The Fall of Roam

I used to use Roam every day, but I don’t use it much anymore. Based on what I can see on Twitter, and a casual survey of friends, I don’t think I’m alone……

I believed that if I used it, I’d learn more from my experiences because I wouldn’t forget them. I’d take away more lessons from the books I’d read because I’d always have them close at hand. I’d make better decisions, produce better writing, and maybe my hair would even start to look as lustrous as Conor’s.”


Amen. I have my simple Obsidian system with fewer but more pragmatically useful links that’s far outlasted most the fancy Roam setups I’ve seen out there. Glad I don’t need to hear about Roam every other waking second now.

Although now it’s web3… I think I preferred Roam.


Tongue-in-cheek: I’m tired hearing about the next-great-text-app for ultra organizing mark down files.

I live in a multimedia (at least graphical/images) world in both my personal and work life and this complete lack of acknowledgement that not all information is nice simple md files seems like a throwback to 1970’s computing sometimes.

The closest I see is discussion of pdf and pdf tools - but pdf’s are only covered as image representations of, wait for it, text documents :smile:


Funny you mention this today. I was just catching up on my shelved effort to find a workable PKM. Back to trying obsidian and it seems that they’ve really upped the ante.

That’s also another reminder to finally stop paying for Roam that I never use anymore!

Sidenote: seems obsidian has roam and Evernote importers in addition to bear. Anyone used these ?

It turns out that I am rarely in a position, while writing or thinking, where I want to glance through lots of old notes as a way to figure out what to say or do. Mostly that feels like sifting through stale garbage.

Great article and exactly my experience. I tried offloading my thinking to a second brain and discovered that it missed what was important: my unique thinking patterns in my first brain that react to current and changing need. I ended up with an impressive graph of information that was rarely relevant to what I actually needed to do. Perhaps if I’d invested years it might have been more valuable. I doubt it.

Now I’m handwriting my notes and indexing them by topic (eg Genesis - NB1/3 = I’ve written about Genesis in notebook 1, page 3). I get good retention and little friction.

But that leaves all the electronic journals, articles, web pages and YouTube videos I collect and word documents and mind maps I generate. He’s spot on about AI. Google can surface great information from millions of books and journal articles and billions of websites despite being a disorganised mess for the most part. Surely it must be possible to resurface content serendipitously on my desktop, looking through the content I’m gathering? Present search tools kind of do the job, but they don’t learn from any user signals. Google on the other hand tracks whether the information it returned met my needs.

My brain is still good for thinking. Computers are/could be amazing at sifting through very large amounts of data and turning them into information. I don’t need a second brain at all.


Have you checked out Readwise?

I have. It’s a great service and the spaced repetition is wonderful… but I tend to take notes rather than highlight (or sometimes just store a document because it might be useful); it seems to assume documents are highlighted in order to add value or resurface them later.

Each generation eventually learns: software does not make you happy. :laughing:



I think a fair few people tried to offload thinking to Roam. The software might be deficient in some way(s), but sometimes it’s more about our expectations of that software.

IMHO I think a really useful PKM takes at least a bit of effort. It’s not (yet) just about “throw some stuff in a magic bucket and have it magically resurface at exactly the right moment”. You have to put a complementary practice or set of workflows in place to take advantage of whatever the app offers.

I’m one of those early adopters with a free Roam account. Haven’t done anything significant with it yet— every now and then so go back and kick the tyres to see if anything’s changed. But mostly I’m happy with what I have (notes in Drafts with some hand rolled actions for filtering and surfacing related ideas; maps of content in iThoughts).

If Luhmann was able to do what he did with index cards, most of the tools we have at our disposal now are luxuries… if we use them accordingly.


@MitchWagner i’ve never used Roam but I thoroughly enjoyed your article. It was well written, well reasoned, and informative.


Getting a paintbrush doesn’t make you Van Gogh.
Getting a digital paintbrush also doesn’t make you Van Gogh1.

To me, this article isn’t about the fall of Roam, but insights the author has gained about his own process. Rather than thinking of this as feedback that he can use to improve his system, he’s decided to discard the tool.

His storing quotes and linking them together doesn’t capture why he wanted to store them. When he returns to them through the magic of search, he has to recreate his thoughts anew. Essentially, he has torn pages from books, connected them with string, and tossed them in a box.

The easiest way for Roam to fix this would be to improve the search function.

There’s nothing wrong with the search function. Just as having camel hair brushes (really squirrel) won’t get you closer to Van Gogh than horsehair brushes.

But it’s also really clear to me that most people take notes about a few kinds of things:

  • People
  • Meetings
  • Books
  • Companies
  • Tasks
  • Projects

The things that are missing from this list are, at a least, thoughts and ideas.

There’s no fundamental reason why the Photos app on my phone should be able to automatically compile a pleasing slideshow with music about a road trip I took 6 years ago, while my note-taking app can’t do the same thing.

The photos app has information that relates the photos, it gives them temporal and spatial context that relates them to some event.

  • [[Interstitial Journal]]
  • {{[[DONE]]}} Get out Talk Therapy
  • {{[[DONE]]}} Digest edits
  • {{[[TODO]]}} Read
  • {{[[TODO]]}} Write for an hour
  • {{[[TODO]]}} Nap

First, it’s incomprehensible. I have to load a lot of context into my brain to understand it.

So he could use this feedback that he has become aware of to improve his process. When he makes notes, he should give them context. The list above is “whats”, add to that “whys” and “hows”, and maybe even “wheres”.

There seems to be a recurrent progression that comes up related to (at least) note taking and productivity, and that leads to app hopping.

  1. Recognizing that you need a system
  2. Searching for applications
  3. Decide on an application
  4. Use the application and system for a while
  5. Realizing that the application isn’t doing the work for you
  6. Return to Step 2

To move forward, recognizing that the system, the process itself, needs improvement is the key to going beyond this frenetic search for the perfect application.

  1. Recognizing that you need a system
  2. Searching for applications
  3. Decide on an application
  4. Use the application and system for a while
  5. Realizing that the system needs improvement
  6. Use information from using the application with your system as feedback to improve your system
  7. Return to Step 4
    7a. If you reach some impass with the application, return to Step 2 after very careful and thoughtful consideration.

1. Gasoline makes you Van Gogh, but that’s a dad joke


Absolutely Outstanding


Shipper wrote:

It turns out that I am rarely in a position, while writing or thinking, where I want to glance through lots of old notes as a way to figure out what to say or do. Mostly that feels like sifting through stale garbage.

Most likely gods like Luhmann would occasionally muse “why did I make all these cards – most of them are Mist”.


We are having a similar discussion where I work as the company has seen incredible growth over the past several years and we need to change our processes.

I can’t believe how many times I’ve had to say, “This is a work in progress. As we run into issues we need to evaluate them and update adapt our process accordingly”.

Too often it’s just, “this new process doesn’t work”, with the implication being that it can’t work. And that we should return to the old process, despite the fact that it has been shown not to work.



“I bought a piano, but I couldn’t play Für Elise, so I’m going back to the bongos.”


I’m trying to imagine your rendition of Für Elise on the bongos… :slightly_smiling_face:


It seems what we’re talking about is mastery, or Kaizen.

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Thanks, but I am not the author. Just sharing a link.

My mistake but I’m confident that had you written it it would’ve been equally eloquent.:slightly_smiling_face:


That’s the thing. Building a “second brain” involves a ton of work, and from everything I’ve seen it’s not as much about letting your tools “think for you” as much as it is that all the thinking you’ve previously done is readily accessible.

Most of the value comes from the curation and development of ideas, not by the raw collecting and indexing.

Luhmann very clearly did a ton of work to implement and maintain his system, and it’s the work - not the specific system - that likely yielded the benefits.