I spent a lot of time over the last few years thinking and trying out note taking strategies and applications. From Evernote, OneNote, Notion, Roam Research, Obsidian and today I played around a little with logseq (and I’m probably forgetting some others that I’ve tried – not to count Google Docs, Apple Notes, or to go into the to-do tracking tooling).
What am I using today? Roam Research
Do I like it? I’d say, yes. I think better than all the other note taking apps that I’ve tried before. Is it perfect? No. Part of its approach is really not to be perfect and to try to be simple and let you just write. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Let me maybe start with what I use it for. I’ve been trying to do is two things:
- Archive learnings that can then be retrieved later
- Planning for things to do, things to write
I feel like Roam is pretty good somewhere in between the two. The main thing that it’s aimed for is for research, where you want to look at a lot of ideas and thoughts, and then try to find the connections between them to build on top of past things. It works well when things are “actively” used because they keep showing up when you try to reference something. So if all you want to use it for is something more like an archive that you want to retrieve specifically later (and not by accident while tying to reference something else), then it can become a little noisy pretty quickly.
On the planning side, there has been a lot of “hacks” that have been added into how to do to-do lists, schedule things in the future, track and manage goals. And I think those can work, but they all need effort. You have to populate something, jump between pages, or create templates with embedded pages to try to reduce this effort. But the unstructured nature of the tool, it ends up being work.
If I think it’s not a great match for what I’m looking for, why did I stick with it for now?
- I really like how quickly I can just add information and not have to worry about structure. I was a pretty heavy user of Evernote before and fine tuning documents, document tags, notebooks, and references to documents was very time-consuming.
- There is a component to what I do that is nice that I can start connecting dots by using the right tags and seeing what is there. I love the idea that I can do something like [[John Doe]] #FollowUp in the middle of notes and then build a query on “John Doe”‘s page that just shows all the things that I have to follow up with him.
- Very fast synchronization between multiple windows. At home I find myself sometimes switching between my work computer and personal computer a lot at night and it’s nice that whatever I write on Roam on one automatically appears on the other.
What I don’t like about it?
- Price – it is on the expensive side. I think it’s the most expensive of all tools.
- No useful mobile app – there are times where I mostly just want to query my graph on my phone and it’s not easy (I open the web app, but it’s not really meant for mobile). This is not that important today because I am mostly at home all the time, but I can see that being very annoying once I start taking the bus again and wanting to take notes about things then.
- Feels slow on feature improvement – a lot of the “modern clones”, like logseq and Obsidian (logseq is very Roam-like, Obsidian has a slightly different approach for some things) have a lot of good features, like templates with variables. Roam seems to me to spend a lot of its time on community building and not as much on externally facing feature development.
Some people are concerned about privacy and I agree that it makes sense to be concerned about it. Just not really something that today prevents me from using it.
Maybe one day I’ll post here all the pieces that I’ve added to my Roam to make my workflow faster. For now, I’ll stick with it and see what it will take me.