Thoughts about tech, programming, and more.

Why I stopped using Roam Research, started again a year later, and then stopped again

tl;dr: I was using Roam Research a lot, which actually became a problem because I didn't trust all of my personal notes in the cloud. Then Roam released their encrypted graphs, which made me feel more comfortable, so I started using them again. But now the product seems to have stagnated and I don't feel confident about the longevity of Roam, so now I've moved on.

I started using Roam Research sometime in early 2021. While it was rough around the edges, there was a lot I liked about it and I found myself easily using it.

As I used it I realized that I was using it for everything. Personal notes, planning my day, logging my day, book notes, business notes, workout plans and logs, things I want to remember in the future like ideas for a future house we'll build, etc, etc. Anything and everything

It was working great for all that, however, there was one main problem.

If I'm using it for "everything" and recording and storing the type of data and personal information in it that I was, there's no way I could continue doing this on a product that stored all of my notes unencrypted in the cloud.

Data breaches are too common and happen regardless of the best of intentions. If a server is internet-connected, you must assume that a data breach will happen at some point, particularly if you are considering options for storing anything that contains your private or sensitive information.

Otherwise, your privacy and security come down to nothing more than mere hope - a lottery or gamble where your private notes and data are at stake. I'd rather be in control than play the odds.

That ruled out Roam considering there was no end-to-end encryption at that time, nor were there any decent local storage options available.

I would've been happy to trade off conveniences such as multi-device syncing in order to be able to store my Roam graphs locally. But at that time, there were no good options.

So I took my notes and moved away from Roam. I used Obsidian for a bit. Then I came across Noteplan, a really good iOS and macOS app. I used both of these alternatives and gave them a real shot.

But the problem with these other apps is that I'd always arrive at the same outcome. I would use them for a couple of days and think "this isn't so bad," but shortly thereafter I'd find myself no longer using them.

I'm not sure exactly why that was or what about them would lead to that end, but with Roam I didn't have that issue.

Perhaps there's something about Roam that seems to integrate with my pattern of thought flow. After all, the idea behind Roam is that it’s supposed to mirror the way our brain stores data as opposed to the standard file/folder storage approach.

All the other options seem to introduce elements that have to be managed and - even if minor - those additional elements introduced additional work that consume additional mental RAM and I would quickly find it more of a chore to use them than a benefit.

I haven't had this problem with Roam

So when I came across the news that Roam had introduced encrypted graphs, I didn't hesitate to jump back on board. Payment for my 2nd month was just charged and I'm only finding my usage of Roam increasing. And that tells you all you need to know. Like the other apps I tried, it's easy to use something for the first few days but time is the real test and if you can continue using it after the initial appeal of a new piece of software has worn off, you know it's something that integrates well with your workflow.

The timing also worked out great because Roam recently released their mobile apps which makes the mobile experience better. Not perfect, but better.

If you're getting started with Roam I would highly recommend setting your graph up as an encrypted graph. This can only be done when you first create a graph so if you've already started one, you'll need to create a new one and move your notes over.

It's also worth noting that if you enable encrypted graphs, you must ensure you maintain your encryption key password. Without that, your graphs are gone and cannot be retrieved. But this is exactly the intent behind an encrypted graph.

If that sounds uncomfortable then it's most likely because your password management system is lacking and you aren't able to feel confident in maintaining your key. If you need a good application, I personally use and highly recommend 1Password.

Update 2024

Roam Research as an application seems to have stagnated. It still feels and looks like a beta product and I don't feel confident that it will be around for the long-haul, so I have no desire to continue putting my eggs in Roam's basket. So, I've now moved my eggs into my own basket: I created my own self-hosted notes/journal application that does the basics of what I need to do and allow some to host all my notes/journals on my own local server.

I built in note linking with [[]], I have a Today journal which starts fresh every day. In a lot a ways I'm actually liking it more. And I absolutely love the fact that my notes are all stored on my local server.

One drawback, however, is that I have to maintain this project. But that's also the benefit: I can choose to maintain it. Whereas if Roam shuts their digital doors, which is more of an inevitability (just like any business), I'm out of luck because I don't have any of their codebase and would have to find something else. But with this, I can maintain this for the rest of my life.

Plus, I can iterate and add on features as I like. So I'm happy with this direction. I added in image to text recognition which allows me to scan documents and save them into my notes and the text in the notes is searchable. So overall, ditching Roam has been a win.

Unfortunately my new solution doesn't help you if reading this. But who knows, maybe one day I'll open source the code.

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Jamie Larson