[LFR] Letters from a Roaman - Letter XXXV

Happy Tuesday Roamans,

I’ve had a busy few weeks and I can’t believe it’s nearly the end of January already. Before we continue, I just want to say that I was blown away by your responses to my last email. I received so many nice words and kind thoughts; it’s hard to overstate my gratitude to you all.

Around the Roaman Empire

Calling Roam Creators

Jeremy Caplan is inviting independent creators who are looking to build or grow a niche journalism-related venture to apply to the CUNY Entrepreneurial Journalism Creators Program Spring cohort.

Read more about the program via this Twitter thread. You don’t have long to apply if you’re interested. The deadline is 4th February.

ESLI5 - Explain Science Like I’m Five

This is not strictly Roam-related but since many of us are often diving into scientific or academic papers, TLDR Papers is a handy little service for summarising science abstracts in a more understandable way.

Roam Game Film

Hot on the heels of his last workflow video, Juan shares a short Loom, on what he describes as “Blocks as Task Katamari”. He shows one of the reasons why Roam is so good for accumulating all the little atoms of information from various sources and also conveniently demonstrates why deep linking between different applications matters.

Your own PhoneToRoam Quick Notes

Artur Piszek’s article explains how you can set up your own PhoneToNote (previously PhoneToRoam) functionality to allow you to quickly capture notes on the go via iOS shortcuts or IFTTT (note this is only for iOS).

Your own Roam Research Quicknote REST API with Firebase – Artur Piszek

Save the date

Ramses Oudt will be hosting a public Office Hours dedicated to Roam Research with Clara from the Roam Support team on February 10th, 2022 at 6pm CET

Get more information and register for the live session here on Luma

Weekend Reading

RJ Nestor announced that he's starting a new newsletter called "Weekend Upgrade" covering mindset and workflow upgrades to improve your productivity and communication. He'll be sharing tips to leverage Roam. I already know it'll be required reading, so get signed up like me to get his first issue to be released this Friday, 28th January!


The latest round of Roam Book Club started last Sunday with a great introductory session from Chinarut. We’re reading Wellbeing: The five essential elements, and exploring how we might create a collective Wellbeing Commons using Roam.

It’s not too late to sign up if you’re interested. Jump on the Book Club list as I’ll be sending out the session replay soon.

Joey Harris shared one of his amazing poems after the session, which I hope gives you a little flavour of the energy and community spirit.

Vanilla Roam

Jason Griffing has released his Vanilla Roam course.

He’s created more than 50 bite-sized videos showing you how to get the most out of Roam’s native features. He doesn’t rely on any extensions at all, and shows you how to keep things simple, yet still build powerful workflows to get things done.

Vanilla Roam is a course designed to help users get the most out of Roam using only the software’s native features. Through his ongoing work in the Roam community, Jason spoke with many users who were struggling to get traction and were overwhelmed by the sheer variety of possibilities Roam presents.

It’s already well-priced, but best of all, since you’re a reader of LFR Jason has set me up with a coupon code to get you an extra 10% off! Use LFR in the coupon code box when you sign up.

Learn more and sign up at vanillaroam.com

Quick Roam Tip

In the Roam Slack a few days ago a question reminded me that Roam has plenty of hidden functionality that is relatively easy to take advantage of. One such feature that’s not well publicised is the way that you can add simple styling very easily by using a special dot form of tags.

When you couple this with the fact that Roam also includes a library with a lot of pre-styled components, you can quickly add styling without resorting to messing directly with CSS code blocks.

Here’s a quick example for how to add some callout styling to arbitrary blocks.

Take a look at the BlueprintJS library that Roam includes and play around to get a feel for how to apply the classes to blocks. For example, here’s the documentation to the callout component I’ve used to demonstrate this.

Thinking Out Loud

In Letter XXXIV, I discussed Conor’s about-turn on the use of the RoamCult hashtag, and I invited you to reply with your thoughts. And you did! I got bowled over by the replies, firstly with many kind words about my newsletter and your wish to see me continue–more on that soon, and secondly on this topic. I loved reading them all, even if I haven’t been able to get around to replying yet.

I thought I would try to distil the biggest themes in the responses I got. First there was certainly a lot of disappointment expressed, probably summed up perfectly by this comment:

I thought his disavowing of the roamcult hashtag was Conor’s most adult move in 2021. To re-embrace it was perhaps not surprising, but still disappointing.

Heavily coupled with this were many responses concerned about Roam’s future; many clearly ardent supporters who are simply becoming disillusioned with Roam, the company, while still loving the tool. Others have instead chosen to leave the tool because of the perception of the company and it not squaring with their values or ethics, which for the most part Conor is the Roam team personified.

One way or another, it’s clear to me that the Roam team must do something and soon. There is a community out there that love the tool, even with its many warts, but the hashtag and previous actions taken means that people are staying out of the crossfire. There’s nowhere for the community to come together which feels safe and sanctioned or doesn’t have baggage or connotations associated with it.

On top of that, and this is more my personal opinion now, I do think the Roam team needs to find a middle path, perhaps even splitting the team into two.

One is the R&D or skunkworks arm working on the bigger and harder problems and discovering the primitives upon which more innovation can be built.

The other, more pragmatic, to begin delivering on some of the shorter term asks, quality of life features and bug fixes which don’t change the fundamentals that are already in place. For example, improving the parser so that bold and highlights work together, or work when there are page or tag references in the block. Fixing some of the more jarring issues, and continuing to make progress on performance. (As highlighted by Alexander Rink’s recent performance testing, there is a lot of speed to be found, especially when compared against other tools). If Roam is to be a 20 year+ tool, then it has to be able to handle huge volumes of data in a performant way.

As one reader said about the lack of transparency and roadmaps, in fact there doesn’t even have to be a roadmap, "just a report every month or so of where things are headed and, you know, a quick update on the promised features!" would be a big step forward.

Community not cult

I’ll end with this excerpt from someone else that I think really captures the sentiment I feel as well.

It’s not “cult” that needs reframing, it’s “community” that needs reconnecting…Remove the obsessiveness that “cult” instigates and focus on belonging and togetherness instead

There’s a community of intelligent, interesting, and diverse people out there who find that Roam as a tool helps them in ways they couldn’t imagine before it existed. They are excited about the vision for where it can help in the future, bringing our collective knowledge together in ways that could accelerate our human understanding. People are willing to share their knowledge and experiences with each other as we discover things that work; there just isn’t an obvious safe place for them to congregate to do so. As we learned in previous rounds of Roam Book Club, groups or communities succeed, not because they are smarter but because they are safer.

Until next time,


P.S. 💖 Thank you so much to Kate, Dwayne, JC, Vincent & Susan for your generosity.

If you enjoy my letters and would like to help contribute to the running costs you can do so via Buy Me a Coffee.

Or if you'd like some help and guidance to make the best use of Roam, I also offer a few private 1-1 Roam coaching sessions.

Andy Henson

I write Letters from a Roaman, curating community news and resources primarily around Roam Research, though I also include other information applicable to other tools for thought and the area in general. I also share my thoughts on a wide variety of tools for thought topics.

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