Roam Research: a new note-taking tool

I just stumbled upon Roam Research.

It looks like they’ve got a nice note-taking story.

The homepage has a white paper that you can read, and from that, the left menu has a Welcome to Roam document that might also help.

Not sure yet if they’re Hook compatible. I think they’re browser based with unique URLs per document, so they should be OK.

I’m sharing before having taken a single minute to delve into it, because my flair tells me it might be interesting to this community.

Looks suspicious to me. Wants people to sign up without disclosing its privacy policy – red flag. Misspells the name of it’s supposed major supporter (“Berkeley Existenial (sic) Risk Initiative”). Link to the demo is a 404. Possible more of a honey pot than a real thing.

Depending on the kind of notes you have in mind, there are some much more solid and transparent projects around.

  • Observable HQ is excellent, with very distinguished figures like Mike Bostock and Jeremy Ashkenas working on it.
  • For more general working notes Notion is solid and I know people who swear by it and live in it.

Personally, though, I have learned to prefer local storage and desktop applications. (I haven’t forgotten losing a rather large amount of work in the 90s, when someone had an unfortunate accident with their server, and seemed to have kept imperfect backups :slight_smile: )

1 Like

True, their front page and written demos seem thrown off very quickly.
They’re clearly not currently wanting to grow their userbase too much.

What is more thoughtful is how the co-founder writes about it on twitter.
e.g. you can read this tweet chain starting from this link:

For collaborative note-taking (and simple data representation and organization) I’m all for Notion. I use it a lot for this purpose. But I yearn for very fast tools for my own needs, with stable URLs for each document too (Notion page URLs change everytime I rename them… I think it’s not a great fit for Hook on this regard?)

Wow they have progressed a lot since my last review! Do you know if they can import a markdown cell inside other notebooks? I see they can import code cells with great effect, but what about text cells? I’m always looking for cross-referencing embedded note tools, and for some reason, I don’t seem to find any that does it and has good user aesthetics at the same time (Roam allows it but I don’t know yet if I’ll like it as a tool)…

Perhaps this is not the right forum ?

(and on-line services are not my thing - still a cyber security war-zone, and will be for years)

The Mac Power Users forum, run by David Sparks, is full of people who like to discuss sites like the ones mentioned in this thread.

1 Like

Well, I think note-taking tech is very relevant to Hook. Hook stems from research projects at Simon Fraser University on technology-enabled cognitive productivity ( meta-effectiveness) which includes note-taking . I’ve proposed that many people have given up on note taking , or at least take far fewer notes than they should, because they lack efficient means for linking notes to what they are about, creating notes and adding linking them in one shot, and accessing notes in context of source, and accessing sources in context of documents. That’s one of the main set of reasons we created Hook

We intend to run empirical studies that measure the impact of Hook on note-taking. Here’s a 2015 grant proposal: http://cogzest.com/2015/03/assessing-and-enhancing-knowledge-workers-meta-documentation-and-self-testing-a-sshrc-grant-proposal/ . After that grant proposal, co-founder Brian Shi and I decided to do Hook. (We had previously co-created gStudy and nStudy at SFU with Prof. Phil Winne.)

Hook is definitely meant to supply the “missing links” in note-taking workflows.

2 Likes

The challenge, I think, is that the filePath name of a single document turns out to be a weak proxy for a source or a working project.

Perhaps the links really need to be between entities defined at a level of abstraction one click up from a filePath or URL. Something like:

  • active project, chosen from a small menu of the user’s current projects ?
  • Or more flexibly, a tag ?

If we had a tag ⇄ link-set association, we might be able to:

  • usefully assign the same tag to several different documents, making making a given set of tags less restricted to just one filePath
  • get access to combined link-sets by attaching more than one linkset tag to a particular folder/file.

My comments below are just part of the discussion, not meant to express a preference.

Hook relies on more information than the path (e.g., if docs move their path is different, and Hook links normally remain valid–i.e., are pretty robust).

Some people like tags, but most people do not use them. (Well , most people don’t use Hook either yet). This is not to say that Hook will not accommodate tags within the next year.

Hook currently has a simple ontology. One can jump into using Hook without defining tags or projects. One can quickly create links with very little cognitive inertia (little strategizing about the shape of a network).

Hook can serve many ways of working. I have found that URL centric link navigation meets most of my needs, but I am not the only user of Hook.

The concept of mesh and project has come up in the past on the forum (and behind the scenes over the years I’ve explored them, but thought we should release Hook initially without them since there’s already so much functionality that covers so many use cases). One way of using Hook is to identify a core project document (or other resource) as hub.

But even then my hypothesis is that most of the time for most users most links will actually define small disjoint networks, often pairs of documents. (I say hypothesis because I’m inviting colleagues to use Hook for research on personal information management [with consenting users of course, which would call for a research-variant of Hook, like we did w SomnoTest, a research version of mySleepButton ].

Empirical research on users would probably reveal many ways of using Hook – more than I had imagined. And when we introduce other forms of meta-information ( ) , I’m sure that many users will available themselves of them. The automation of Hook itself might also enable developers to build tools to support other meta-information.

Sorry this is not meant to be circumlocution. I can’t put a time line on the other forms of meta information, and meanwhile we’re listening to suggestions.

Persistence is the central problem.

If I increment the version number of my working document, all links vanish from the Hook menu.

Short of some SQLite programming, which you understandably discourage, it’s not immediately obvious how to transfer them.

(On a marketing note, I wonder how helpful it is to speak of ontology and cognitive science ?

Pace genetic algorithms, there’s really no sense in which any design is actually a direct research result, and in practice things either work or don’t.

I personally find that the current design introduces quite a lot of redundant cognitive noise, and also some larges patches of blank signal (e.g. links no longer accessible after file name adjustment).

Not sure that either ontology or research results really impinge much on either of those weaknesses in the current state of the design :slight_smile: )

ooops! I’m very sorry. I had read the first part of the thread earlier on SkyTrain (transit) and completely lost sight of that context (Notion) when I came back to it to reply. My comments were out of context. I just recently came across Notion (from a favorable tweet by Alex Dunsdon on Twitter). Will look at it and how Hook could work with it.

Hopefully we don’t use “ontology” in our marketing. I think we ( CogSci Apps) managed to convey the “cognitive science” aspect of mySleepButton . I’ve done a ton of interviews about the link between cogsci and that app. But I think we can do a lot better with convey it with respect to Hook.

I totally agree. It’s not a direct research result. The Hook home page currently says “inspired by cognitive science”. I sometimes say “based on cognitive science” (The CogSci Apps page currently says that). In a nutshell, the app is in fact the result of and part of a cognitive science research programme. Someone could perhaps have invented it via a different route, but in our case it’s been a back and forth process.The first Cognitive Productivity book is the framework. Our new head of marketing & communications said in July/August that the Hook home page was too technical, so we rewrote it in September, and will update other material accordingly. I.e., I think his opinion is consistent with your view.

We debated whether to include references to markdown on the home page. We kept it because we think blogging is for everyone (not just techies), and Markdown is great for blogging. (I even encourage students and researchers to write in Markdown if they don’t need LaTeX.)

I think what you mean by “cognitive noise” is you’d like to bypass the Hook window altogether? We do plan to support that.

re: file name issues. We definitely aim to make Hook links robust as much as possible, and to mention limitations in our marketing materials. The current https://hookproductivity.com/what-mac-apps-are-compatible-with-hook-app page doesn’t mention Notion. we will have a look at Notion (maybe someone at CSA already has), see what we can do, and discuss on the forum, and possibly update the page. Maybe we should have a separate forum topic on Notion so that newcomers can more easily find the conversation.

Thanks again for all your feedback and proposals.

Coming back to Roam Research (see original post above), I spent one hour trying it out last night (I don’t have a user account but anyone can browse their white paper and read other explanatory material from there, and anyone can modify all that without their changes being saved or destroying anything.)

While trying it out, I found at least three complementary ways of referring to other text notes/nodes:

  1. Linking to a note document or a specific note’s paragraph.
  2. Embedding an entire note document (or one of its paragraphs) as a sub-paragraph in the current note document.
  3. Embedding a specific note’s paragraph in the middle of my own paragraph!!!
  4. Aliasing (I’m not sure how this differs from linking, though.)

In all cases, backlinks are then automatically generated. Nice.

And if you update the contents of a note, all places where you embedded it are automatically updated with the new contents. Single source of truth.

Moreover, the tool even recognizes not-yet-linked-references and lists them all for you. So if you spent many notes writing about e.g. Hook Productivity and them someday you create a note with the same Hook Productivity title, then that note will have a special footer to tell you all the notes that already speak about Hook Productivity. You can then decide to link them.

All that to say that Roam is very interesting, but as @quorm observed, they’re bleedingly early in their development. Still, I believe they’re already used productively by teams.

1 Like

Thanks for the skepticism Quorm.

Daniel’s correct – we just started bringing in users from the public a couple months ago and totally have neglected our marketing material / landing page so far.

Mostly we’ve been growing through referrals – definitely not a honey pot (we’ve been building this for a few years, and have users from companies like Google, Open AI, Facebook – and independent researchers from around the world.

Here’s some stuff our users have written

and https://roamresearch.com/#/v8/help/page/2971

Great point on need for privacy policy up front --we’ll put something up on that this week – jist is, we don’t look at your data, you choose who you can share your info with (everything is private by default) data is stored on google servers.

2 Likes

Well, I’m at least really glad Daniel posted this here – I just learned about Hook from an onboarding call with a new user, and this is totally something I’m going to be recommending to Roam users as a complementary tool.

Regarding your point on local storage – it’s coming for Roam – agree on keeping things stored yourself, and we’ll eventually have everything backed up to text files as well. We started with web because the most critical problems we’re trying to solve relate to collaboration (Roam is real time collaborative, like Google Docs)

2 Likes

I think you’re on to something big here. All links in Roam are also bidirectional.

Your work reminds me a lot of Doug Engelbart’s

https://mnielsen.github.io/notes/engelbart/engelbart.html

Thanks for building this - bought a pro account.

also re

I’d love to be in the study. Also happy to share research notes on personal knowledge management

I will say one thing I’d love would be some sort of precise links to a section of a document/web-page/ other application. Not sure how technically feasible this is to do with a wide variety of apps, but even something hacky would be cool.

1 Like

me too :slight_smile:

In our previous life, 3 of us at CogSci Apps created software that did that, for text, images, and videos. (It was part of that project, late 2002, that I got the “link anything to anything idea” [i.e., breaking through the boundaries of regular WWW links].) But that was academic software with a different approach (to build all the components in the software) as opposed to Hook’s approach, which is to be minimalist, (laser-focused on linking/access.) Having said that, fine-grained linking remains on our radar :wink: .

1 Like

yes.

My first Cognitive Productivity book has a couple of quotes

1 Engelbart & Ruilifson (1999) explored a similar concept at the organizational level but that straddled World 2 and World 3: “There’s another part of this that it takes to make people effective. Its [sic] the paradigms they live by, the procedures they follow, the customs they use, the language that they employ, the knowledge[…] All of these are added on top of the basic genetic capabilities. And […] There was no name for all of this, so I just crudely coined the name human system for that. I’m still looking to see if there is any other term for it out there in the world.” The concepts of mindware and objective knowledge are more helpful than the concept of “human system”.

The conclusion:

This “bootstrap” group has the interesting (recursive) assignment of developing tools and techniques to make it more effective at carrying out its assignment.
Douglas Engelbart

Thanks for your kind words and purchase of Hook, @Conaw. I’m delighted to have you on board!

I thought I had given some credit to Doug on our website, specifically referring to Toward augmenting the human intellect and boosting our collective IQ , but I just noticed that I haven’t. Yes, he deserves credit.

I submitted an article to The Conversation (Canada) in February that credited him/that paper, but I never got back to the revisions. I should do that!

It’s possible to use Hypothesis to link to sections of web pages using Hook.

1 Like

Hi Conor, glad you are making Hook users aware of ROAM, and I am happy to be a new user of Hook and an even newer user of ROAM. As the mentioned onboard-ee, I am happy to have helped to cross-pollinate between these two creative camps, and look forward watching both grow and mature. Tomorrow, I’m going to see if the Dynalist forum has any buzz about ROAM and HOOK, and if not, lift both into the radar with those who use my favorite outliner.

1 Like