Roam Users - Stop Feeling FOMO

January 28, 2021

Think about our daily Google Chrome usage. What are the features we use the most? I predict it’s just the following three:

  • Address Bar
  • Refresh
  • Forward and Back

The application has tons of other features. But our 99% use case boils down to just those three.

Thousands of Google Chrome extensions could enrich your browsing experience. Most are hyper-targeted to single web pages like Closet Tools. But despite how many we could potentially install onto our browser, few of us feel any “fear of missing out” in our browser experience. We value the core experience so much and are very familiar with the basics. Sure these extensions could give us a nudge here and there. But none are so important that without them, we lose out on the value of Chrome.

The same is true for Roam.

The Roam FOMO

The Roam team introduced two features that made the app far more extensible: roam/css and roam/js. These features exploded into a community of users releasing various themes and add-ons that other users could download to give their databases a more personal experience.

From this rise of extensibility, we also saw the rise of tweets like below:

I call this Roam FOMO. Users, mostly beginners, who feel they are missing out on the Roam experience because they have not yet delved into the world of extensions and custom theming.

As an extension developer myself, I feel somewhat responsible for contributing to this FOMO. For this reason, I need to express the following:

Roam is an incredible app without any extensions

Vanilla Roam

Like the Google Chrome usage I opened with, there are only a couple of native Roam features you need to start getting a ton of value from the application. In my opinion, they are:

  • Back links
  • Sidebar
  • Daily Notes

That’s it. That’s all you need for Roam to be worth subscribing to and becoming a believer. With just these three features, you get the following benefits

  • Freedom to write anywhere and chaotically
  • Reusability of your notes when they become contextually relevant again
  • Ability to compare multiple nodes to see if any new ideas are born

When I first started Roam, I didn’t understand it. I still used hierarchies with files and folders. I would look at it once or twice a week. Nothing clicked.

After about four months in, I started to operate from my Daily Notes page, and everything changed. My mindset shifted from hierarchical to network. I was motivated to use it every day. Only AFTER a few months of religious use in this way did I let my imagination start to travel and see how I could integrate my other applications with Roam.

Developing extensions necessitated first getting comfortable with vanilla Roam. It required that I try and fail multiple different systems within the app until a few resonated. I encourage all beginners to undergo a similar experience.

First, get overly comfortable with Roam’s core features. Block out the noise that’s happening in the Roam hacking space. Develop and iterate on your systems until you find ones that resonate. Only then will you identify the holes that are necessary to patch. When you could clearly articulate those problems, then you will know what to look for in extensions.

On The Pressure To Learn To Code

There’s one other element of FOMO that exists related to Roam extensibility. Some users perceive pressure to learn how to code to get the most out of the app.

I attribute most of this pressure to how early it is in Roam’s lifecycle. There’s an excitement surrounding the app, given how new the paradigm is and how open to customization the team behind it is. But, you don’t need to know how to code to get the most out of Roam.

A community of hackers is growing, willing to tackle any customization you are looking to incorporate into your Roam database. By tweeting out your need or by dropping your request in the Roam slack, there will be hackers ready to service these requests. Users should feel comfortable expressing these feature requests to the Roam community as hackers are continually looking for ideas to build.

I’m not proficient in multiple languages. They include but are not limited to design, law, healthcare, etc. Sure, learning these topics would help me better design websites, create policies surrounding my apps, and better care for myself. But instead, I want to focus on my core competencies while reaching out to the professionals in these areas to help service my needs when they arise.

Similarly, Roam users could spend time learning JavaScript. I’m more than willing to help out anyone who is. However, it might be more worth your time to focus on your Roam usage’s core motivations and instead reach out to engineers when one of your needs arises.

So to all the Roam users, especially beginners - stop feeling FOMO. Block out the noise and focus on how the Roam basics could best empower your knowledge management.

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