The fall of Roam


I’ve never used Roam and only recently started using org-roam. I came across this article and wanted to share some thoughts with the org-roam community.

There is one thing that resonates with me from this article and that is that every time I write a note, I still worry about the “where does it go” issue, in the sense that I wonder if the note will ever be retrieved again, worked on, etc. or simply just be forgotten about.

To some extent this may be down to the fact that:
a) I don’t have a good workflow yet or one that I’m happy with,
b) I don’t understand Zettelkasten or roam principles,
c) I write to write rather than write to think, or
d) a combination of all the above.

So my question is how many org-roam/Roam users see themselves experiencing some of the issues that the author, and to some degree myself, are experiencing. Is this something that you overcome with time and experience using org-roam or is this a workflow process issue?

Thoughts welcome.

Hi @gigatux

This can be only a personal account but I don’t suffer from the same “where does it go” issue.

My main use of Org-roam is Microsoft OneNote replacement for notes I use for work. I use it mainly to record facts: internal product information, meeting minutes, customer meetings, etc. Occasionally I have my ideas that I would like to develop for work purposes but that’s minority (probably about 10 % of notes). In total, I have about 500 notes for my 1.5 years (2.5 years? can’t remember) or so of active use. I consider it to be low-end of volume for the use duration (I have seen some people say more than 1,000 notes in a few months; I don’t know how), and I’m happy.

With this background, my thoughts on why I don’t have the “where does it go” issue:

  1. Notes are in a file system. I don’t use sub-directories; everything is directly stored under the work notes folder with only timestamp as the file name; no room to worry about where files go.

  2. I only take work related notes, so there is a single focus – the topics are wide ranging like marketing strategy, sales statistics, the domain knowledge, our products detail, customer information, internal organisational notes, etc. etc but it’s all work related.

  3. Search works great. I use Ripgrep for full-text search with rg or consult-ripgrep on Emacs.

  4. Org-roam is one part of overarching knowledge management system; I roughly follow Tigao Forte’s PARA method for overall file system structure. Fleeting notes and journals are outside of Org-roam, and I consider Org-roam notes belonging to a specialized Area (work). I still use the rest of the file system for Projects, Areas (which Org-roam don’t cover), Resources, and Archive.

In addition to my personal use, I suggest to read Jethro’s way of using Org-roam, too. Particularly I’m interested in the way he uses sub-directories and corresponding templates:

I use two separate slipboxes to maintain a strict distinction between an original thought and an idea from an external source. This allows for proper attribution, and also allows us to return to the source to dig further if a particular line of thought is extra intriguing.

I use file tags for this purpose (“Creation” vs “Reference” tags) – most of my notes are “Reference”.

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Interesting. I’ve got lots of reading to do :slight_smile:

I admire your ability to segregate work so well. My brain floats between work and personal all the time (ie, my hobbies, my interests, my daily activities) so I need one big pot to throw it all in. I am looking for the perfect external brain :wink:

I’ll keep working on it and improve my workflow.

Hi @gigatux,

I find that org-roam really shines when you have a really big and complex problem to solve. For me, the “where a I going to put this” question is always answered by where will I look for it when I need to find it.

Org-roam and emacs became what I needed them to be when I was dealing with a extended family medical emergency. They survived a trial by fire. I did not follow Zettelkasten or could even tell you what the roam principles are.

I needed and still need something that is fast. Where I can create a note with minimal organizational structure except a name. This could be note on a doctor, a medication, an event, a concept, a procedure, a web link, a document, a piece of code, a note that acts more like a tag, whatever might seem to be important.

Then I need to quickly link that note to other notes that AID IN RETRIEVING that information IF I need it in the future. I often can’t remember the name of the thing, but I typically can find the thing because of what I linked it to. I don’t need or use full-text search, links are enough.

Unlike @nobiot, everything is likely a fleeting note. Some of the notes have no content and are used to group other notes (tags), some are mega notes with 50+ connections.

It’s mostly chaos. Just like my real brain!

I also needed a visualizer to try and piece together medical puzzles (org-roam-server then org-roam-ui). A digital cork board over stuffed with small details on pieces of paper, with pushpins and bits of yarn making connections. They let me see relationships between distant fragments to create new understanding (and MORE notes).

I never knew what was going to be important, so I tried to capture and connect as much as possible, as fast as possible.

When the roam gets bigger, it becomes easier to interconnect. At first it’s hard and I ended up with a bunch of notes without content. Those are mostly fleshed out now, or I don’t see them because I have not looked for them!

My current roam has 2585 files with 4217 unique IDs, it’s integrated with my GTD-like org-mode task manager. I think it’s been a year and a half?

I’m only now starting to write “evergreen” notes on larger concepts (blogs?) in more of Zettelkasten way.

Also, now I’m dependent on it so that I can’t imagine moving.


Hi @gigatux,

in regard to the article: I use a mix of links and search (ripgrep & Helm-rg) to find relevant notes. Occasionally, I also use Devonthink to find related notes. No issues whatsoever, despite more than 2000 notes in three languages (approaching two years of usage).

I write fleeting notes on paper and later add them directly to the relevant note - following here Ahrens 2017, “How to make smart notes”. The book had considerable impact on the way I take notes, although I already used plain text files and unique identifiers when I wrote my Phd years ago. To this system I only add new notes for information that I want to remember in 2-20 years time. I have external folders for meetings, lectures, and projects (with files sometimes in .org format, sometimes not).

I love the freedom Emacs gives me to set up a system how I want it. And if macOS ever becomes an unfeasible choice, I can easily move my notes to a different OS. I don’t see myself ever leaving this again (but I might update to v2 soon :).


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Two responses

Some ways to not lose it

When I write a note I try to figure out everything it bears on – what it’s about, what projects it would help, what it has implications for the truth or falsity of, etc. Call that set X. I then filter that set to those things I actually care enough about to bother keeping track of them. (For instance, maybe the note has implications for love, but I don’t care; if so, love is in X but not Y.)

The difference between X and Y depends on the speed with which I can create a note, and the cost of comitting to maintaining it over time. Org-roam, fortunately, makes the first pretty low, and my own habits make the cost of the second pretty low, so often in my case X == Y.

For each thing in Y, I then link to the new note. If that thing in Y doesn’t yet exist, I make it.

Why to embrace losing it, kind of

Even if you perfectly anticipate and curate the set Y when you create the new note, it’s possible that you won’t look up anything in Y for a long time. That’s fine! Continuing the above example, suppose the note you wrote was about love and how to avoid burnout at work, and you put it under those two things, and then never looked at those two things. That means those two things weren’t an issue for you.

Of course, this implies that when you have an itch to do anything, part of scratching it is to look in your notes for anything you’ve already written on it before. That habit will come with time, although consciously encouraging it can hurry the process.

It also assumes that when you have an itch, you’re able to find the note about it. If the note exists, usually it’s not hard to find – even if you didn’t curate its parents well, you can grep your folder for relevant terms.

Synonyms can present something of a problem. I often search for “belongings” and then remember “oh yeah, I call those possessions”. The ROAM_ALIASES field helps for that.

If those are your habits, you can fail to see a note for years and still not have actually lost it – it’ll be there when you need it.

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I think roam_alias is one of the most underrated features of org-roam. It helps extremely, if you use terms in several languages discussing the same thing. I also add a short alias for every publication that I read. For example, Ahrens 2017 - How to take smart notes: one simple technique to boost writing, learning and thinking: for students, academics and nonfiction book writers becomes Ahrens 2017, which is much easier on the eye when cited in other notes.