Zettelkasten Forum

Remnote: excellent Roam Research alternative (for outline-based knowledge management)

edited August 2020 in Software & Gadgets

I am just more and more sold on outline-based (aka workflowy-like) knowledge management.

Roam Research authors did a lot of work with smoothly implementing automatic backlinking and different kinds of references (as we discussed already in these forum). However, with Roam going now from public beta to pretty audaciously priced subscription version (15 $ / month), I would like to point out at (currently) free alternative to Roam:

Remnote https://www.remnote.io

I have no connection to them and I do not want to sound it like a cheap promotion, but I am very impressed so far. I just started to play with it yesterday. It has all the features of Roam (incl. backlinks, links to blocks, transclusions, previews etc) + other interested features (e.g. embeddable dynamic searches as part of notes) + very thoughtfully designed architecture (e.g. in contrast to Roam, there is conceptually (in underlying architecture) not a difference between text-block, document, folder, tag, even some formats (like headings), views, filters... - in internal functioning, they are considered as the same "rems" (think "elements") - and all these elements (rems) have some common attributes/features and connections. Such design is very promising as for many (current and especially future, as this app is still rapidly built) features, like searches, interconnections, visualisation of information or some (arbitrarily chosen) parts of documents etc.

Just as an example, also some internal "files" are the same types of documents ("rems"), so you can hack your css (styling of your app/notes) by adding css code to one of the special "rems" (document), which is basically the same document (you can view it in the same editor, edit it in the same way) as any other zettel/note. (But this one has special name "custom css". You normally add your css in the same way as you would add any other text note into your zettelkasten. No need to open some system files etc.)

Second part of the app is for spaced repetition learning, so some users can also connect their zettelkasten with actively memorising some facts from their notes (I am not much interested in it as - IMO - spaced repetition is very hyped at the moment, as typical post-factual hack, cure-for-everything in learning. I believe it has its (very limited) role in learning some knowledge pairs to the level of automaticity (e.g. chemical elements and their abbreviations), but vast majority of learning should be context-based, with rich learning formats and active recalling in context of interconnections of other information, not as isolated "items" of learning, as spaced repetition forces learner to do. But it is another discussion).

My opinion is, that the authors market Remnote too much as "spaced repetition" app, whereas they should stress much more its huge knowledge management capability. So I believe they will be able to find enough interested users who understand the real potential of their app.

Of course, full Zettelkasten system can be easily devised in this system, as many youtube videos show (there are more tutorials for ZK for Roam Research, but there are not practical differences in both apps as for this functioning, so any Roam flow can be applied to Remnote also).


  • @daneb Thanks for this information; I tried Roam but didn't really go too far as I couldn't tolerate the monthly cost. I guess they are focussed on business people. Anyway, nice to know there is an alternative.

    I do have one question though. I use bullet points for taking notes a lot; I've done it all my life, from university days through working as an engineer. Each bullet point is short and snappy, following from the previous and leading to the next, sort of like laying out an argument or line of thinking.

    However, in trying to understand Zettelkasten and the idea of taking notes for my ZK, and then from reading Ahrens' book on "How to take Smart Notes", it seems to me that a smart note (or Zettel) is not the same as a bullet point. At least as I'm trying to write a Zettel now, the note is more descriptive and comprehensive than a bullet point (while still being concise and focused on one idea). What is your experience with this? Do you see any difference between the two?

  • @GeoEng51 I can see your point. I suppose it depends on how we understand "bullet points"/outlining. I understand it more like a visual/formatting distinction (rather than conceptual one).

    So in some notes, I could use your style (succint, short points aka when outlining an article, finding logical relations etc), but in other notes I use it as normal free text, where indenting just helps me to denote which paragraph is logical development (details, particulars) of previous paragraph. I use the outline in this case just intuitively as a visual guide - no hard rules (because there is always flowing logic in our texts and we almost always develop previous paragraphs... but sometimes I just want to emphasize level of details (or levels of argumentation).

    And - most importantly - you can use RemNote without actual bullets, just as free-flowing text. You can also use it without indenting your text (outlining) at all. (just create document = note and write) (there is formatting possibility to turn off bullets - choose it from status bar). But the main advantage remains - you are able to reference each individual paragraph and each element to other documents (and view backlinks to them).

  • edited August 2020

    EDIT of my above post regarding space repetition:

    I misunderstood space repetition possibilities during my quick review of the app. I thought that only individual bullets could be used for tests (recalled), and so - that SRS would be too atomized. But now after diving in, I can see that you can create virtually any testing materials from different levels of hierarchy (including contextual knowledge, broadly defined concepts), you can create ad-hoc tests based on keywords, tags, search... and later test yourself from any hierarchical level of the outline (individual bullet point or whole document, if suitable).

    And - best think - you can even change these levels as you gain knowledge (first, you can learn details with more cues, later you can edit tests and test yourself for bigger chunks/higher levels of hierarchy etc) - that all directly by editing your notes (zettels), just using simple syntax (similar to markdown syntax).

    So I must say that in SUCH defined spaced repetition app (contrary to anki which force you to create your tests statically and atomically) - this has huge potential, not only for learning but also for creative thinking/brainstorming (e.g. you could present yourself with random views/"tests" of your knowledge base with some parts covered first and guess/brainstorm to the subject - this feature of random presentation of your info is not implemented yet, but I bet it will be in the future).

    So far, so good.

  • edited August 2020

    It varies. For example, this was one of Luhmann's notes "On the history of the concept of economic. Value cf. Literature at 7.15 , Böhm-Bawerk, loc. Cit., P. 991f., 993ff." Pretty much a bullet point size. Then he had other notes that took up literally 3-4 note cards. It all depends on how much information you need to get the point of the note across.

    Say you had ridiculously good memory. Well then you could get away with smaller notes, where the note pretty much serves as a retrieval cue for your own memory on the topic. On the other hand, lets say you have poor memory (like me). Then you need to include more information on a topic to make it understandable.

    Is remnote cloud based? I would very much be in favor of Roam like program if it operated locally on markdown files, that I could store in a dropbox account. The problem with programs like Roam and possibly this, is that it isn't built for long term user control.

  • @daneb @Nick I had the same question as Nick - if Remnote worked on a directory full of markdown files, that would be ideal. If it uses one or several, special format files containing all the information and/or if you have to store it in the cloud, it becomes less enticing.

  • I like the integration of SR, but I'm not keen on the use of cloze deletion.

  • @Nick @GeoEng51 Yes, RemNote it is cloud based, however with ability to work offline (DB is in your browser cache, synced later). They are working on full desktop app. (Before it is ready, I use my own "app" using Chrome shortcut opened in separate window). So desktop version will be available, but due to architecture of app (outline-based and rem-style based), I bet it will be still database-based. But you can easily export everything in markdown.

    If you prefer local markdown files, there is definitely Obsidian to try (I do not know if you know it or not). It has similar automatic backlink functionality and many new interesting features growing every week. There are also some disadvantages as compared to RemNote/Roam (as for impossibility to link to any place in document or in scalability of preview of other files etc) - but I would say best way is to try both and see what suits you best.

  • @GeoEng51 said:

    I do have one question though. I use bullet points for taking notes a lot; I've done it all my life, from university days through working as an engineer. Each bullet point is short and snappy, following from the previous and leading to the next, sort of like laying out an argument or line of thinking.

    I just came to try RemNote yesterday and, for the way my brain and thinking works, it's the system that makes most sense to me so far. I can easily take notes in a hierarchical structure if I find there is an advantage to this ( and often I do, for various reasons related to the structure of my course) but also have total flexibility over the future structure and lay out.

    To answer your point above, and bearing in mind I have only been playing with the tool for about a day, I am currently approaching each bullet point as a paragraph that forms an atomic note, where possible. I appreciate this is not always possible, but it is proving a useful starting place.

    The advantage of this is that I can then include those paragraphs / atomic notes on what I guess is loosely my equivalent of a structure note (the specific notes I feel would be relevant to the assignment / essay I am working on) and, as these can be shown in full, the essay takes shape before my eyes rather than having to follow links. So it's a bit like Roam, in that you can have a structure of taking notes if this suits you (rather than a series of 'cards' in a box, which doesn't work for the way I think quite as well), but the structure doesn't matter and doesn't limit you.

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