Name]]. It will either offer an option to select an exisiting page to link to, or create a blank one, the next time one clicks on it.

If that hasn't been compelling enough, prepare to get blown away. Where Roam trumps most known competitors is the automatic creation of "Backlinks", once two pages get connected. In the above screenshot, I had connected my daily note to a page describing Workflowy. Let's open it:

Below the actual content of the page, one can see two sections. Linked References lists all the links that were explicitly set by us. In this case, the reference to my daily journal note, in which I wrote about Workflowy, along with some context. What's even more interesting, though is the section called Unlinked References. These are purely based on textual matches of the current notes's title, with the content of any other note. With a simple click, one can turn any or all of them into hard links.

This is the real killer feature of Roam Research - the ability to link every two pieces of content together, and discover content that is linking back to what we are working on (even completely unintentionally). This is an incredible learning and productivity boost. Linking knowledge together is how the brain works. As the old saying goes:

Neurons that fire together, wire together

We don't just remember facts, but rather our brains traverse a complex graph of neurons every time we take a decision. The more heavily connected certain neurons are, the higher the chances that the brain will reach from one to another. Neurons that aren't that well connected simply hang around at the back of the knowledge graph. Unless we steadily build connections between what we know, signals will hardly have a chance to ever reach them in due time. Forgetting stuff is hardly a matter of falling off the back of the truck, but rather, putting it inside a stuffed closet, and burying it with tons of other things.

Is Roam worth it?

Absolutely. If not so much for the tool itself, than for the general idea. One of the big blockers for many at moment would be the fact that Roam Research is paid-only. At the time of this writing, it costs about $15 a month, which is a justifiably small amount of money, if you're going to use it to work on your career and business. If you just want to explore, this might be a little too high of a price. As I said, the idea behind Roam is what's important, and frankly, it can be replicated with a myriad of other tools, or even using plain pen and paper (Zettelkasten). I would advise anyone to sign up for the 14-day trial of Roam, see what they can get out of it, and check any of the other tools, in the section "Tools Mentioned".

Speaking of which, this article and the research for it have been made possible with Obsidian. I will write about it in one of my next posts. Until then, have a productive day!


Tools mentioned

Roam Research – A note taking tool for networked thought.
As easy to use as a word document or bulleted list, and as powerful for finding, collecting, and connecting related ideas as a graph database. Collaborate with others in real time, or store all your data locally.
A simpler way to organize your work - WorkFlowy
If you have a crazy job or an ambitious project, we will be your trusty sidekick. WorkFlowy is a simpler way to stay organized.
Home - Dynalist
Obsidian: A knowledge base that works on local Markdown files.
Obsidian – A knowledge base that works on local Markdown files.

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