When in Roam: Breaking Down the Hype of Note-Taking and Productivity Apps

Last month, Netflix launched a new documentary called ‘The Social Dilemma’ which dives into the dark side of technology and social media addiction. Unlike other films that touch on data privacy and fake news, ‘The Social Dilemma’ exposes how our favorite apps are built to keep us using them as frequently as possible. Here’s one of the most eye-opening quotes from the doc:

”If you're not paying for the product, then you're the product.”

Apps like Facebook and Instagram use our attention as the ‘product’, which is then sold to advertisers. More eyeballs means more money. That’s why these platforms are designed with the most addictive facets of psychology and habit-forming in mind. Each action we take when using the apps is tracked and this data is then used to predict what type of content will keep us coming back for more. The more time spent in-app, the more accurate the recommendations become. Once we finally start to distance ourselves, a push notification is sent to reel us back in. It’s these pings, dings, and vibrations that serve as constant distractions, taking our attention away from our work, family, and other things that really matter.

With our attention more divided than ever, the demand for productivity and note-taking apps has skyrocketed in recent months. Apps like Notion and Coda have raised hundreds of millions of dollars in VC funding at lofty multibillion dollar valuations. Asana, a workflow management tool created by Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz recently filed an S-1 to go public at an expected $5 billion valuation.

The New Kid on the Block

Amongst all of the productivity app hype, there’s been one company in particular that has Silicon Valley buzzing. Roam Research. The app, which recently closed a $9 million dollar seed round at an unprecedented $200 million valuation, is a note-taking app built around the idea of Zettelkasten.

With its rather basic user interface, the software helps users find relationships between their ideas. Through bi-directional links and block references, users can link to past notes on similar topics. It can also be used for simple tasks such as creating bulleted lists or to-do checklists.

While there’s definitely a learning curve to make use of all of the features it has to offer, its core simplicity has garnered a cult following known as the #RoamCult. Plug that hashtag into Twitter and you can find thousands of tips and tricks posted by users from around the world. For more dedicated Roamans (yes, that’s the name for its users), there are separate Slack groups and Reddit communities where users can tinker around and collaborate on new features and use cases.

I’ve been using Roam since March and while I still would consider myself a novice, I really do love it. Clearly, I’m not alone as more than 100,000 people have signed up for the app, with enough paying for the service to generate $1 million in annual recurring revenue. The best part? Roam is already profitable.

Is It Worth It?

Despite all of the hype surrounding the new age of productivity apps, a quintessential question still looms. Are they worth the money? While I don’t currently pay for Roam and my Asana is covered through work, I don’t think there is a clear-cut answer to this question. It depends on the person.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, time is our most valuable asset. All of these products are in the business of saving or optimizing your time. Compare how much you value your time to the amount of money you are spending on the app. If you value your time at $25 per hour and this software saves you two hours a week and costs $165 a year, then that’s a no brainer.

Like many things, you get out what you put in. If you take the time to set up a complex note-taking system (or a second brain as some productivity nerds like to say) and this works for you, then that’s great. Conversely, just because you buy the app doesn’t mean you’ll be productive. You need to actually use the software and put in the time up front to set it up in a way that maximizes your personalized workflow.

Still skeptical? Here’s a quote from Lamda School founder Austen Allred that breaks it down in a different way (click in to see more.)

People seem surprised when you pay $30/month for email (Superhuman), $8/month for a note taking/second brain app (Roam Research), etc.There are 160 working hours in a month (for me much more), so it costs about 25 cents an hour for two enormous productivity boosts.

What do you think? Do you currently use any note-taking or productivity apps? Which ones? Are they worth it? Let me know by replying to this email or leaving a comment below.

If you’re interested in learning how to use Roam or other note-taking systems, here is a list of some popular courses (some free, some paid).

Effortless Output in Roam

Roam Tutorials by Conor White Sullivan (founder)

How to Use Roam Research: A Complete Guide

Building a Second Brain

Write of Passage (This is a writing course that emphasizes the importance of information capture systems)

© Randy Ginsburg, 2020 | Want to chat? Email me at randy@randymginsburg.com