Roam Research - "negative" users purged from the Roam subreddit

The Roam team have banned a bunch of users from their subreddit for negative posts. There’s a full explanation of reason, and the new rules in the subreddit here

I’m conflicted about this and interested in the views of others are. On the one hand, I get that the sub needs to be moderated to avoid it descending into the cesspit that’s been the fate of so many others. On the other hand, routine active moderation could address that risk: this seems a little extreme, if not overly defensive.

As a member of that sub since its inception, I haven’t seen a whole lot of the kind of thing the team are objecting to: plenty of criticism in the earlier (2019-20) days concerning support and reliability; plenty of robust debate on future direction and priorities; a little “you should use Product X 'cos it’s so much better”, but not that much. As a contrast, the Notion sub is often wash with complaints about its limitations and risks.

Among the more disturbing comments in the Roam guy’s post is this:

“If you would prefer not to use Roam, we prefer that you find another subreddit” - why wouldn’t a non-user want to use the sub to find out more. There are pellet of non-users who are curious - they’re not all sockpuppets for the competition

And this:

" In fact, despite this subreddit being substantially smaller than our number of paying users (smaller even than just the subset of users on free or highly discounted plans) – this subreddit seems filled with people who aren’t even using Roam!

The result has been, pretty much no one on our team enjoys spending any time on here
Since jumping into the community is generally more a recreational activity during phases where we’re focused on deeper work (like this past year) - the result is we basically never show up here
The team steering clear of the reddit means there is little incentive for the more knowledgable and creative members of community to wade in
The incentive is lowered even further when the posts that are most rewarded are ones that are most critical"

In summary: we only come here when we feel like it, and because people aren’t nice, we don’t feel like it

Maybe I’m being unfair (which is why I’m canvassing other opinions), but that all really sounds like the “cult” mentality that Roam’s been accused of. It comes across to me as a demand that you fall in line with the clique or get lost. Of course you want a supportive user base, support doesn’t mean nothing but pats on the back. And there’s an obligation for Roam to support its users - which it still struggles to deliver.


On censorship:

The whole principle is wrong; it’s like demanding that grown man live on skim milk because the baby can’t eat steak.

– Robert A. Heinlein (from “The Man Who Sold the Moon”)


I do like the features of RoamResearch., It fits a certain requirement in my workflow. I also use Obsidian and have Markdown files.

On the whole I totally ignore the CEO. I never participate in their forums. I have reached out to support and they have been helpful at times. But honestly, I feel that their cult mentality will drive it in the wrong direction.

My 2 cents.

Policing behind on dictates about what one person should or should not eat for his/her health are not the same as policing behind policies about how one person should or should not behave in a community.

We might debate vibrantly on the limits to set or that have been set in one case or the other. The “whole principle” of “censorship” is however not translatable in an unvarnished way from one domain (individual actions that affect only the individual concerned) to the other domain (individual actions that affect a community of individuals).



I don’t see this so much as a question of censorship - Roam can set whatever rules they choose in their own domains - as one of the mindset behind the Roam team.

I personally don’t care about roam.

Although the policy is authoritative, unfortunately this is what reddit allows. A subreddit is a private forum. If the mods want the sub to be a cozy backyard, they are allowed to do it.

Don’t get me wrong. I hate this kind of modding as well. I also don’t think it’s a good policy for the community. There’re always a lot of abuse from moderators on reddit. Unless the reddit admin changes rules site wide, it’s difficult to do anything against these.

@DrJJWMac Especially in the PKM niche it is rarely about human behavior or decency, but more so about suppressing the spread of factful criticism to avoid negative impact on ones business by having customers that are too informed.

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This reads like someone made a snap decision. As one user put it “you have banned people, then created the rules by which you banned them. That is completely about-face.”

What was so urgent that the banned users couldn’t have been given a warning first? Why does the leadership suddenly fear negative comments?


I’m sorry, I don’t know what that means. I know what PKM (personal knowledge management) is, methods and technologies for collecting notes and information, but what does PKM have to do with “suppression”?

Every product has a target audience. Sometimes broader (YouTube), sometimes narrower (RelayFM podcasts). Sometimes a tool is made for everyone (Notes), sometimes for a small and specific subset of users (Obsidian, Roam).

Roam is in a particular niche (PKM), targeting an, I’d say, pretty reflected and educated audience that doesn’t just blindly troll, flame, or hate. Usually, there is some truth behind the expressed inconvenient thoughts in discussions by an audience like that.

I’ve often heard people being worried about security (encryption) and future-proofing (data portability).
Those aren’t easy to implement for Roam. To provide the former—while remaining a web app—a lot of effort would have to be poured into a full rebuild, potentially. It’s not impossible, though. The latter is part of Roam’s user lock-in strategy.

I find this questionable. Especially in the context of there still being many users—independent of the level of education or tech-savviness—that are not aware of the implications that the lack of encryption of their (private) data brings. I don’t want to think about how much confidential information ends up on Roam, Notion, Trello, or the many cloud storage providers and to-do tools.

Suppressing discussions that utter valid and factful criticism or concerns that can have informational value to others that might not have thought about those implications is censorship.

1Password, to name a positive example in comparisom, handled the recent criticism elegantly, on eye-level and without censorship. And yes, even on their own forums.


OK, I follow that. It seems possible that cramming a lot of socio-cultural assumptions that cannot be validated, about a small insignificant corner of the world, might not be the crispest explanation for why things are the way they are. I’m an Occam fan. Maybe the mod in question is just, well, a jerk.

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Right. Words like “censorship” and “suppression” have definitions, and this behavior meets them. Whether the censorship / suppression is wrong is the question. I would suggest that it is, at a minimum, probably unwise at the level they seem to have done it.

Regarding the underlying reasons for the actions, we obviously can’t read minds - but I would suggest that skills like customer service & community development / moderation are hugely distinct from the ability to develop software. If you have software devs doing the community stuff, sometimes it shows.

This is especially true when dealing with criticism of how one has developed an existing product, or users that want things you don’t intend to develop. For an extreme example, look at Linus Torvalds.

Not a knock on people developing software at all. Just an observation that the companies I’ve seen with excellent customer relations either have software devs that are excellent at customer service, or excellent customer relations people that provide an abstraction layer between the devs and the community.

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That has been said about the guy - who is the founder and lead designer/evangelist/etc for Roam. He’s earned a reputation for idiosyncratic/independent (depends on your point of view) behaviour that has, at times, had elements of jerkiness (IMO).

Roam has always had a rep for a cult-like approach and Conor White-Sullivan (for, as “Private eye” would say, it is he) has said before that he encourages that. If one of the attributes of a cult is that wrong think is forbidden, this action in the sub appears logical.

Setting aside philosophical/ethical arguments, I’d contend that this commercially counterproductive. There enough alternatives to Roam around or in development that dissatisfied users have other places to go.

Good forum and community moderation is an art and obviously not everyone’s cup of tea.

Building and keeping a community is hard work and takes a lot of time! Especially so, in case the audience is multicultural and the forum language is not everyone’s native.

I know…being direct and Dutch living in the UK I am used to unintentionally offend people… :grin:

Reddit is quite open and draws a diverse crowd. Many topics live side by side and it is easy to find, join and follow subreddits. It will attract a wider and varied audience. Discourse is topical, subscription and membership-based, and therefore has a much more intentional audience.

If you open up community/support channels, you have to deal with the feedback and manage expectations. Not handling negativity well always backfires in the end. Choose your channels wisely and manage them well. Negative perceptions are hard to kill…

There is indeed a reason that Dutch is not the international language of diplomacy :grinning:

Think the world would be a better place if it was… :laughing:


There would certainly be less room for misunderstanding :grinning:

That said … I have also seen Dutch people trying hard to make sense of their own language…

I don’t see any problem with the principles that the RoamResearch moderator expounds. However, it’s all in the implementation, and if the implementation is terrible, then the result will be terrible.

Censorship is only a problem when implemented by the state, or by platforms that are so broad that they effectively have monopoly power. Censorship NECESSARY on smaller platforms.

Consider this community. We are Mac power users. We don’t sit around admiring Apple all the time–quite the contrary, we are often very critical of Apple.

And, hey, if somebody comes in here and uses an Android phone with their Mac, I’d love to hear about why they picked Android over an iPhone.

But if somebody just plain hates Apple–well, that’s fine for them. Some folks I like and respect a great deal will not touch Apple products. But what’s the point of their coming here? And if they come in here and start dominating the conversation, I expect the moderators will ban them, and I will support that decision.

I may stop in on an Android forum now and then just to see the state of the art, but I’m not going to comment there–and I’m certainly not going to tell people to switch to the iPhone. If Apple wants me to do marketing for them, they can pay me—and I don’t work cheap.

There are all sorts of reasons I don’t use Roam Research: Data lock-in, privacy, and lack of native clients are the three main ones. But if other people find Roam Research better than the options I’ve chosen, I am confident they know their own needs better than I do. It’s a great app.

@leo Heinlein was commenting in context, about governments banning sexual and other provocative content outright.

Even Heinlein would surely agree that steak has no place in the baby-food aisle at the supermarket, or in a vegetarian restaurant!

UPDATE: I recently blocked a guy from my Facebook profile, which gets enough activity that it’s kind of like a little forum. I’d known him virtually, participating in the same forums, for nearly 30 years. He hadn’t commented on anything I wrote in years, but then one day he came in and argued with me and started arguing with other people agreeing with me. It seemed to me from his tone that he was acting in bad faith—reading meaning into what I never intended to say. He wanted to pick a fight, and I was the guy.

I don’t like arguments on my social media. I’m happy to disagree with people, but I’m not suing social media to get myself angry. I know if that kind of behavior is allowed to continue, it will take over a forum. And it occurred to me that I had often found this guy’s posts unpleasant, and could not remember a positive interaction.

So I blocked him. I censored him. And I’m glad I did. In previous years,

I might have let him go on out of some free speech principle. But I no longer believe that his free speech requires me to provide a platform. He is free to say what he wants on his own Facebook profile. I am not required to listen.


As individuals, we are (can be) granted certain inalienable liberties. The bounds of moralities that sustain a society can correspondingly demand that we must request permission for certain licenses.

As an individual, you (should) have the liberty to speak freely in the (Roam) forum. Because a forum is a society, even if only a microcosm to itself, you may be required by its rules to request license to speak in certain ways. And you may be banned when you violate the rules.

In my view, the violation that should be considered in this thread is the extent that the Roam forum changed it rules and grandfathered contributors, kicking them off the forum based on their past actions against the new rules rather than policing forward based on their subsequent actions.

To your case, you were at liberty to press the [KILL] button. You may have also considered giving an advanced notice to re-establish the (potentially misunderstood) rules of the “society” formed between you and the offender.

I don’t tolerate fools well. My stubbornness has come back on occasion to bite me. Each situation is different, we don’t often see the whole picture until after the fact, and even I as a proverbial old dog sometimes have to relearn these lessons.