What’s the buzz behind Roam Research

You’ve got to really love note-taking apps to stumble upon an epic beef in the personal knowledge management world. In 2018, Evernote users began migrating to the “all purpose tool” Notion. However, barely a year later there’s a new kid on the block: RoamResearch creating a productivity geek’s own version of East Coast vs West Coast.

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What is Roam Research?

Roam’s Conor White-Sullivan describes the app as “A note-taking tool for networked thought.” The app’s been under development for two years and has already garnered an eye-popping list of power users who go by the #roamcult. And to see the beef in action, you have to look no further than shared tweets between Tiago Forte (from Building a Second Brain) and Conor White-Sullivan (Roam’s creator).

Even RadReaders threw their hat in the mix, with messages coming at me via Slack, Twitter and DM.

So what’s the beef? How does it work? And should you try?

It’s a battle of ideologies, not tools

What this note-taking beef highlights shows the inherent tension of any system to collect ideas.


  • Is your knowledge organized associatively or hierarchically?
  • Do your notes hold their own in isolation or mandate inter-connectivity?
  • Are you more of a hedgehog or a fox?


The famous Isaiah Berlin essay distinguished hedgehogs as seeing the world through world through the lens of a single defining idea, whereas foxes reversed engineered a worldview from distinct observations.

Zettelkasten’s been around for a while

However, this ideas’s been around for along time. It’s got a crazy name that I can’t even pronounce: Zettelkasten (German for “slip box” or “card index.”) And like GTD, the PARA method and Bullet Journaling, it’s a system. One that works with physical note cards, or tools like Roam, Evernote, and Notion. (In fact, one of our students from our Notion course played with the Zettelkasten approach in Notion.)

What’s the verdict on Roam?

The core idea behind Roam is bi-directional links. Imagine if you could tag any paragraph (or image, or bullet) within a note and then string together all the graph of relationships through these links. Effectively, you’re creating a mini-web of every idea fragment you’ve ever had. Here’s my explanation of bi-directional links and where Roam shines:

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For a writer, that’s extremely compelling. I know I’m aways trying to create a patchwork of zeitgeist ideas, anecdotes, quotes, and emotions in the perfect post. With Roam, you could have tags for each of these buckets and when it came time to write the post, could visualize the “tree of ideas.”

So if you were to look up the list of idea fragments for the tag #story, you’d see the following screen:

So for now, I’m super-intrigued by Roam, particularly for the messier part of my brain that I tap into for writing. Right now, my Notion editorial setup is super Foxy (i.e. hierarchical) and it could benefit from a sprinkle of Hedgehog-iness.

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