Zettelkasten Forum

Why Obsidian Will Overtake Roam by Linking Your Thinking

edited November 2020 in Software & Gadgets

I am really curious about your opinion on this video.

I am a Zettler


  • Sounds like the typical story of yet another distro hopper to me. If you're telling me about that one tool that is better than all other tools together i'm out. Roam? Obsidian? Evernote? I can't see a bright future for any of these.

    The argumentation behind it sounds reasonable to me. I don't use obsidian nor roam so i can only theorize about it. Until now i was mostly feeding my Zettelkasten. I plan on using my Zettelkasten as a databaser and connector. I plan to start with writing soon, i've delayed this far too much.

    It mostly depends on how much effort you are willing to spend on forming your tools. Even without knowing Obsidian i would suggest it for anyone to start out. The big advantage of it is that it provides the entire workflow for you to simply use it. The way they form your workflow is usually very well thought out, much much more than anything you'd have come up with as a beginner with zero experience.

    If someone was asking me i would always suggest Obsidian or whichever tool is en vogue, but i would never recommend any tool whatsoever.

    my first Zettel uid: 202008120915

  • I found many ideas in the video interesting, but the delivery really did not work well for me. It's very likely a matter of personal preference, but I really dislike this particular style of YouTube video: with cuts every 5 seconds, emphasis and enthusiasm dialed up to 11 for every single sentence, etc. It just feels hectic and unnatural to me, and ironically makes it actually harder for me to follow than if the style had been more calm and more like that of a good research talk or lecture.

    Similarly, the implication that there can basically be only One application in this space strikes me as a bit hyperbolic. People differ significantly in what's important to them in this type of tool. For instance, I would never consider even for a second to put my notes in a proprietary web service, whereas may others don't seem to find this problematic, as evidenced by the numerous users of Notion, Roam, and similar services. Plus, people have different needs and different goals -- some use the tool with the explicit goal of publishing articles or books, whereas others use it just for personal knowledge management. For these reasons, I think that there is enough room for multiple different products in this space to fill different niches.

    It definitely does look like a lot of the hype, which until recently had focussed heavily on Roam, has moved over to Obsidian now, so I would not be surprised if, out of those two, Obsidian were to become the more successful product long-term. Its four mentioned advantages "local files, file-based, plain text, no lock-in" are hard requirements for me, too, for a notes/knowledge application. The video also states as a fifth advantage that Obsidian is free, which is incorrect, though: If you are an author and you are using Obsidian for research on a new book, you need the $50/year commercial license. If you include notes related to your job in Obsidian, you need the $50/year commercial license (unless you work for an NPO).

    I have to admit, I sometimes get a little jealous about Obsidian's current pace of development, with new features getting added every week or two. It reminds me a bit of the early days of The Archive. For me to get seriously tempted to switch away from The Archive, Obsidian would have to feel much more like a native Mac app, though, and not like a browser masquerading as a Mac app.

    If you like The Archive's "PrettyFunctional (Basic)" theme, consider upgrading to the "PrettyFunctional (Regular)" theme.

  • I use Obsidian, and don't particularly care if it overtakes Roam or not; it's useful to me and that's all that I care about. It's easy to link my notes, the format of those notes is mostly quite portable, and the cost is reasonable (it is free, but I've paid because I use the software a lot and want to support the two-person development team).

    At the end of the day, I don't see the need to root for different applications as though they are sports teams.

  • Thanks for sharing.

    I found the presentation passionate and cohesive. Nick Milo is surely passionate. I think he's right. Our thinking is shaped by the tools we use. This was a great reminder.

    I appreciated the look at the different types of work-flow - databaser or connector. I think I am a bit of both. I choose to keep them in separate software domains. I use Evernote for collector and database functionality and The Archive for connecting ideas.

    @djdrysdale said:
    At the end of the day, I don't see the need to root for different applications as though they are sports teams.

    Yes, I agree, no hooligan antics! That said, let's play. What mascot should The Archive have?

    • A apothecary cabinet - boring! too academic
    • The wolverine - Ya! Maybe now we're on to something. The wolverine, fast, travels in the high mountains, tenacious, and killer cute.

    Will Simpson
    “Read Poetry, Listen to Good Music, and Get Exercise”

  • I think that the video tries to draw too fine a line between Obsidian and Roam. It's true that an app's design influences the way that it is utilized, but I think that Roam is more flexible than the video gives it credit for. The fundamental unit of Roam is nested blocks. These blocks can be displayed as bullets--the default view--or just as blocks of text. What a user puts in these blocks is up to them, as is how these blocks are or aren't nested. There is absolutely nothing stopping you from writing full paragraphs with headings into pages that are organized using meta-notes/structure notes (or maps of content as I think the Obsidian community calls them). I think that a vocal minority of users are heavily into metadata and queries, but I would be hesitant to agree with the video's claim that this is the only way to usably organize Roam, or even that this is the intended way.

    Personally, I find it easier to think in Roam. Being able to break ideas up into blocks, and then treat each block like its own individual page is invaluable in trying to synthesize ideas from multiple sources, or even synthesize my personal thoughts from multiple days. This is something that is more difficult to do in Obsidian. Having ideas split up into individual documents changes the way that it feels to work with those thoughts. I agree that Obsidian pushes users more towards traditional writing. I would prefer Obsidian over Roam to lay out notes that I am going to share with others. That has more to do with the flexible choices for markdown export than it has to do with Roam not being suited for writing, though. A block is a scalable entity.

    I think that Obsidian's popularity, and why it probably will end up with a larger user base than Roam, may have to do with it following a more traditional wikipedia style layout. For web users (the broader audience outside of the ZK sphere), linking between individual pages inherently makes sense. Learning how to organize your thoughts into this format can be tricky, but the fundamental structuring of Obsidian is the sort of structure that we interact with regularly. Each page discusses a topic and links to related or relevant pages. Alternatively, Roam asks you to break up your thoughts into even smaller units. Not only that, but it allows you to break up your thoughts so effectively that it is easy to go too far and over-fragment your notes to the point of making them difficult to work with. I think the problem with Roam, and why many users gravitate towards Obsidian, may be an issue of learning curve rather than the fundamental structural differences between the two programs. When should I make a new block? When should I nest a block? When should I make a [[link]] versus just referencing another block? Is [[link]]ing good enough, or do I need to further process my notes into their own organized pages?

    That said, the price of Roam is pretty silly, and I think that the lack of offline file storage and the difficulty in getting your data out of Roam all are great reasons to gravitate towards Obsidian rather than Roam. Certainly, Obsidian makes more sense from a ZK standpoint. There is absolutely nothing future proof about Roam, and I think it would be a waste of money to pay $15/month to use it in a formal ZK style considering Obsidian is free and is perfectly suited for ZK. Even better, The Archive costs only a few months of Roam and is built specifically for ZK. I much prefer The Archive's treatment of links as searches (though Obsidian's local view graph is pretty nice).

    That criticism of Roam aside, I've been really enjoying playing around in Roam this last month. It feels really good to work inside Roam. I can't put my finger on why exactly, especially with Obsidian implementing paragraph level linking recently, but working and linking thoughts inside of Roam is a joy. I could never see myself using it for true ZK, but I'm thinking about using it for a much less structured self-dialogue and then storing my formal ZK inside of The Archive.

  • @prometheanhindsight Good comparison of Roam and Obsidian - thanks!

  • I'm more of a learner-connector-teacher*. I tried Obsidian but I wanted a tool which I could use on all my devices (Windows/Android). I just discovered RemNote (https://www.remnote.io/documentation) which is free and which auto-generates flashcards and supports spaced repetition.

    • I'm an ICT architect so I must learn from experts, connect different concepts and ideas, and tell/show people how a solution should be implemented
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