TABLE OF CONTENTS
So, what is Roam? If you don’t know, at it’s very roots, Roam is a database for information that can be hyperlinked like a wiki. Wikipedia would be an example. It comes from an “academic” family so it looks a bit “bare bones” when you first login and a lot of video material about it explains how to write the perfect doctoral dissertation. I’m kidding. (Mostly.)
But it’s as big as you make it! You could keep track of items on your bucket list or plan the intricacies of your next vacation. You could keep track of notes from weekly meetings or plan a conference. Any type of writer or entrepreneur is guaranteed to love it!
How did I become so passionate about it?
For several years, I’ve been “annoyed” by having all my digital information spread over many different applications; sometimes overlapping or incomplete. The majority of it is divided between my MacOS and thousands of Evernotes. A lot of lists/outlines were in Workflowy. Projects and goals I organized in Todoist. And, more and more of it is in the cloud with applications like Google Drive or one of my favorite utilities, CloudApp. And if you’re using social media like me, you’re probably saving tweets and bookmarks, and subscribe to Facebook groups or even professional forums. I often find myself saying, “I saved something about that…somewhere…“ Here’s what that looks like:
Thoughts and information get scattered everywhere and I was missing out on ways to connect and use that combined knowledge. It was exactly like this drawing I love from @gapingvoid:
WHAT IS ROAM?
If you like visuals, I have a short Instagram Story where I’m graphically trying to explain it because I love it so much and think it could really change people’s lives. Watch the video on Instagram and follow me here.
At first pass, Roam looks like an outliner app like Workflowy; or also, Todoist or Dynalist or Notion. Actually, that’s a good way to get started using and understanding it; pick any topic/subject that you are working on—especially if you have a lot of information about that subject in multiple different places. Copy that information into Roam and try to start organizing it there.
But it’s 3-dimensionally more than that… You can #tag things and actually see how they connect together like you can on Six Degrees of Wikipedia and you can drag large blocks of data around to different places!
And, a lot like Evernote in that you can just dump unlimited amounts of data into it and search the collection to find things you saved months or years ago. Plus, when you are saving new stuff tomorrow, you can easily create a new page for it and assign your preferred tags for reviewing it later.
For me, it does all those things, but the thing that has me jumping up and down is… it’s basically as fast as my brain with a Bic 4-color pen.What, you don’t journal in color too?
Overall, when putting it up against the others—including a project manager like Todoist—i feel like i’m AT LEAST 50% more productive with my thoughts. I’m certain that it’s changed my brain and how i approach filing information. It’s like i’m the editor of my own personal Wikipedia! You click on linked words/phrases that take you to other pages where that word/phrase also appears. This is where the gain in productivity comes from; you can put a magnifying glass on anything that you’ve already thought about and discover new insight. Here’s a graphic look at how a part of my Roam database is connected together.
FIRST IMPRESSIONS OF ROAM
I randomly stumbled across Roam a couple weeks ago while doing some quick research on it to see why so many smart people were fawning over it—you know those academic types.The Home page drew me in…
It felt a little hard at first to get over the first hurdle. But after I got 5-10 key commands memorized, I had that feeling after you’ve stretched and are about to go running.
What i love about Roam is that it feels like it’s “built-for” people like mewhere thoughts lead to other ideas, then other thoughts, and then a business idea about how those two thoughts relate to a couple other things you were thinking about last week, but you don’t have the time to think much more about that business idea because that article you started 3 hours ago has to be finished by the end of the day today! #squirrel Even an emoji can be be a tag that you can search for!
It frees me up to organize my thoughts as fast as i can type and assign tags. I’m sure studies show how many things, on average, that I learned yesterday that I’ve already forgotten today; let alone something I recorded a month or two ago. With Roam, I can “go off” and type a couple things on Human Potential Movement and easily return back to finish what I was doing.
You hit 2nd gear once you have 4-5 “master” topics/categories decided and can start linking things together. One of those categories will undoubtedly be a “Daily Notes” page because even if you don’t know where you want to put something, you can just plop it into Roam’s default DAILY NOTES page. Because of that one thing alone, I have started an actual daily journal and every morning that I wake up, I can’t wait to start putting my thoughts into Roam.
The higher gears come as you start learning more advanced key commands like queries and the beauty that is the SIDEBAR. It’s at this point that you finally realize that staring at your first empty Roam database was like opening a blank journal for the first time: you’re not sure what to put in it…until you start writing!
HOW DOES IT WORK?
As An Outliner
Roam has a basic set of functions: multi-level lines called blocks, like Notion and you add additional blocks by typing the enter key. You can use the arrow keys to navigate around or click where you want to edit.
TIP If you right-click on an actual bullet point, you get a contextual menu of available options. This is not immediately evident like the way it is in Workflowy with their three dots system.
From here you can adjust the alignment of the text, set a header style, get a hyperlink directly to that “block”, create a task, add an emoji and add alternate versions of the same block, add a version of the same text, collapse or expand all bullets, and change from a bulleted to a numbered list.
You’re allowed to work with two pages in parallel and a shortcuts menu. To put something in the right sidebar, shift-click it or select it from the contextual menu. To put something in the left sidebar, click the star ⭐️ icon at the top right of the page.
Bidirectional links — essentially, #hyperlinks — are accomplished by surrounding a word or phrase with two brackets, [[like this]]. But, don’t worry! Roam is fast! When you type the left bracket, Roam auto-types the right bracket so anything you type will be inside the brackets. Type two left brackets and you automatically get two right brackets. It’s the fastest way possible to create a link to something else. It works for parenthesis and braces as well!
For Daily Notes
Roam isn’t just a bullet-point-outliner like Workflowy. It’s designed to adapt to its surroundings.
At the start of your day, click on DAILY NOTES. You will see a page with today’s date where you will add everything related to today that you might want to remember sometime in the future. It doesn’t matter what it is, or how little you write about it. Just hashtag a few words or phrases relating to whatever you’re typing. I even have a #hashtag for things I know I need to decide on but don’t want to think about right now. I have confidence that whatever it is, I’ll be able to search for it later with the #
MOBILE: Unfortunately, at this time, there’s no mobile app and the mobile webpage is barely more than a Post-It. However, it is a digital Post-It that really can be quite useful when you’re away from your computer with your phone and a random thing pops into your head that you want to remember. That note eventually gets added to the DAILY NOTE for the day it was created.
So, when that lightbulb goes off at happy hour, you can essentially text yourself a note for you to file away later.
It’s absolute basic functionality but it does that that really well and it’s quite handy. (Don’t forget the #tags!)
For Saving Tweets
Roam automatically embeds your Twitter cards with only a link to the tweet! Notice that you can put tweets into a collapsable bullet so you could have 50 different tweets collapsed into 50 separate lines. This would be good if you were collecting daily tweets or your favorite quotations you find on Twitter.
Formatting in Roam
There aren’t tons of options like you would have with a word processor, but I can assure you the limits are liberating and the restrictions force you to be a little more creative and thoughtful. For me, that’s a plus.
Not to mention you an use emojis like personal hieroglyphics to yourself!
Here, I played around a little to show you some of the the most basic formatting options 👉
If you’ve read this far, or even jumped here directly (I know who you are!), I should tell you that a quick and easy way to see how Roam can be used is to take a look at their “White Paper“. Don’t worry, you don’t have to actually read it—although it is EXTREMELY interesting—just start looking at it and clicking on things…like you would on Wikipedia. (Did you know, you can change the skin of your Wikipedia Home page?)
Even if you start playing around with Roam for only a couple of hours—adding in chunks of data or just journaling a few days a week—I believe you’ll start thinking of ways you could use Roam in your life as a way to connect information together into your “digital garden”.
Some people say Roam allows them to create the illusive “Second Brain“.
As for me, I have started moving over from Evernote large chunks of data and connecting those things with others thing that I truly love and am happy to spend time with. I’ll celebrate my 12th paying year as an Evernote customer so, with over 10,000 notes, I won’t be able to move over ALL of my archives any time soon. But, important and current stuff will move over a little at a time. Honestly, since I started using Roam, the only thing I use Evernote for is the wonderful webclipper. I spent 1 day in Evernote reorganizing it so that when I do a webclipping, it’s labeled and tagged the way it should be in Roam! 🤣
Roam has made me reflect how I store and organize things in the other systems that make up my current digital garden. For example, I’m reorganizing my Evernote Notebooks/Stacks using the same terms and hierarchy. I’m also paying attention to where new bookmarks are filed, what I do with downloaded PDFs, and even how my MacOS folders are named. I’ve even figured out a way to put handwritten notes in Roam by numbering pages and referencing the notebook as if it were a book I read.
It’s probably obvious what a huge fan I’ve become of Roam. I’m not being paid to say any of this. I just feel like Roam is something that I’ve been searching for for a long time and every time I sit down with it, I get all giddy with excitement because I’m able to think in ways I only dreamed.
As a challenge to you and your current system, I would ask you, “Where would you file this article I’ve written, if you wanted to reference it in the future?”
In Roam, I would add blip about it to my DAILY NOTES with something like this
These three sentences note the subject and the author, drops a post-it in my permanent LOG, and records the URL.
For now, Roam is in beta and is free. Eventually, like every other kind of good software, you’ll have to pay for it The way I see it, I’ll just pay for Roam with the fees I save from other tools it replaces.¯\_(ツ)_/¯
You can sign up for Roam here ➤ RoamResearch.com Secret Invitation