Roam Research impressions


Roam Research is the darling of the latest wave of knowledge management / note-taking apps. I’ve been using it for about two months now. tl;dr - Roam delivers on its promise of networked thought and the features around bidirectional linking are extremely well-executed. However it does still have non-trivial downsides, for example the mobile experience. So I’m not a card-carrying member of the #roamcult just yet but I will continue to use it, at least over the short-to-mid term.

😄

  • The affordances for bidirectional linking are super slick. A link can be created at any time by enclosing it in double brackets, e.g. [[chicken]]. This ease makes it ridiculously easy to link pages of notes together, which delivers on the promise of “networked thought.”
  • The features around links are worth emphasizing. The backlinks are automatically generated, which saves a bunch of work + friction, and the backlink display strikes a good balance for showing context around the link.
  • Once the page is fully loaded up, everything is pretty snappy. I tend to get annoyed at the “let’s ease all the transitions and stick animations everywhere” brand of user-friendliness, and there definitely is not any of that here.
  • Power user features abound. Block queries and embedding javascript stand out here – although the latter definitely makes me nervous for all sorts of reasons.

😕

  • UX is still pretty rough in some spots. The initial loading screen is mildly annoying, and I personally find the sidebar functionality clunky and unintuitive. However, the primary experience around links + note management is good enough that I’m willing to put up with the rest.
  • Quotes are conspicuously missing from the markdown support. I have no idea why.
  • I find that my Instapaper queue is getting longer because I’ll start reading on my phone and think, “oh right I should note this in Roam.” Keeping articles around until I can revisit on the computer is just enough friction for things to start getting backed up. I haven’t decided whether this is a good thing (forcing delination between “productive, deserves notes” reading vs entertainment) or a bad thing (friction is a habit killer, reading less is no good).

🙁

  • The roughest UX spots are still around mobile. I wouldn’t say the experience is outright terrible, but the things that I can work around in the browser definitely become a lot more annoying on the phone. Reading is OK-to-meh, writing is moderately annoying, and capture is only just barely there.
  • *tinfoil hat on* Roam is “in the cloud,” which means all data lives on their servers. Normally I’m not a huge stickler for this, but any app functioning as a second brain is bound to contain sensitive information such as personal information, contacts’ personal information, “opinions I would definitely not put on twitter,” etc. It would be great to see a self-hosted option, or more work around end-to-end encryption.