# Software-agnostic equivalent of Roam

Today I looked at Roam Research because I was curious whether it has something unique to offer compared to other note-taking software. I find their approach to note taking rather interesting, especially their use of bullet notes to group content under links. To me it seems like a novel (for me at least) approach to linking content. Rather than marking a range of text (e.g. This is some [marked](https://example.com) text) or implicitly marking the sentence as you do with footnotes or similar references (e.g. Some sentence [1]), you implicitly mark everything that is nested underneath. This community has shown me the value of the software-agnostic approach to note taking, so this got me thinking, how would the approach taken by Roam translate when taking the software-agnostic approach? The approach used by Roam does seems useful, but I am having trouble seeing how this could be mimicked with Markdown. What would the software-agnostic equivalent be? Or is it simply not that useful outside a software environment giving special support for it, like how many features within Notion would not translate well to plain text editors.

• Since you mentioned elsewhere that you use Unix, I suggest you look at (and contribute to?) the Reddit /zettelkasten software comparison table, which has a number of *nix-friendly options, including ones for Vim and emacs. I am actually exploring an emacs option, org-roam, right now.

• @cobblepot Thanks for the suggestion, I did stumble upon the Zettelkasten Reddit before and have looked at that comparison table, but I am mostly interested how you would structure notes in plain text such that you can still get the most out of the approach taken by Roam without making outlines / bullet points your main way of writing notes.

What made me start this discussion are the following two Youtube videos on Roam:

What I do find interesting is how the use of outlines/bullets groups things:

• [[Banana]] can be used as the basis to make [[Bread]]

• Something something about [[Wheat]]
• Other stuff

That Roam displays the backlinks and show everything underneath, e.g. on the page of [[Banana]] you would see:

• [[Banana]] can be used as the basis to make [[Bread]]
• Something something about [[Wheat]]

So it creates an explicit grouping of contents. While if I were to mimic this in a non-outline style, I would have to limit it to the sentence containing the backlink, losing potentially useful information about why the backlink might be of interest to me. Or I could limit it to the paragraph, but this is all guess work and might completely miss the mark.

When I put it like that, it just shows that I am unhappy with implicit grouping of contents for backlinks, so I guess the answer to my original question is rather clear now, make the grouping of contents explicit by defining clear rules on how links relate to the contents. For example back links when part of:

• Metadata, i.e. what I have called tag links so far: all content.
• Headings: all content until the next heading.
• Lists and outlines: all contents under it.
• References (i.e. [[Banana]]): the sentence it was part of.
• At the start of a paragraph (i.e. [[Banana]]: One of the most popular fruit in the world...): the whole paragraph.

I think this approach when coupled with software displaying these backlinks in a useful way, will give me what makes Roam novel to me, while still staying software agnostic.

• @grayen said:
I am mostly interested how you would structure notes in plain text such that you can still get the most out of the approach taken by Roam without making outlines / bullet points your main way of writing notes.

With Roam, you can think of notes/zettels as being either pages or "blocks" (bulleted paragraphs). Pages with multiple blocks are either 1) less atomistic or 2) act as structured notes would act in a different ZK system.

Bulleted lists can group things as you say, but I have found value in taking advice (maybe from Ahrens?) and writing out my permanent notes in full cited sentences that others could read and understand rather than in abstract, brief phrases appropriate for bulleted lists. The idea is that if you don't put everything on the page, then when you revisit a note in five or 10 years you won't have your current thinking context and then the note will be meaningless to you. So my notes will not be mostly bulleted lists, but plain text files with content of probably a few hundred words per note.

I am not sure how I will combine these into more complex arguments or writing outlines – that's something I'm still working on.

When I put it like that, it just shows that I am unhappy with implicit grouping of contents for backlinks, so I guess the answer to my original question is rather clear now, make the grouping of contents explicit by defining clear rules on how links relate to the contents.

First, let me point out that it is highly unlikely that your intuition is giving you a full and accurate picture as to the kind of system that will work best for your note taking once you get going. Much everyone who has used ZK systems reports going through several iterations and changing the way they did it along the way.

Re: grouping backlinks, when using a ZK, a major benefit is being reminded of previous notes so that surprising links can be discovered. However, different aspects of the note can be displayed in different ways (note titles in a list, sentences from no content in our back links collection, direct links on a graph) and all of the types of displays will have benefits and drawbacks. There will be no one best way of providing the context of other notes when writing this note that will work for all situations and all types of people and thinkers. Combining this with the previous point, I think it's hard to know how much of an advantage or disadvantage it will be to group back links in the way that Roam or org-roam does until you have 100+ notes in your ZK. (I think you said you just started your ZK, but correct me if I'm wrong.)

For me, I suspect that rather than seeing a lot of content all at once, I will be most helped by being able to very quickly switch between related notes to load their content in a mental "buffer" for me to think about before encoding and capturing a connection.

I know I mentioned this elsewhere, but have you considered org-roam? It gives the backlinks but is likely highly customizable in how they are displayed. I have not started using it but am currently trying to learn it.