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Episode 62

62: What's Fueling the Roam Research Craze

Is Roam Research just another note-taking tool? The #RoamCult claims they’re on the precipice of a new era of idea management. It’s not just the ingenious features like bi-directional linking that make this platform next-level. It’s how it gets to the core of thought-tracking in a more human way. In this episode, find out what makes digital products have a truly devout fanbase.

Show notes

This Note-Taking App is a Game Changer by Thomas Frank

I Was Wrong About Roam Research by Dalton Mabery

People of Product is hosted by George Brooks and Dan Linhart.

The show is edited by Larissa McCarty.

Brought to you by Crema.

Crema is a digital product agency that works with partners from top innovative brands to funded startups. Our team of creative thinkers and doers simplify the complex to discover the right solutions faster.


Roam Research helps you organize your research for the long haul. As a note-taking tool for networked thought, the tool “gamifies” note-taking and research with a frictionless experience. But where did Roam Research come from? And how has it taken off so quickly?

The Roam Cult

Something that really makes this platform stand out from other note-taking tools is the passionate followers that swear by its effectiveness. In fact, there’s even been a term coined for this group of Roam Research fanatics: Roam Cult.

You can find the hashtag trending on Twitter and there’s a Roam Research subreddit that’s super active. On these platforms, Roam users can share how they’re using the tool, ask questions of their peers, and generally share praise about how Roam has transformed the way they process information.

The reason Roam Research has gained such an invested following can be attributed to a couple of psychological elements. Creating a challenge to “get in” makes the accomplishment of grasping the tool feel rewarding. The easier onboarding is, the easier it is to abandon. With friction to start, users feel more invested.

Because the tool can be a little more difficult to pick up, the early adopter fanbase is there to help you get through the learning curve. When you get through this curve, you feel like you earned it and you feel a sense of belonging. It all ties back to the philosophy that the best things in life are hard.

Roam Research is also unique in that they aren’t leaning into marketing at all to get the word out. Instead, they’re relying on their followers to spread the word. A brand spread through word-of-mouth gains a lot more credibility than the company that funnels thousands of dollars into unwelcome ads. When it comes down to it, we trust our peers more than we trust the word of a company.

Why do people love it?

The tool appeals to users for a few different reasons:

  • At its core, it’s a bulleted list. It’s not like google docs, dropbox paper, confluence. The bare structure is built off of bulleted lists, indents that you can collapse.
  • They’ve added a feature called “bi-directional linking,” which is essentially a relational-style database. As soon as you make a new page and link to it, Roam automatically knows where it came from.
  • The visual representation helps explain how you got from one thought to another.

It’s not just about notes

According to an interview from the CEO and Co-Founder, Conor White-Sullivan, Roam Research is about more than just taking notes. Roam wants to make it possible to collaborate with your past and future selves. Being able to see that a current thought is related to multiple other thoughts you've had before is how you get compound interest on your thoughts and solve more complicated problems in the future. At the end of the day, writing is a tool for thinking.

As an idea management system, Roam Research separates ideas from commitments (ie: Todoist), shows the right ideas at the right time, and doesn’t distract with ideas that can’t be executed. It also allows you to break down ideas into smaller parts, and re-combine them as needed. All these components create a streamlined space for researchers to unleash their stream of consciousness without having to get distracted by the task of connecting the threads.

Bi-directional linking

Bi-directional linking is about bottom-up processing and associative thinking. Top-down is what most people are doing most of the time. This means processing info off of previous memories or experiences and making inferences “in paragraph form”. Individuals on the spectrum process bottom-up, which means they take in information and details until they have all the information to make a conclusion.

After a few weeks of research you can see where all the information is connected to make a conclusion. If you’re someone in a strategist or innovation role that’s trying to collect and brainstorm ideas to execute on, this tool is for you. If you’re dropped on a sub-page and don’t have context about where you are, it could be very confusing and not make sense. In Roam, you can drop in anywhere and see all the linked references.

Visual representation

Let’s say you just went through a pretty thorough exploration of a specific topic (a mind flow state). This is called associative thinking. It stimulates thinking and creativity because you’re making so many connections. If you try and describe your “aha moment” the next day, you won’t be able to adequately explain how you got there. With Roam Research, you can see a node graph with associations and their relative links, plus see what else is associated. It’s all documented.


So what can we learn from Roam?

  • From a business perspective, this organization shows the importance of building a ‘cult’ of people who are champions of the product.
  • The tool itself has to battle against a more challenging onboarding process, though it’s been set up in a way that acknowledges the difficulty of change while also stressing the value and payoff in the end.
  • Emphasizing the more holistic value of the tool (better thinking) has been a major selling point for Roam. Their branding as a product that helps us live our lives more meaningfully and with more impact and value is no small feat, and their fans have had a major impact on this accomplishment.

Give it a try and let us know what you think on Twitter @cremalab

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