I was asked why Roam as primary, and Obsidian as secondary PKM tool - here is my answer

Here is the original question on Discord:

Coming from this Series of Posts:

If anybody follows me on Twitter (@Calhistorian), I am a hardcore Roam user, but I also use Obsidian. Those who know me know that I am genuine and not combative - so I am up for discussion and dialogue - but not s***posting. Lets talk.


So why do I prefer Roam over Obsidian for “organizing notes”? Well it comes down to my early statement about creating value in dynamic ways and a few workflows.

What do I mean by value: Value is essentially the quantity and quality of data attributed to words, sentences, paragraphs, and data elements (like checkboxes or bulleted lists or diagrams, etc - which aren’t just text, but added value through a constructed form of data carrying some level of meaning, which = value).

Regarding creating value: in Roam you can create “value” in a few ways distinct from Obsidian, that works for me.

First, you create value through its outline format (even if you hide the bullets in document mode). I won’t go into the full explanation here, but in essence depending on how you structure indentation you are creating different kinds of value through parent/child relationships, and through sibling to sibling relationships. Data flows differently in these two cases. Use-case: I can basically take notes on multiple topics/subjects/sub-topics/idea chains/etc on a single page, yet maintain their individuality (due to parent/child - sibling/sibling relationships), yet maintain another degree of a relationship since it is on a single page (which creates that relationship).

Second, following on this idea of relationships you can combine this bullet relationship with all other standard features - tags, page references, checkboxes, attributes, etc., in which each of these extend or restrict relationships (and thereby value) between bullets (blocks) down the parent/child relationships only, and not sibling relationships (where sometimes value is ascribed by segregating data or restricting relationship data). Use-case: Tags “value” follows down parent/child relationships and does not between siblings - basically “painting” value more efficiently.

Third, building again on the bullet relationships, bullets can be transcluded (like Obsidian) wherever you wish. Transclusion can be referenced or embedded, like Obsidian. In those transclusions, you can included or exclude the transclusion into the host bullet/block hierarchy (by choosing reference or embedding) - adding or restricting the data structure referred to above. Use-case: I can easily transclude my or others writing wherever. Use-case: quoting, building evergreen notes, basically elements like MOCs, tables, and huge amounts of data can be condensed in a very small space. For example, I could have a long sentence in which each word and phrase points to a specific block or sentence elsewhere - but it doesn’t look like separate blocks (inline transclusion).

Fourth, all of this “value” you are creating can be hidden, focused on, or excluded through zooming (like Workflowy) and page and global filtering. So on a page or in the whole DB I can filter to exclude/include only 1, 2, 3, or 4 elements (or more) in effect hiding blocks from view. And combined with the data structure, the parent/child and sibling/sibling relationships continue to operate - where data flows from parent/child, but not sibling to siblings.

Fifth, the different search and creation features allow for rapid idea development. Can query for individual blocks, parent/child relationships, different data states, cross-relationships, etc. You can also create child blocks or sibling blocks on apage from anywhere else in the database, without going there.

Sixth, the unique workflow/workspaces - somewhat similar to Obsidian’s value, is very nice for my workflow. the Sidebar acts as a workspace similar to NickMilos workbench plugin, or can be the different panes in Obisidan. But the above mentioned value is compounded by this feature.

Seventh, the customizability. Both Roam and Obsidian’s plugin architecture is a wonderful addition to any software. But since Roam is a web app, it has a bit more flexibility, customizations and integrations - template engine, javascript, automation, etc.

I can leave it there for now. There are many things that Obsidian does better. But for my workflow, I enjoy the aforementioned features. Like I said, my main use of Obsidian is for Obsidian Publish and offline use of my MD notes from my Roam backup.

7 Likes