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Why I love Roam

February 20, 2020
knowledge management

Computers are like a bicycle for the mind.

Steve Jobs

Roam has, simply put, transformed my relationship with reading, writing, and note-taking. I've been using it regularly for the past couple of months and I enjoy it.

Using it is fun! I have never been so excited and had so much fun using a piece of software. Games included! The only thing that resembles this excitement was discovering Notion and its powerful flexibility capabilities.

Building a second archive

All roads lead to Roam, and my road started when I realized I had a problem with too much passive consumption. I've discovered the wonders of personal knowledge management: building a second brain, PARA and progressive summarization, which changed my approach to reading. Consuming content finally made more sense, since I was not just passively reading it. I was highlighting stuff that resonated, making summaries and diligently categorizing everything.

That was an improvement, but I realize in retrospect that the biggest drawback of that approach is not making enough connections. My notes were highlighted and summarized, but they were isolated. All hopes were put into search and tags which only gets you so far. Doing this in Notion felt more like building a second archive than the second brain, due to all the compartmentalization required.

Networks of ideas, instead of an archive of compartments

Roam, in contrast, frees me from unnecessary compartmentalization and makes it easier to explore my ideas. It encourages me to build networks of ideas instead of an archive of compartments. My brain is a network, not an archive. This is why Roam feels like an extension of my brain, like a bicycle for the mind.

I write to learn and this is encouraged by Roam. It encourages me to go deep on a subject and explore if I need to. Hierarchy emerges organically from the bottom-up and not top-down like with other note-taking apps. Categories are optional.

Roam emphasizes relationships and its two-way linking is the killer feature. Every page links other pages that are linking to it. Relationships are visible and easy to understand. It's super easy to create new pages, just surround the term with brackets. No need to go deep on the term, unless there is a need.

Creativity is just connecting things.

Steve Jobs

Empty pages are okay. They can be used for making connections or as a glue for other pages. Sometimes I simply don't need to explain the concept, like "writing", but I like to link to it all across my database so I can discover it more easily when I need to.

The dangers of Roam

The only potential problem with Roam is the danger of not being systematic with notes. Roam is a tool of endless possibilities and being systematic and deliberate with note-taking is key for getting value out of it. Otherwise, it can just become an interconnected mess that is not useful.

Zettelkasten is a great system to follow to avoid that. Following it enables network effects for your notes: the value of your database starts increasing, instead of decreasing with each added note.

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