Roam vs. Obsidian: A 30-day Reflection

Memorial Day weekend I decided to go all-in with Roam Research for the month of June. I purchased Nat Eliason’s course on Roam, which is a great overview and gets you up-and-running with Roam in a short time.

Previously, I invested about three months into Obsidian. I used NotePlan 3 on my iPad to access my Obsidian vault on the go.

TL;DR - I really like the way Roam connects thoughts, and it seems to be a much simpler app to use with the power available if one needs it, but basic day-to-day work is pretty straightforward. But, there is a nagging unease because it is a web app and it is a proprietary file system.

Here are some bullet point observations:

  • I am not a lawyer or someone who works with sensitive information, so security is not a deal-breaker for me. My previous note-taking app of choice was Evernote, which had security issues of its own.
  • Regarding the proprietary file system: while this is certainly the case for Roam, is it not also the case in Obsidian when it comes to the inter-note connections? Yes, the files are in plain markdown text on your hard drive, but the value of Zettelkasten is in the connection between ideas. These connections are lost without Obsidian. Correct?
  • Roam has an easier learning curve (for me). When it comes to basic work, I can dive into Roam and start working. Invariably, when I try to duplicate something in Obsidian that Roam handles for me, I end up spending quite a bit of time searching the Obsidian forum and/or YouTube videos. For example, task creation. With Roam this is a simple command to create a task and there is a system-generated page (TODO) that collects all of your tasks across your database into one nice page. With Obsidian, this is not a simple process. You will spend an hour searching the Obsidian forum to locate the right plugin, figure out how to use the plugin, etc. Multiply this by a dozen or more features that Roam handles easily, and you can see how it becomes a time sink.
  • Roam takes a lot of heat for the personality of its user community, but not every Roam user is a jerk. I will give a hat tip to the Obsidian community, however; it is a very gracious and kind community willing and eager to help.
  • As far as future proof, I really do not have any concerns about either application. Roam has a robust funding model (i.e. it is an expensive subscription) and it is a solid application. While not open-source, Obsidian feels like an app that if the current developers went away, someone could pick it up and continue to develop it.
  • Regarding the cost of Roam, it is $15 per month or $165 per year. Not cheap, but I have subscribed to TheBrain for many years and it is in the same price range. Moreover, if one adds sync and publish to Obsidian, it is (currently) $12 a month with early bird pricing. I don’t know that price is a reason to choose one over the other.
  • The Daily Notes scroll in Roam is a killer feature. It lets you simply scroll down the page and shows you every previous Daily Note as far back as you want to go. Obsidian, on the other hand, requires you to manually click on dates in the calendar to see previous Daily Note entries.
  • Roam does more heavy lifting for me while Obsidian requires more manual hacks to get similar results. For example, I can click on a tag in Roam and it takes me to a single page with every reference to that tag shown in context. With Obsidian, I haven’t figured out how to create a similar collection of notes while showing everything in context.
  • The edit/preview function within Obsidian gets old. I know the developers are working on a way to render markdown as you type, but right now I prefer how Roam renders text as soon as you click off the paragraph.
  • Obsidian has a “flavor of the day” feel to it right now. It is the new kid on the block that everyone is in love with, but it feels like there are a lot of people jumping on the Obsidian bandwagon right now because it is the cool app not necessarily because it is the best option. A year ago, Roam was the app everyone was hyping.
  • Much of the power with Obsidian seems to be reserved for those willing to invest a considerable amount of time customizing their Obsidian vault. The comparison that comes to mind is Notion and August Bradley. When I watch August Bradley’s YouTube videos I sit in amazement at everything he can do with Notion. It is so powerful and I love how interconnected everything is in his system. He has one dashboard in Notion that runs his entire life. Amazing. When I open Notion, it is a plain-jane table of text. It would take me hundreds of hours to learn how August Bradley does everything that he does with Notion and to create a similar custom dashboard. In a way, that is how I feel with Obsidian. I see some of the cool ways people use Obsidian, but realize they have invested a lot of time to get those results, and I am not interested in investing that kind of time.
  • At the end of my 30-day trial of Roam Research, I think it is the app for me. It requires less tinkering, it lets me create rather than try to figure out how to make something work, it is a solid app with a lot of features I have come to appreciate. YMMV. If, in 10 years Obsidian is the standard go-to app for connected thinking and Roam is nowhere to be seen, well, this will not be the first time I have made the right choice at the time but the wrong choice long-term. I still have a warm place in my heart for an app called Ecco Pro that is no more, but was great while it lasted.

Obsidian is already somewhat compatible with other markdown notes apps that use the double-bracket linking syntax such as Noteplan. I can open my Noteplan folder in Obsidian and my links still work (that does start to break with some of the more advanced stuff like embedding and linking to a section within a note though). In any case, the syntax for basic linking is simple enough I’m confident that if Obsidian went away I could write a script to go in and replace all the double bracket links with something else.


I have to agree about task management in Obsidian and some other notes apps. It seems to work for lots of people, and that’s good. To me it seems like having a toilet in your living room. Sure, it will cut down on steps, but if one has the means, different rooms for different tasks works out better.


That apology is a classic! I suspect Steve Jobs would have liked it! :slight_smile:


That is an awesome summary! Your post got me to thinking; how future proof is Obsidian or Roam or any similar program since all of the linking is proprietary? I presume not very. If people invest hundreds of hours on linking hundreds/thousands of notes and something breaks or goes under, it seems like all of that work (linking) is lost. It would be great to have system that was transferable.

A few observations:

Be wary. Money isn’t everything. I believe one of Roam’s senior engineers has recently left or is leaving, and I’m a member of a Discord community with a bunch of ex-Roam plugin developers who now are building on Obsidian. This may be a fad thing, as you say, but I think there are deeper issues afoot.

This is another important factor in Roam’s usability. Roam is quick with fewer notes, but it gets very slow with a lot of notes. This is another reason some prominent users of Roam have left it recently.

I realize it looks like I’m shilling for Obsidian here. I’m not—sincerely, use whatever you want!—but I wanted to add what I’ve heard from the Roam expats I know.

Oh, man, is this a metaphor fight? :crossed_swords:

For me, keeping tasks together with the work is like someone undid a corpus callosotomy. Suddenly my plans are aware of the work I’m planning and vice versa.


@ryanjamurphy - I appreciate your observations. This is all connected to the nagging feeling I have with Roam, but apart from those who dislike the community (and the founder), and those who are turned off by the lack of security, when comparing the two apps, it seems to be a Ford and Chevy comparison.

Trigger Warning: Rant

Question: is there a simple “Getting Started with Obsidian” course that gets someone up and running quickly with the essential features? I have watched several YouTube videos, but invariably I run into some feature in the video that looks simple only to discover it is “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma” found in a plugin somewhere.

Obsidian is under such rapid development that unless a video or forum post was created within the last two months, it is almost obsolete. For example, downloading and installing the mobile app is complicated. Getting sync setup to work with the mobile app is complicated. It is very frustrating.

I want to like Obsidian, but every time I make an effort to dig in, I quickly run into a barrier that requires searching the forum and threading together several comments to find a workable solution.

NOTE: This is not a request for someone to answer these questions, but more to illustrate my unending frustration with Obsidian.


Princess Leia trying to understand Obsidian…


I think it’s fair to be frustrated. The app has lots of room for activities but getting into it can definitely be tough.

I don’t have any particular recommendations, though I think @mikeschmitz and @RosemaryOrchard are working on some stuff over at The Sweet Setup: Zero to Obsidian: Get set up and running with Obsidian in just 2 hours


I like Bryan Jenks’ stuff.

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I’ve not tried Roam, but to me, Obsidian is second nature really, as I see it as a continuation of Zim, which I used for many years as a journalling software after Day One went subscription based.

I’ve now paid for Obsidian so I can use the iPad app, and that works amazingly well. Not all of the plugins do (biggest bugbear is that Advanced Tables doesn’t appear to work, but it’s not the end of the world, as tables will tidy up when I move back to the desktop).

I currently have three vaults - one, a simple daily journal (one plugin, the calander view). The others get progressively more complex, with one being a notepad for work, mainly replacing Onenote and being able to link a daily log together with meeting notes and lastly, my research notes, which have a number of plugins installed, such as Dataview etc to allow me to get everything done. The fact it’s so flexible is major points from my point of view, and I can make it more complicated if I need to is helpful.

Your point on tags is helpful, and in fairness, I spent some time getting Dataview plugin setup on Obsidian to allow me to display a list of case studies, arranged in tagged headings.

I’m not a lawyer either, but I do like having control over my data, though I have used tools in the past (Evernote and Onenote) where the data is difficult to get out if needed and I’m not a huge fan of that (having pulled data from Evernote)

The above is rather rambling and doesn’t add much to your discussion points really, but thought I’d throw my views in!


I’m curious as to the group’s thinking about the above. If one creates all of these backlinks and for whatever reason one wants, or has to, move the data, all of the links are lost rendering much of the effort wasted.

To me, this seems like a significant issue. I face the same issue using Craft.

Thoughts on this?

Like I said above, there’s already other software like Noteplan that uses the “local file name in brackets” syntax. Even if that went away writing a script to parse out these links and substitute something else (file paths, URLs, etc.) would be pretty straightforward as long as we’re talking about simple note-to-note links.

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@ChrisUpchurch sorry, I missed your post above. That is encouraging to known. Do you think that would also be true of a program like Craft that, currently, is using Json file format?

How do you manage note links between the journal and other two vaults? Or do you not bother?

One of my daily notes might read, “Completed Project X.” In that case, I will want to link to the index note for Project X. Or, even better, the particular block describing the final step of Project X.

It’s less true of json. It’ll pretty much always be human-readable, I think, but will need a json parsing app to make it navigable.

I had thought Craft does a pretty good Markdown export though? I imagine that will always be an option for you.

As for Obsidian’s long-long term durability:

  • [[ links are becoming more and more of a standard. I believe Wiki sites use them too, as well as nvAlt?
  • The devs are careful when extending core syntaxes such that anything should be easily reversible. Aliases and block links can both be regular-expressioned easily, and block links can also be searched for. Between that and the plaintext nature of the files, the robustness of the content of your notes is best in class, I think.
  • The exception to the above is fancy plugins, like the popular Dataview. If Obsi blew up, dataview snippets would just be weird strings of code. The key here, though, is that these plugins don’t contain actual content—they just re-present content elsewhere in your vault in dynamic ways. So, in terms of data integrity, you’re still safe.

I don’t bother - the personal journal is entirely seperate by design. The personal journal might mention the work items, but only in terms of how I feel for the day. I have daily notes in the work journal for detailing what I completed and worked on daily (one of the issues moving from private practise to a University is that I no longer have to fill in time sheets with detailed project information, so at times, I’ve been wondering where my time goes!)


In addition to other replies to this, I’d like to add this suggestion:

Always include the note’s identifier (which you use for inter-note linking) in the note’s own body text.

That way, should you ever need to use your notes archive w/o the original app, you can simply search for the note‘s identifier. This would return the original note plus any notes that link to it. I.e., your link connections will still be valid. And this will work with any tool that supports search (even in the Finder).

And as others have mentioned already, using a script or even a simple batch search & replace action, you could always transform your links into a new link format.

Related discussion from other forums:


Thanks for the kind and helpful reply. Yes, I can export from Craft to a number of formats, including markdown. I also understand that Craft is working on to make Craft a true markdown editor, but I haven’t verified that.

Thanks again!


Thanks, that seems like an ideal solution. Thanks for the suggestion and the links!