Conor White-Sullivan


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Roaman's Shortform

Added Intercom today. Already worth the cost. Thanks for tip

Implementing an Idea-Management System

The structure of how you can organize thoughts in Roam is a bit hard to convey to folks who haven't really tried it yet. Harder still for me to convey, as you have incentive not to trust one of the creators of the tool. (NOTE: OP is just a passionate user, we havent met them, nor asked them to write the piece)

We've taken a lot on inspiration from plain text wiki tools like nvalt, and outliners like workflowy or dynalist and we've had a lot people switching to Roam from those tools (Cut and paste do work, I'd probably suggest using Chrome or a Chrome engine browser like brave if you're not already, as those are best supported -- yes, still early stage, not built in day)

As you mention though, the real unit of thought in Roam is a "block", the paragraphs or bullet points that fit in the outline on each page.

The wiki-links in Roam acts as tags on the blocks and sub trees they're a part of.* The real value of Roam as a tool for organizing ideas and projects shows up first when you start using those links to find interesting intersections across your notes, and second when you actually connect blocks into a knowledge graph.

Example -- I can look across the dozens of user interviews I've been doing with Roam users over the past few months, filter down to all the ones who came from Less Wrong and mentioned Workflowy, and then see just the sections of those conversations that dealt with [[Feature Requests]]

A more practical example for LW users -- if you've read 6 books of papers on the same topic, and you're trying to construct a sort of proxy double crux between the authors to figure out your own position -- Roam helps for that in a few ways. First, you can collect the key points from across the various notes you have on each book or paper using a link/tag. Second, you can embed the quotes in a synthesis document you write, each quote will link back to the source material and on the source material you'll have an automatic footnote pointing you to the document where you cited the block.

Those precise links can be particularly useful if you're trying to define terms and avoid the many ways words can be wrong, Or if you just want to actually map out the flow of your reasoning for later presentation and cruxing with others. Roam is real-time collaborative (like Google Docs).

On that point -- yeah, the icons attached to each bullet aren't the most aesthetic -- fortunately they're only a problem you run into when sharing docs with other editors -- and only appear on blocks someone else edited. We've got a lot on our roadmap right now, but it'll keep getting prettier as time goes on.

To be fair though, if you're super happy with a normal wiki or outliner, Roam is definitely not for you. There are dozens of highly polished options for those for every aesthetic sensibility.

You try Roam if you've got some itch that there has to be something more for structuring thought than files in folders, or tree based outliners, and you are willing to deal with a few inconveniences to get access to features and workflows you definitely won't find anywhere else.

This quote from a researcher at OpenPhil a few weeks ago seems appropriate

"my friend, you've made a remarkable product, because emotionally I'm swinging wildly between grating annoyance and wild tears-to-my-eyes joy"

Plural of anecdote isnt data, but I am claiming that Roam users have an inside view that isnt super legible to those who haven't really tried it as a tool for thought-- if you want evidence that there are more people than just OP and others commenting here who have found more value in Roam than you're predicting you'd get, here are more quotes from our users, including some from names you may recognize

You can also read another article written by Sarah Constantine, also a Roam user, also written unsolicited and without input from us

Also, I do appreciate the aesthetic criticism, and the bug report, it is a shame that that was enough of a distraction that you didn't get a chance to discover what separates Roam from everything else.

If you do end up using it, we have a very active slack of early adopters making feature requests and bug reports that aren't all far removed from yours.

I also include my calendar and personal email address in the email that goes out after you create an account.

*when you create a new page for a concept or person you've already written about (or pasted in content), it's one click to reify the uses of the word or phrase into links.

We probably have a dozen features like that - features that dont make sense on a landing page because they are aren't things anyone expects to see, but become extremely useful as you start writing notes in a more Zettelkasten type way (where you are regularly extending old ideas into new contexts)

Implementing an Idea-Management System

Yeah. That's a bug.

Most of our users have come from Workflowy, Dynalist, Evernote or Notion, and copy/paste works (preserving indentation) for them, both to and from.

If you email conor or josh at happy to help.