Creating Tools For Networked Thought with Roam Research | Conor White-Sullivan on Venture Stories, Hosted by Erik Torenberg

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Key Takeaways

  • Roam is a tool to build personal knowledge graphs that draw connections between ideas
    • “It’s a tool designed to work more like your brain naturally does”Conor White-Sullivan 
  • A cool feature in Roam: when you’re writing about a topic, it will show you other notes where you wrote about that topic even if you haven’t yet linked to that term
    • “It’s easy for you to roam or wander through your old notes to find nuggets that you want to reuse…you should be able to get compound interest from your past writings”Conor White-Sullivan
  • “The mark of a good knowledge management system is it’s able to surprise you and it’s able to be a good conversational partner…it’s reminding you things you thought before”Conor White-Sullivan
  • “If you don’t have systems that allow you to draw new connections, it’s hard for those ideas to come into existence”Conor White-Sullivan
  • Conor and his team are interested in creating ad-hoc social communities where people making connections obscure connections in one area can meet and interact with other people who are also interested in that topic
    • “There’s something pretty magical when you find somebody else who is reading two obscure things in two different fields and they’re connecting them in the same way that you are” – Conor White-Sullivan

Intro

Books Mentioned

What Is Roam?

  • Roam is a tool to build personal knowledge graphs that draw connections between ideas
    • “It’s a tool designed to work more like your brain naturally does”Conor White-Sullivan 
      • Our brain organizes information in a hierarchy but also through association, Roam tries to mimic that 
  • How To Read A Book by Mortimer Alder, inspired Conor to start Roam. The book talked about reading multiple books in the same domain and mapping all of the authors’ ideas together
    • However, no one of the note-taking application on the market allowed Conor to remix and connect his notes from different authors and books
      • “You couldn’t easily remix these notes, especially if they were originally organized by book…you can’t see all of the questions from all of the authors or all of the quotes that relate to one particular topic” – Conor White-Sullivan 
        • Roam makes it easy to sort through multiple indexes and pulling up related documents

Thoughts on Roam

  • A cool feature in Roam: when you write, it will show you other related notes even if you haven’t yet tagged them
    • “It’s easy for you to roam or wander through your old notes to find nuggets that you want to reuse…you should be able to get compound interest from your past writings”Conor White-Sullivan
      • Too many people take notes that they never use again; you want to connect multiple ideas because that’s where the magic happens
  • “The mark of a good knowledge management system is it’s able to surprise you and it’s able to be a good conversational partner…it’s reminding you things you thought before”Conor White-Sullivan
    • Author Robert Greene uses a system of note cards where every time he encounters a valuable piece of information, he jots it down on a notecard and organizes it by topic 
      • Author Ryan Holiday studied under Rober and follows a similar system
        • Author Robert Pirsig talks about his notecard system in the book Lila
  • “If you don’t have systems that allow you to draw new connections, it’s hard for those ideas to come into existence”Conor White-Sullivan
  • Conor wanted Roam to have a low floor but a high ceiling. Meaning, it’s easy to enter (low floor) but has a ton of capabilities (high ceiling).
  • Conor has a big vision for collective intelligence but to get there Roam first has to focus on individual intelligence until they hit critical mass
  • Conor and his team are interested in creating ad-hoc social communities where people making connections obscure connections in one area can meet and interact with other people who are also interested in that topic
    • “There’s something pretty magical when you find somebody else who is reading two obscure things in two different fields and they’re connecting them in the same way that you are” – Conor White-Sullivan
      • You can also think of Roam as Github for knowledge
  • Roam has been working on building a 3-rd party ecosystem for people to make visualizations over data structures within their notes
    • “I’m very bullish on just general intelligence augmentation and ways for people to think about patterns of thought and unique UIs for running algorithms where you are the compiler” – Conor White-Sullivan

Note-taking Thoughts From Tiago

  • Conor is a fan of Tiago Forte and his work on note-taking 
    • One good lesson Conor learned from Tiago is to break down large projects into smaller pieces and reuse those pieces for other projects
      • For example, if you’re writing a blog post but you feel it isn’t that good, instead of deleting it, save it and perhaps use that information for a different project
  • Conor and Tiago disagree on the importance of tools
    • Tiago believes the note-taking process is more important than the tool and tries to be tool-agnostic but Conor says tools matter
      • For example, you can climb a tree using climbing spikes or you can use a ladder, both help you climb trees but which tool is better depends on your goal  

Lessons From Twitter

  • Twitter is like Evernote with a slot machine
    • You can use it to jot down ideas and you never know whether you’ll get some good insights from other people or negative comments
      • Eventually, Roam will move toward the public domain and similarly to Twitter, allow other users to comment on ideas, offer insight, and feedback
  • Twitter is also good for starting threads and sharing information, but you can’t see people who posted similar threads about the topic you’re sharing
    • Roam will allow you to do just that

Additional Notes

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Notes By Alex Wiec

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