Switching from Roam to Obsidian

Dear respected Obsidian users,

I’m moving from OneNote to this Zettelkasten app right now. I’m doing a course on Roam first since [I got scholarly subsidised access] then moving to Obsidian.

How easy is the shift Roam notes to Obsidian? I’ll be making many notes during the days I do the Roam course. Is it quick? Does the graph structure translate nicely when importing the Roam Export? I’ve seen the translation toggles in Obsidian to translate the short cuts and keyboard styles.

Or, is it tedious and I should just do one of the obsidian courses, with a seemingly starker learning curve, so I’m all pressed up here without a translation being needed?

Anyone’s help would be greatly appreciated. I’m sure many of you have jumped across.

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I have just recently migrated, but to be honest, I ended up using both. I prefer Obsidian general speaking, but there are some things I MUCH prefer in Roam (WYSIWYG, block/outliner format, no friction input). If you don’t want to be caught between features that you like in one app but isn’t available in the other (there are plenty of things in Obsidian that I like better such as the graph, the community (!), the plugins that don’t slow down the app, the speed generally!), I’d say decide on one app and do the course for that app.

Also, you’ll want to do some clean-up or be aware of some ways NOT to name your files in Roam (e.g. [[Books/the special book]]

Also, look here for some of my experience…

Good luck!

Hey, @joshuawilliam! Welcome.

In my opinion, leaving Roam is always a good decision and moving to Obsidian is probably your best choice.

Migration

The serious pitfalls are those situations in which Roam uses {{<stuff>}}. All those blocks and gimmicks and embeds will be lost.

Another annoying thing is the way Roam exports long-form text. Due to its outliner nature, every line comes prefixed with a dash.

Other than that, the Markdown Format Importer plugin will do its thing and you probably won’t face any issues.

So, to answer your questions:

Pretty easy.

Once you have all the notes inside a folder, I’d say “Almost instantaneous”.

Oh yeah. I don’t know how Roam’s graph is right now, but Obsidian’s is DA BOMB.

The basics will take you a long way. Just make sure to use [[wikilinks]] and/or #tags and your notes (and graph!) will inevitably gain some semblance of structure.

I’ve been using Obsidian almost from day one, so I’ve had the opportunity to absorb its features as they were implemented. Like my personal note taking system, my use of a certain tool evolves organically. If you can spare the time to explore the app and experiment with the way you take notes, you may even do well without tutorials and courses. Otherwise, yeah, watch some videos. There are always some nice ideas to take away.


Some unsolicited remarks

Portability and freedom

One of the many advantages of a flat-file, plain text system is that in the worst case scenario, you can accomplish almost anything with RegEx or basic scripting. For years, now, I’ve been manipulating my notes like that, be it to join them, split them, sort them or restructure them. Even if you don’t know RegEx or don’t know how to code, the Internet and the community are here for you.

Future-proofness

Ten or twenty years from now, you may barely remember the apps you used, but it’d sure be nice to have your notes with you.

If Roam were to disappear right now, you’d be left with your {{-ridden exports — or nothing at all.

However, even if every copy of Obsidian vanished from the Earth, all your local .md files would still be usable. Every link and reference would still mean something, even if took you some manual searching.

In conclusion

  • Be sure not to sacrifice the most important things — your notes — to some revolutionary-shiny-new tool.
  • Roam is impressive, yes, but you should leave.
  • Obsidian is my favourite app right now. Of course I think you should try it.
  • Make lots of backups.
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What’s the name of the course you’re doing if I might ask? It may have applicability in Obsidian

Potent reply, Miguel. Thank you so much.

After reading, my thoughts are wavering to ditch the course and begin on Obsidian right now. I’ll think more on this over the weekend, also taking into consideration other thoughts on the thread.

Thank also you for your added remarks; they’re useful to think about. I will undoubtedly use obsidian due to some of your points – it’s just a matter of when; Monday next week or Monday the week after.

@OliverM - Thanks for coming through with a response, Oliver. My guess was that it would have applicability. The course is called From Beginner to Superuser

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Good Advice, Kabo. I’ve got some thinking to do.

One of the many advantages of a flat-file, plain text system is that in the worst case scenario, you can accomplish almost anything with RegEx or basic scripting. For years, now, I’ve been manipulating my notes like that, be it to join them, split them, sort them or restructure them. Even if you don’t know RegEx or don’t know how to code, the Internet and the community are here for you.

It seems to me you’ve used code to beautifully format your reply to my query - how hindered will I be using Obsidian without knowing how to code? Will I miss out on some benefits and use appearance factors? I know zero code; I can hardly make out what you mean in this paragraph.

Obsidian, like many other apps and platforms, uses Markdown to markup text. That is, you use some special characters in some special places to denote headings, lists, quotes, etc.

That’s how I “formatted” my reply. For instance, the heading “Migration” was actually typed in as ## Migration and then the forum software — which also understands Markdown — knew that it was a level-2 heading and formatted it accordingly.

The list at the end was a simple matter of prefixing each line with a dash:

## In conclusion

- Be sure…
- Roam…
- Obsidian…
- Make…

There are (too) many flavours of Markdown, each with its own quirks, approaching different features in different ways. But the basics, which are pretty much common to all the “Markdowns”, will be enough to get you started. I suggest you look at a Markdown Primer like this one and goof around on dillinger.io. After a couple of hours, you’ll be ready to roll.

There are also some apps (like Bear or Typora) that, despite using Markdown, provide a friendlier user experience by hiding away some syntax, instantly applying formatting and/or providing buttons and shortcuts. Those are the WYSIWYM (what you see is what you mean) editors, and Obsidian will have that too, someday.

Do you need Markdown to use Obsidian? No, not really. The #tags and [[wikilinks]] aren’t even standard markdown. But I think you should, because it’s useful in many other apps and situations.

As for RegEx and scripting, that’s a whole other story. My point was that no matter how difficult, there will always be a way to manipulate your plain-text notes.

Beautiful, thank you, Miguel, for the articulate response which is right at my level.

I’ll check out the two primers to get some practice in. I’ll also see what Bear and Typora have to say.

As for RegEx and scripting, that’s a whole other story. My point was that no matter how difficult, there will always be a way to manipulate your plain-text notes.

Ok, got it.


Finally, if you will please Miguel [for future forum use] how did you quote me but have my icon, username within the quote (where I can even toggle to expand and see the full paragraph)?

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I’m glad I could help.

Quoting is very simple. You just select the portion of the text you wish to quote, and a little Quote tooltip pops up. If you click on in, that bit will be inserted in your response.

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Oh wow, yeah. Very simple.

Again, thank you for your generosity of time and attention here.

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Curious on the OneNote exit, why?

I ask because I’m caught in a dilemma. I’ve used OneNote for years, and it’s deep integration into the Office 365 apps makes it easy to connect calendar invites, emails, etc together. I also use ON on my iPad as my primary application for handwritten notes [aside: My handwritten notes have increased in frequency during this bizarre year as I run Zoom on my iMac, and take notes on my iPad).

Obviously OneNote isn’t great for Zettelkasten, but it’s also a place where concepts get buried. ON has really good search, but the point is you have to search (which implies you have to remember).

Anyway, I’d like to make the migration - fully - over to Obsidian, and am wondering how others are faring, and approaches they’ve taken.

Sorry to hijack the thread, but I’m intrigued by your thoughts and approach.

One potential stumbling block is with daily notes. In Roam, the format is “November 27th, 2020”. In Obsidian, the default format is “2020-11-27”, although you can tweak the format for new daily notes to whatever you want. Note, however, that Obsidian cannot batch-rename existing daily notes. (I have some posts where I figured out how to rename existing daily notes to a new format using regex.)

In the short term, the easiest approach might be to leave the daily notes as they are and tell Obsidian to use that format for new daily notes. This will also preserve existing links to daily notes. Bear in mind, however, that daily notes are not automatically sorted by date, so, in the long term, using a format like “2020-11-27” can be useful for sorting purposes. Also, I would recommend putting all daily notes in a folder and updating your daily note settings accordingly.

For me, the transfer took some time but has been worth it. My guess is that importing will become easier over time, but if you have the opportunity to start out in Obsidian, that would probably save time.

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The formatting of text is all done by “Markdown” this is a well supported format which is another positive “argument” for Obsidian.

I must admit I dove into the help file that comes with the program first. The online help file is quite convenient and helpful as well, see it here.

Good luck!

Hi, I’d like to share this post from Niles Wyler, a great comparison from a Roam user slowly migrating to Obsidian, analysing both pros and cons for each one.

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I’m on day 3 of migrating to Obsidian after six months of using Roam, and it’s been surprisingly smooth. I’d say that unless you’re going to make extensive use of more advanced Roam features (e.g., block references, queries, kanban, etc.), it doesn’t make much of a difference whether you switch now or later.

@lucasd’s comment about the daily note files is good to know. Using the Templater plugin, I created a daily note template for myself that includes links to earlier pages using both formats. In three months, I’ll be able to remove the Roam-style links.

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