Please enjoy this transcript of my interview with Maggie Appleton, who is the Art Director, Metaphor Designer & Anthropological All-Rounder at egghead.io.
Soon to start a Masters in Digital Anthropology, she is known for her contributions to digital gardens as well as illustrated notes. She is at the forefront of visual thinking and when it comes to Roam, she’s done a lot as well. I’m using her theme right now for my private Roam!
Norman Chella: [00:00:00] RoamFM.
Maggie Appleton: [00:00:02] I’m adding illustration and I’m working a lot with custom CSS and school matching and layout. So it’s things I can’t actually do in Rome. So I can’t think in Rome and it’s that in a way,
Norman Chella: [00:00:14] Welcome to RoamFM. Here, we dive into the mind workflows and machinations of the #roamcult, the believers of road research.
My name is Norman Chella and I am on a mission to deconstruct wisdom from all walks of life. So we can understand each other better.
In this episode, we talk with Maggie Appleton, who is the Art Director and Metaphor Designer and Anthropological all rounder at egghead.io. Soon to start a Masters in Digital Anthropology, she is known for her contributions to digital gardens, as well as illustrated notes.
She is at the forefront of visual thinking and when it comes to Roam, she’s done a lot as well. I’m using her theme right now for my private Roam. We talked about the dark times, everything pre-Roam and how she discovered the tool, her digital garden and definitions of an evergreen note, growing from budding to seedlings, to the evergreen discussions on the cult itself.
And her take on who Roam users are from an anthropological perspective and itself from workflows to predictions, to the freedom in which one can find their own ways of using Roam. The topics varied a lot in this conversation. So I hope that you will enjoy this amazing conversation and follow along as we figure out what makes Roam such an amazing tool for Maggie to use it.
So without further ado, let’s dive into my chat with Maggie Appleton, Maggie Appleton, welcome RoamFM. How are you doing?
Maggie Appleton: [00:01:43] Great. Thanks. I’m excited to talk to you about this.
Norman Chella: [00:01:46] Oh yes. I am also super excited. Actually. I like, I think when I was drafting out the first few guests for RoamFM, you were definitely up there in terms of just wanting to talk about Roam.
I’m not, I’m not even sure to what extent, but the fact that all of this discourse surrounding Roam culture and on Roam Research, that you’ve brought so much. So I would love to do like a deep dive on how you’ve been doing things. But before we even touch on that before we even touch on your amazing relationship with Roam, with how you use it, et cetera, there has to be a, an origin story or a before.
So let’s do a little bit of time travel and talk about the times before Roam. Uh, what was life like before then and how did you stumble upon the tool?
Maggie Appleton: [00:02:31] Um, I even started calling it the BEFORE TIMES, you know, in all capitalization.
Mmm. It did mostly like in other, you know, some of my like cozy web groups so that other people who use Roam will all refer to the before times. Cause they would say, Oh, I read that book five years ago, but it was in the BEFORE TIMES. So I can’t give you any notes on it.
Um, but BEFORE TIMES, it probably is more centered around a course I took called Building a Second Brain, um, last year, which I know has a lot of overlap with other Roam users. So it’s this course taught by Tiago Forte. Um, and it’s more around, um, making sure you capture things and taking good notes and it’s all just note taking notes stuff. Um, and you know, Roam just happens to be one of the note taking tools that a lot of us like, but even the original course is taught with Evernote.
So I took back in September and actually I met a lot of roamcult people back then through Building a Second Brain. And then, um, I started it in Notion first. So I think from September to December, I was like doing this whole thing in Notion and trying to make that work. The Notion is great, like shared documentation.
It’s, it’s a wonderful power tool. Um, but then in December, Um, I had seen a tweet from Venkatesh Rao about Roam, and I’m a big fan of him. So I was like, Oh, Venkatesh is into this. I want to check this out. Um, and at the time, one of my, uh, colleagues, Joel Hooks, he got into it and he was like, you would really like this.
You should look at it. Um, so I remember specifically, it was like the day after Christmas. Um, and I was trying to hide from my family. Um, and it was just like, I just went down a rabbit hole for like two days, just like checking Roam out and seeing what it could do. Yeah. And it was that low between Christmas and New Year’s when there’s like not much else to do.
And I was just reading and just getting Roam set up. Um, so I’ve been in it pretty full time since then.
Norman Chella: [00:04:24] This is interesting because you, you did BASB, you did Building a Second Brain and I’m sure that you took a lot of the, the core, shall we say principles or the core concepts behind capturing notes that are useful, assigning them to projects, to areas, to resources, to archives.
And I guess that works for you. And when you tried to start to use Roam to apply that, were there, was there any like friction in terms of applying. The building a second brain concept into Roam?
Maggie Appleton: [00:04:53] Yes. Yeah. They don’t map perfectly, cause cause Building a Second Brain is based around the hierarchical folder system, right?
Your projects, areas, resources, archives, and really most of Roam is resources in a certain sense and there’s kind of archives and there’s not. I’ve tried to make areas work. And I sort of have pages that are tagged areas and there’s an areas page. Um, but I never use it that much. I’ll have yet to figure out quite, you know, it’s not some power feature of it. I would say.
Mostly I do project management and a todo list management in Roam now, and then mostly it’s really resources, right? Getting the writing going, um, and, and really actively taking notes in order to remember it, understand things is mostly I think its power.
Norman Chella: [00:05:36] Hmm. Interesting. So some parts of it work really well and then some parts don’t, but I actually want to, you did mention project management and to do management. How are you doing the, purely curious, just purely, just for my perspective, I’m having trouble doing task management in Roam, like without external help or external embeds from other apps.
Maggie Appleton: [00:06:00] What are you embedding?
Norman Chella: [00:06:03] Oh, my hand, roamcult’s gotta kill me for this. So I’m embedding, I’m embedding Toidst. Uh, so that. I have like my today, uh, embed on at all times. And the reason why is because you have like quick capture of tasks and they do it the best there. So I would have it embedded in Roam while I’m doing all my, you know, uh, content creation over whichever, uh, but when I’m away from my laptop or when I’m away from my iPad or whatever, You might have tasks just coming up on the spot.
Maybe you have to do something. Maybe you have to learn if, to like prioritize it a certain way. Maybe it’s assigned to a certain project and you know, with your phone, it’s quick, it’s nimble. You just want to keep it there. And you can think about it later so that you can be in the right environment to start working on those tests or at least plan for them or organize them.
Uh, I have trouble doing that in Roam. And partly it’s because there’s no mobile app or at least the mobile functionality is not up to that standard. And the other part is, uh, I have specific modes of thinking when I’m with a specific app. As in when I’m, when, when I go into Rome, I have a specific intention or I have a specific feeling, shall we say it like a certain, a certain mode or burst of creativity that can only be activated because I’m in Roam, that’s not really fit for what I want to do tasks.
So I’m just curious. How do you manage your tasks actually through Roam?
Maggie Appleton: [00:07:31] Um, so I use Nat Eliason system or a bit of a, a riff off it, but, uh, I based it around his, um, framework. Um, and that’s really interesting, the thing you’re saying about, uh, needing to capture things on the go, and I’m now realizing that the reason that hasn’t been an issue to me yet is simply COVID. Like I haven’t left this small flat since March.
So I’ve never moved like a meter from my laptop. I mean, I take, Oh, okay. When I go on runs and I think of things, I put them into Drafts app, if it’s a Todo, but I’m mostly taking notes in there. And then when I get back to the laptop, I transfer them over. But I actually, I hadn’t thought of that. Maybe next year, when we’re all set free, I will have to move my to do’s out of Roam or they have a year to build in functionality for it. I’ll say that.
Norman Chella: [00:08:21] No, I’m sure there’ll be some level of functionality. And you know, right now we have the, the, uh, the quick capture function, if you’re on mobile, which works okay. It works okay. No. Okay. No, not really. Conor I’m really sorry. I’m really sorry. I mean, we, I mean, we try our best, right? Like we, we really do try our best.
So we have the project management, we have the task management and we have the core part of how you use Roam. And I believe this is the aspect that you’re probably most famous for, which is the way that you
Maggie Appleton: [00:09:00] I don’t know about famous.
Norman Chella: [00:09:03] Within the roamcult at least.
Maggie Appleton: [00:09:04] Within the Twitter universe.
Norman Chella: [00:09:09] No, but a lot of us know your name. So I’m pretty sure. I mean, I’m even using your I’m even using your theme right now, but anyway, that’s, that’s to decide, I do want to ask him about the theme, actually. I’m sure. Interesting part that I know that you’ve done a lot as well, is the work on how you define your digital gardens, through Roam and publishing them on different places.
So before we even touch on that, you have to have the notes there in the first place. So I would just love to hear. When you stumble upon a piece of information or a resource out there, how do you capture it? What’s your workflow?
Maggie Appleton: [00:09:46] Hmm. Um, also it depends on the type, right? So, um, another thing I think people might have known me for was I made a bunch of Keyboard Maestro, um, macros, so that like tiny scripts.
And if I’m on a certain piece of content online, like an article, I can hit a hotkey and it’ll format it in a way that adds set tags. And I can just paste it straight into Rome as a to do. And under that I nest notes. And usually those notes, uh, what you might call fleeting notes and that sort of has that Zettelkasten system in it.
Um, they’re just sort of temporary notes that you’re using to think. Um, and then while I’m writing those often, there will be certain ideas that are more durable that I want to kind of carry on and hold onto. And those become seedlings. So, um, hashtags and the seedlings, um, and then all my, um, Seedlings eventually will become what you hope to be evergreen, which is notes that you have really written properly in a whole sentence.
And you could publish to a blog or an essay or reusing certain different contexts. Um, I’ve started out with evergreens being pages at first, but now I’m doing more blocks that are tagged evergreen. It’s just like a chunk of text that, um, It’s like I can kind of use anywhere and it’s yeah, the point of evergreen. So, so that’s mostly how notes developed.
They go fleeting to seedling, to evergreen. And then evergreens and seedlings both sort of add into, um, what I tag as garden notes. So it gets into the digital gardening thing. Which is, um, I think some people think it’s something it’s not, because it’s quite a simple concept. It’s mostly just, um, a website that, um, is less what I would call premium mediocre millennial, like performative stuff.
Sorry. That was a lot, so that was a lot of cult words. A mediocre concept Venkatesh Rao came up with. It’s based around millennials that’s like a. Which is, you know, I’m a millennial, I think you are as well. Um, where, where we were brought up in the, in the context of needing to be performative online, like we’re constantly just trying to like put up our best selves and it needs to be shiny and we are a personal brand and that sort of thing.
And, um, he contrast it to Gen Z equals domestic cozy where they’re like, don’t care as much about like public appearances and that trying to be less performative. So anyway, I, I see digital gardening as more digital cozy, where you’re less concerned about being like perfect and shiny on the internet. Um, that would be the, the more like, Oh, I have a blog and it’s all perfect sort of attitude.
Um, and instead it’s leaning into posts that are incomplete posts that you are always updating. Um, so you see the whole thing as a work in process and as a tool for thinking and for process, but that is done in public. So it is also part of the ethos of learning in public. Um, so as you learn, you’re putting things up and you’re not, you know, crafting a perfect essay that totally explained every single piece of the concept before you publish it.
You’re just posting snippets here and there. So I try to do that a lot where, um, when things are, um, You know, good enough. Like they’re kind of fine. I’ll make a new post on my website and I have the section called my digital garden. Um, and I’ll pop it up there. And as I continue to develop it in Roam, I’ll continue to put bits and pieces of it up to the website.
So there’s a whole cycle that goes from Roam to the website and back.
Norman Chella: [00:13:17] Okay. So this is interesting because we have the definition of a digital garden being very, very cozy, or at least very forgiving for different levels of notes in terms of their completion or in this case, completion can be defined as how much time have you spent thinking about this?
How much time have you spent articulating on this specific note or on the specific seedling or evergreen? Uh, I find that definition depending on the note or depending on the idea or concept that I want to flesh out, sometimes it doesn’t hold up too much. And I think that’s just because my understanding of what a digital garden can be is vastly different or at least interpretive.
So the reason why I’m saying this is because. I’ve been observing that there are quite a few people who want to start digital gardens, but there are certain fears that stop them from publicly posting online, despite the notion of working with the garage door up so that we learn in public. Of course there are some benefits, but we have some fears and whether or not is this note, even if it’s a seedling or an evergreen good enough to be posted in public.
So here’s a question from Kyle Harrison, from Twitter directly to you. How do you balance notes that are presentable in public versus being free form in notes that are private? And I think this is on the notion of defining or determining whether or not evergreens or seedlings regardless of their status or their completion are worth putting on your garden.
Uh, and he continues with, do you do a lot of cleaning notes up to share them in public?
Maggie Appleton: [00:14:58] So, okay. These are good questions. Cause it does get us into this concept of digital gardening. Cause I’ve noticed a lot of people are doing it either with public Roam databases. Right. They’re just making a separate database from their private one.
And they’re moving notes over, I guess. And then I know other people are using new frameworks like Foam is a new one that’s just come up. I know, [[Foam]]. It runs all in VS Code, which is like the programmer’s environment. So it’s been for developers, um, and Tiddly Wiki. Right. What’s very similar to Roam.
If you format it correctly. So I think there a lot of people who put a larger, um, a larger number of their notes in that digital garden, and they treat it more like, um, that it mirrors their Roam more than a one to one way. And I’ll say my digital garden, I perceive it much more as just a place that is always being updated and then I’m always developing, but it doesn’t necessarily one-to-one reflect with my Roam.
So it’s things I can’t actually do in Roam so I can’t think in Roam in a certain way, so Roam is just a feeder and then I developed them in the digital garden that has more creative flexibility with visuals.
Norman Chella: [00:16:43] Which environment has the most updated version of set note? So say if you have a, an evergreen that is posted from, I’m assuming your private Roam, then you flesh out a little bit and then you post it on your garden.
Uh, which one has the most updated one? Is it a matter of, I you updated it last, maybe last month or something like that and evergreen, and then maybe the next two to three months, you’ve been building up resources. You’ve been thinking about this, fleshing this up more in your private room, and then you’re thinking to yourself, okay, I have enough, I should update this new note, is it like that?
Maggie Appleton: [00:17:16] A little. So this is maybe where my use of evergreens differs from other people who have public notes. While I use them think of them as, as a little bit more tools for thinking. So my Evergreen’s all like statements and beliefs that I hold to be true or believe will have been convinced all from things I’ve read.
And sometimes they just aren’t even like, what would it look like? Statements of facts, but not necessarily facts. That’s not like an objective thing, but. Um, more things I have like learned like a key point from a book and that’s like an evergreen and it’s, and it summarizes that point, like cohesively in a way I could reuse it in an essay or something, but I don’t publish that note to my digital garden.
There was a more, a, yeah, like a compendium of things I know and believe. And then my digital garden notes is separate. So I have a tag called evergreen and I also have a tag garden, which is a separate thing.
And now it gets, it’s like the taxonomies too much sometimes.
Um, and those are more tracking the digital garden, but I will say once it leaves Roam, it probably doesn’t cycle back in much because now it’s going into that different medium where I’ve also probably, uh, at that point, I’ll draw illustrations on my iPad and I’ll add those to the notes. And so the living version is then the one on the website and Roam is just the feeder, but it’s actually not much of a loop because I can’t inherently take it back in.
Norman Chella: [00:18:41] I see. Okay. Okay. At least. Yeah. At least my understanding is that once it’s live, it is subject to maybe translating it to a different medium, for example, an illustrated note, or at least another, now another, uh, shall we say another third party influence in that it’s now public, right? People can see it.
Maybe you have feedback from other people and therefore, since it has been exposed that way it will only grow or evolve in that environment. So maybe it’s disadvantageous if you put it back into Roam,?
Maggie Appleton: [00:19:16] Yeah. Yeah. Cause all my digital garden, but I also have tags like seedling, budding, evergreen, but that’s mostly like to, to indicate how finished it is to just, if it’s a seedling, it means it’s not, it’s not quite finished.
Um, and so if it’s like got, you know, misspellings in it, like don’t tweet at me that I have like a typo it’s like. People still do. Once they leave Roam, they’ve sort of flown and then I have a hashtag alive is what I put on them once they’re alive and on the, on the digital garden.
Norman Chella: [00:19:50] Oh, okay. Okay. So you tag them in your Roam just to say like, okay, I’m done with this one. Right. Like just put it aside. So sort of like an archive or sort of like a, do not touch anymore. Oh, okay.
Wait. So what’s the, what’s the, uh, the tech stack to actually publish your garden in public?
Um, but yeah, it’s, it’s, it’s very, uh, web development environment, I guess.
Norman Chella: [00:20:49] Okay. All right. Well, first of all, I have to say one of the best designs ever for a digital garden, because I’m having so much fun, just clicking through and visually speaking. When I see the, um, the tags, at least like the status as an Oh, okay. It’s budding or like, Oh, it’s a seedling. Oh, okay. Cool.
It gives me at least psychologically speaking. I’ve become aware that this note is at this current stage. And therefore I know that it is a belief or it’s a statement, or it’s a principle that you follow. But knowing that it’s at that status, there will be more information later on.
So I should check back later. Right? It’s like actually, like our garden is right. It’s just, you know, just. Oh, just taking the flowers to see how they are. Oh, look, I’ll come back next time. There may be, they’ll bloom, which is fantastic. I love that. Have you tried? Uh, well, here’s another question actually from Aravind Balla, right from Twitter.
Did you try any other tools to actually build a garden? Like other than Gatsby or from before that.
Maggie Appleton: [00:21:50] No. I had been there now, I’ve been in Gatsby for like a little over a year now. Um, I mean, when new ones come out like, like Foam is like the new thing or whatever, or like when TiddlyWiki, when I saw a lot of people using that, I tested it out just to see what it was like.
And I love those tools, but then definitely, um, great for people who don’t know how to do web development. And it’s one because like web development’s like hard and frustrating and like, Oh my gosh, I don’t learn it unless you have to. Like I learned it, like kicking and screaming and it’s cause it’s my job.
Norman Chella: [00:22:34] I would love to do like, a garden with no-code tools. Oh and TiddlyWiki is probably the closest one. At least I need to check on Foam.
I’ve never heard of this yet. I’ll find it later.
Maggie Appleton: [00:22:45] Last week. So it gets into like the pace of roamcult is crazy.
Norman Chella: [00:22:50] Sometimes I can’t keep up with the amount of tools and plugins and new themes coming up. It’s crazy. roamcult is really fast in terms of news, updates and everything. You have to be in Twitter every day, just to keep up.
And all of a sudden, you know, the one problem that you’ve had using in Roam has been answered like 52 times the past three days or something like that.
Maggie Appleton: [00:23:18] I know. Even see, this is why you even feel bad sometimes when, um, I think. Because I made the CSS themes for Roam. People get this impression that like, I have some perfect Roam set up, but like there’s all sorts of flaws. I’m doing things completely unoptimal. Like I watched back, I had done a Roam tour with, um, Rob Haisfield before and now watching that back, I’m just cringing like, Oh, my system’s so terrible.
I didn’t have queries set up. I hadn’t figured that out. Like that’s a long mess. I’ve changed everything. Like
Norman Chella: [00:23:47] it’s like completely different from that tour now?
Maggie Appleton: [00:23:51] It’s evolved a lot, I’ll say, and it will continue to, right. Like in another three months, I’ll look at my current system and be, and just go, like, what was I thinking?
You know, none of this is functional.
Norman Chella: [00:24:04] I’ll still need to learn about queries and all that. Cause I feel that my system still has to evolve. I used your, um, I used your website as a reference for trying to build my own understanding of what a digital garden can be. And I tested it out and, um, in my private Roam so far, it’s doing okay. Until we reached that obstacle of publishing the note online and getting over that fear of actually having that first post up.
We’ll see what happens, but I know, I hope that will be okay.
Maggie Appleton: [00:24:39] Yeah. Yeah. We’ve got to get you. I mean, I always liked the, the thing of going, you know, what’s the worst that can happen. Yeah. You know, someone might read a badly written note and be like, Hm, they’re not very good. And like close the browser. And then like that has not hurt me in any way.
Norman Chella: [00:24:57] Yeah. I think it’s the maybe it’s the point of view where something has to be complete before it’s put online, or at least we have a certain definition that we’ve put to imperfection and therefore they don’t deserve to be published online. Like that could be an example and something as messy and chaotic as notes, right. I believe hypertext was only prevalent in the last, uh, correct me if I’m wrong. Maybe like 20, 30 years, if I’m right. Like as soon as like.
Maggie Appleton: [00:25:27] What do you want to date it to like 1980 something?
Norman Chella: [00:25:30] 87 88? I think.
Maggie Appleton: [00:25:33] I mean, I know. So, um, Ted Nelson came up with the word in 1963, but I don’t think we had implementation of it properly until okay.
I’m not putting you, I’m guessing. Yeah, I’m going to guess eighties, but you know, Twitter will correct me.
When I write this down.
I know, I know one, one or the other room called the eyes. He starting up a podcast just about hypermedia and hypertext.
Norman Chella: [00:26:05] Oh, uh, Thomas Lisankie? I think that’s his name?
Maggie Appleton: [00:26:08] Oh yeah. I think that’s it
Norman Chella: [00:26:09] yeah. I’m excited for that. Yeah. Hypermedia today. I think that’s the name of the show? Yes. Yeah. Yeah.
Maggie Appleton: [00:26:15] Yeah. I’m excited to hear that because I had gotten, I mean, Roam had like put me down all these like wonderful historical research, rabbit holes, like Xanadu, Project Xanadu, which is like the copies of the patterns from that I went down the whole thing with researching where hypertext came from digital gardening. It turns out is that as a term that goes back to like early nineties. Um, yeah, it’s like wonderful how it just ends up making you get really curious about computer history and how we ended up with the internet that we do have today.
Um, what’s like the infrastructure actually underlying it, that prevents us from being able to do things like why can’t we have bi-directional links between webpage. Turns out it’s complicated, right?
Norman Chella: [00:26:56] I mean, it would be great if it could do bi-directional links between. But now that it, now that you brought that up, actually what’s the most recent rabbit hole that you’ve been down? That you’ve been deep diving into recently?
Maggie Appleton: [00:27:08] Um, Ooh, this week.
Oh my God. I have to check my Roam. I don’t even know. Um, well, I mean, I’ve been going back down. Um, I originally was, uh, uh, a cultural anthropology major in my undergraduate degree and I’m heading into a master’s in digital anthropology in September. So I’ve been revisiting a lot of my old, um, favorite anthropologists.
Um, So a lot of the rabbit holes I’m going down this week is sort of like rereading classics that I fell in love with it at 20 and like kind of having re-read and my notes on them don’t exist because there was no Roam back then. Microsoft word files. So I don’t know anything about any of the books I read. Yeah.
Norman Chella: [00:27:57] I’m going to ask if I’m a complete idiot, what is actually digital anthropology? Because yeah, that’s a good question. Yeah. My understanding is that I guess anthropology deals of classifications of me. Yeah. I think classification up to a certain degree. It’s been awhile. It’s been a while since, but yeah, digital anthropology and why going back to masters actually?
Maggie Appleton: [00:28:24] Yeah. Yeah. So anthropology. I mean, you would be very forgiven for not knowing like the definition of it because they are infamous for infighting amongst themselves, trying to figure out what the word means right. It’s one of these disciplines. It’s essentially just the study of human culture, which is like, well, that’s everything right?
But cultural anthropology is it very much looks at things like tribe, tribalism, kinship, ritual, language, anything that’s a culture and there’s all these different disciplines of it. And that digital anthropology is simply looking at the culture of how, uh, any digital artifacts like computers, you know, essentially anything built on binary code, the way we understand that, the way we interact with it, the way it influences our lives, not cultures, uh, on like a societal scale. Big topic I know.
Norman Chella: [00:29:09] It’s super interesting. I actually didn’t know that there is actually a field called digital anthropology. I think it’s because yeah, no, I think it’s because like years ago I was trying to find what was the word for the study of human culture as in the connections between, or actually interactions between groups or entities or parties, depending on the environment.
I guess I touched on anthropology ages ago, I guess I never pursued it. But now I’m curious since you are pursuing digital anthropology. Okay. Okay. So we have digital artifacts, ie. computers, technology, et cetera, all built in binary code. And I guess the field touches on our interactions with them and or cultures that are based on these artifacts, where you have communities, their own subcultures, their own set of rules, et cetera.
As a future masters in digital anthropology. How big of an influence do you think a Roam Research will be in this field?
Maggie Appleton: [00:30:10] Ooh. Oh, I don’t know if I’m studying futurology yet. Um, that’s like another sub-discipline.
They’re quite, they’re quite fun. Um, Oh, I don’t know if I can really predict that.
I’ll say I like talking about patterns languages a lot. So that just means like the design patterns of Roam. Right? So like Roam in itself, right is, is a great app. But what makes it wonderful right? Is, is the things like the bi-directional links, the transclusion, which is where, you know, you, you embed a block rather than copying and pasting it.
You’re not making copy or you’re actually embedding your original, you know, embeds. So there’s all these like design patterns that really won’t make it powerful. So I think. Roam is now kicking off. What will we will see those because of, of course now we’ve seen all these other apps, you know, split off, right.
Foam, Athen, Obsidian, suddenly everyone’s looking more and more like Roam. It’s like this magnet, that’s just like slowly, like shifting the whole product design and field towards more Roam-esque features. Um, so I find that really, really fascinating, but I think it’s changing or, uh, people’s understanding of what is possible.
Um, and again, it’s all these ideas from the sixties that kind of got buried for a while or the Ted Nelson, like Xanadu stuff it’s suddenly becoming popular again. So I, yeah, I can’t, I don’t know if I can say anything about like the fate of Roam in particular except that, um, but I I’m expecting, like, it’s not, you know, the patterns language is a good and they would get in the beginning and they’ll just continue to grow.
Norman Chella: [00:31:42] Well, let’s look at this from a different angle. Then as someone who is observing this, maybe, okay. Maybe you can’t really predict how it will be in the future, but at the time, very least. Uh, what would you like to see more of from Roam Research since it is this? I don’t want to say core tool, but at least one tool in the space of network thought applications or solutions that is essentially redefining what the design of a network thought space or network like note taking tool can be, or at least the potential of it. And that’s for me, potential is like the biggest, the selling factor of Roam Research, like, because you used this tool there is a potential connection between this note and this note from 50 years ago, there’s a potential connection with this and this there’s a potential ABC.
So is there something that you would like to see popup from Roam Research? Is there like a, like a certain prediction I’ve heard, I heard from other people that, you know, there are talks of block references being done across graphs.
Maggie Appleton: [00:32:48] I think that was always in the roadmap.
From what I understand, like, well, I don’t know the full history of, of, uh, how kind of got started with this, but my understanding was he was looking for a way to build. Uh, multiplayer collaborative networked thought.
Private database was the first iteration of it. But the goal along was that, you know, your, your database is mine might be able to reference each other and have that whole, you know, Give them some sort of, you know, global, global brain pulling networks thing. Right? Like it gets very chubby. I don’t know how that works.
So, you know, I have questions about, you know, can anyone reference your graph, how you control permissions? I mean, that was always the issue with why we couldn’t do bi-directional links on the web. How do you manage, you know, if anyone could link to your website and their website would show up as a linked reference.
Imagine what the spammers was would do. Right? Um, you, you just have a field day with, with disabuse and dog shady stuff going on. It wouldn’t be good. So they couldn’t solve that problem. So they couldn’t put bi-directional links in. Plus it was just like a infrastructure that was difficult, but yeah, I’m curious to see how that plays out, but the thing of having, you know, if you can be commissioned and then you can all by directional link to each other, that’s what we really want.
We want to be able to do that with public digital gardens. Right. I want to be able to. I have my notes on a block and if you made notes on the same block to be able to have those references.
Norman Chella: [00:34:21] Yeah, it will be really cool. If I could reference a block that has your illustrated notes on there to be applied to my own graph, uh, to, to maybe to even comment on it or to further elaborate on it.
Or even have like a civil discussion on like agreeing or disagreeing on or thinking. Anyway, lots of…
Maggie Appleton: [00:34:48] That’s the dream. So the project Xanadu spec for that. Um, yeah, totally included that. Um, and then they had on the added layer that there would be micropayments baked in, and this was kind of issue with the project too, that they tried to like, do, they were just like, we’ll have all the things we’ll have, like, this is, and this is before, you know, blockchain and Bitcoin, wherever thing.
But it had this concept of that. If, if I had made a block of text and you embedded it in your site, Everyone who came to your site would somehow be paying into some communal payment system. And it would give like zero, zero, zero 1 cent back to me because mine was embedded in yours and you would get a higher percentage of the, it was this whole complex payment structure that was supposed to enable, you know, full, full, you know, like distributed payments for everyone across all the content.
We produce these on the internet. Details are fuzzy.
Norman Chella: [00:35:42] Yeah, that sounds extremely complicated. That almost sounds like there’s that blockchain based social media Steemit I think that’s what it’s called that.
Maggie Appleton: [00:35:56] Coil?
Norman Chella: [00:35:57] As well. Maybe. Yeah. The one that I know of is Steemit. Yeah. Uh, I used to work in FinTech, so there was this point in time where I would list out a lot of, uh, Uh, coins or blockchain technologies or at the very least the applications of them, right?
Like their use cases cause not all of them have to be used in a transactional manner, right. That can be used just to identify things. Some have been used to tell me whether or not an item is fraud, because you cannot like override a decentralized block unless you have a, you know, a 51%, uh, major attack.
But, you know, for something like STEEMIT, I believe is when you post something and then it’s really popular. So people like it and the likes or the engagement has a currency conversion rate with the token and the token has a currency conversion rate with real money, like with Fiat currency. Which is interesting because if you’re able to do that or at least emulate that.
Uh, already at post level, like at an article level, like there, maybe there’s something possible at Roam level. If, if a block is referenced a thousand times, maybe it’s worth a lot. I don’t know. But, but then, yeah, like you said, that the problems do come with, uh, the grounds for abuse. Or, uh, permissions and or consent between private and public graphs.
Like if I have a lot of notes on my private graph, uh, I don’t want you to be touching on my, I don’t want you to reference my blocks. Um, that’s, that’s one thing.
Maggie Appleton: [00:37:32] Yeah. I think we’re getting there though. That’s um, there’s a couple of new specs, like linked data. W3C is working on that right now, which would allow much more of this granular linking between things.
It’s supposed to be like web 3.0, the semantic web. There’s lots of buzz words for it, but it’s still all in development. Yeah. So this promise of it, and this is why I always think like the internet is so young, right? It’s like barely a couple of decades into this. I mean, I’d expect.
You know, we’ll figure it out in like a hundred years, like, I don’t know quite how long it took to figure out electricity without a burning down everyone’s houses, but it took a while, right? Like in the beginning, electricity was awful, so we’ll get there, but we’re just part of the generation that’s in the growth, pain stage.
It’s like this doesn’t work.
Norman Chella: [00:38:21] If you put it that way. Right. Like thinking about it from a longterm perspective, assuming that the internet was only active in the past 30, 40 years, I believe so. Not even, not even 50 years in, are we in the beta version of the internet and, yeah. Right. And is, and is our features like bi-directional linking or even block referencing or transclusion.
I believe that’s what you said, a transclusion or even. Interesting innovative design patterns that allow us to connect thoughts, probably the next step to what the internet can be. And I know, but you know, Roam is definitely on the way there on the way there and paving the way there. Awesome. I love it. Yeah. I love it. So, uh, I would do. Want to ask you just a couple of things, just to see how you might be able to answer this. How would you describe Roam to someone who hasn’t started using it?
Maggie Appleton: [00:39:26] Ooh, I’ve had to do this a couple of times. My family will see me tweeting about it and they’re like, what’s this Roam thing that y’all got on about?
And trying to explain it. How have I done it? This is where, you know, you’re like really, indoctrinated in the cult when you’re not able to like talk outside of the jargon. You’ve lost beginner’s mind. Um, yeah, I’ll always start with the bi-directional links. People who mostly, I understand that you can say, okay, if I link here and I link here, you know, those, um, getting it and getting into explaining queries and transclusions embeds gets a little trickier.
I think that’s so far, I’ve just had to show people. I just usually put on Zoom. So I don’t probably have a very poetic answer. I’m sure other people have said things like, Oh, it’s like, you know, Mediterranean jungle and, you know, connect everything up and all the. And I, and I’m just saying, well, I don’t know. I just show people on Zoom.
Norman Chella: [00:40:29] I mean, to be fair, a demo of the tool is like the best way I did this thing where I, it was, I had a guest for another show, uh, wanting to do a call with me for, uh, just to warm up and get to know each other. And it may be just to know rules about the show, et cetera. So it was just like 15, 20 minutes.
And. I was like, Oh yeah, we should talk about this, this, this, this. And he’s like, yeah. Okay, cool. And I screen shared, and I had my Roam notes open about him. It wasn’t to show Roam. It was to show him like it was to show him like, Oh, this is the outline of what we’ll be talking about. Or at least, um, these are some of the rules and I can send you these links.
Right. And I’m just scrolling down my Roam, like, cause it has his name on it and it’s his page. And he’s like, I know we’re doing something important, but can you just tell me what, what, what app is this? And I’m like, Oh brother, welcome to the cult.
Maggie Appleton: [00:41:23] I think I’ve even like cautious of introducing new people to it because I’m afraid it’ll be overwhelming or they’re just getting started I’m like, well, don’t look at mine cause it’ll frighten you. But like, look over here. This is a simple one.
Norman Chella: [00:41:38] No this too much here. Look here.
Maggie Appleton: [00:41:42] That’s too much for me, half the time.
Norman Chella: [00:41:45] That’s actually another thing I’m worried about, uh, since we are talking about, uh, being in roamcult, having to explain that to people who are not part of, at least that culture of people who really, really, really love this tool, despite you know, and like different flaws, et cetera, et cetera.
The value of it. It’s just so great. I have a feeling that we are having a lot of trouble trying to articulate that value to people who have not tried it for the first time. And you know, this is before, I’m not sure how it is now because you know, it’s technically officially out, there’s like payments and there’s a trial and everything.
But before then we, it was in beta so anyone could try it, uh, you know, before the waitlist stuff happened. Do you think there’s a really good way to design, like an onboarding system for a Roam? At least from how you would see it since you yourself noticed that stuff like queries and transfusion can be very difficult to explain.
Is it a matter of trying to tell people, Oh, you can link things, but what do you get out of that? I’d love to hear your take on this as someone who, who might be looking into the connections between people. Maybe is there, uh, do you have, they now consider how Roam will connect people?
Maggie Appleton: [00:43:04] Yeah. Um, I mean the thing of introducing people to it, I don’t, I mean, Nat’s course is good.
It’s one of the only ones out there and I was like, [[Shu Omi]]? He has good YouTube videos. I mean, I watched both of them to get up to speed, I think. And even then some of the features I didn’t quite understand, like if you, you know, you don’t understand quite what embedding, uh, all, you know, indenting a block underneath one, quite the implications of that and how that shows off all across the system takes a minute to figure out, um, quite how to set up your taxonomy in tags.
I mean, I’m gonna say this, like the whole tutorial that exists yet for it. I mean, I think onboarding is like a long term, uh, issue that that Roam will have to tackle. Um, cause right now I forget who had come up with this. It wasn’t me, uh, probably Rob. Um, that right now we’re like a community community onboarding.
So like there’s no Roam onboarding. So the community on too, right? So this podcast and all the YouTube videos, that’s your onboarding experience. Um, and I feel that that fits with the tool quite well, because if there was like an official onboarding that would feel ,non-Roam because. It is inherently exploratory and open-ended and non-structured.
And if you’re going to be a Roam person, you, you need to approach it in that same way. So you have to learn the only way you’re going to use Roam is going on a little like research rabbit hole. Finding all the weird areas of it. Um, I was supposed to put a name to, for all people, uh, that are part of roamcult, because it’s not a Jerome, like the same people I see in the digital gardening space.
And I see them in building a second brain and I see them in all these other places. And at some point I lose track of, of what, like specific chat app we’re all in, whether it’s Twitter or some other group. Um, and I’m like, there’s no name for this and it’s a tribe.
Norman Chella: [00:45:01] I mean, maybe like knowledge explorers or something like that. I get what you mean because the, the exploratory part is the most difficult thing to, what’s the word for it? Accommodate for. That I think that’s the best word to put it, like accommodate for, like you said, if Roam were to have an official onboarding experience, isn’t actually Roam.
And now that you brought that up, I actually, I actually agree what you said, not be Roam-like, right. Like I think there was somebody else who also said, um, the roamcult is on boarding. Because it’s just, you’re just thrown off the cliff and then you have to survive.
Maggie Appleton: [00:45:40] You’re welcome. It’s all this information coming at you.
You know, you opened up Roam and it told you exactly how to set up. To dues and projects, and it showed you how to do some specific system that would then become the system. And people wouldn’t push the boundaries as much, whereas like I’m expecting right. The way I set up my Roam is it it’s a hard project, other people’s, but I’m excited that in the future, people will set it up completely differently.
And we were designing the pattern language while we’re in it, and they’re constantly evolving. Um, and any official one would sort of ruin all that fun.
Norman Chella: [00:46:19] And it might be just a matter of. Really giving the tools to the user and showing them as many use cases as possible as to what is possible. And from there, you let them know, now try it right. As opposed to, I think that’s also one of the biggest features of Rome that isn’t really talked about is the, the notion of no organization, or at least the advocacy for no organization or at least the organization part of it is the daily notes format.
For example, I would love to see instead of a graph overview, more like a timeline overview, like on this day, what page has come out and on this day, what pages come on. Because a graph is essentially a huge map of all these pages that you’ve done, but a timeline it’s more, shall we say more in parallel, with what kind of notes would pop up because on this day there are different kinds of notes that pop up and they have different blocks that will pop up and maybe a timeline overview that would be great. That would really help in at least trying to help design the step one of your own unique individual system, because my system would be completely different from yours, but we, we, the both of us would start from the same base, which is daily notes, anything goes.
Maggie Appleton: [00:47:41] Yeah, I like that too. Like, yeah. I hope they lean into the time element of it because I use spaced repetition of mine too, which I’ve loved. Um, so like the way I developed seedlings is I’m using, uh, on official Roam toolkit. It’s a Chrome and Firefox plugin and you can put space repetition on blocks really easily.
So I use that heavily, um, just for taking notes on a book I will, and they’re important key ideas have gotten out of it. I will put those on repetition. So they come back to me on certain days. And same with seedlings. So, um, if I have a seedling that I want to develop at some time in the future, but I, it’s not complete now, I’m still collecting information on it.
Like chuck it to myself in the future and I’ll get it in two weeks and I’ll be like, Oh, I was like, lot more about this. Now I can like finish writing this note and turn it into an evergreen.
Norman Chella: [00:48:29] I actually never thought about putting SRS for seedlings. Oh, okay. I should actually implement that. That’s interesting because I haven’t actually fully played with the toolkit to the point where I could implement the SRS cause I use SRS for other things like languages, like learning languages, but I do that offline. Right. I just, you know, I just time it myself and I have my own language learning system for that, which is okay. I’ve never tried to implement it. Yeah. Roam does it work really well? The SRS system in, in Rome should be okay. Right.
Maggie Appleton: [00:49:00] Um, so I can’t compare it to, like, I’ve never been a heavy user of Anki or any of the like comparative ones. So I can’t necessarily say I’ve only gotten into SRS since being in Roam. Um, so it does work really well for, for book notes. Um, just because I’m also someone who like, read like 12 books at once, but popping in and out of them.
Um, so it’s really useful for that because then I can like, be like, Oh yeah, it was like about a third of the way through that book and keep going when it pops up on a day, um, But I know I found it. That’s one of my favorite things for developing writing, because then it doesn’t, it stops you from having a backlog because otherwise you’d have a backlog of seeds, right?
Oh, I have to like go through these and turn them into evergreens. And instead it’s just like a wild field and you sometimes are like handed a seed and you’re like, Oh, that’s a good one to develop today. And then you just check it back into the field and the next day, like a whole bunch more gets thrown at you and you’re like, maybe develop them.
Well, you don’t, if you don’t feel like you’re on the back and it’s not yet, it’s not a to do list. It’s just like a field of options.
Norman Chella: [00:49:56] Yeah. Uh, I am actually going through that right now. So, um, although I don’t call my notes seedlings, uh, my, my, shall we say my image or at least my analogy of my garden isn’t a garden, but a mine like you would mine ores? Like a, and where you go and take a pickax eand you might ores. So all of my different levels of notes are called ores, which are the messy, you know, disorganized notes of whatever. And once they have, once they have become proper concepts they become alloys.
So alloys are put where they like, like what you said for, I believe for evergreens or for at least the basic level of evergreens. It’s maybe one paragraph or something like that. It’s more or less stable. Right. And there are different formations of alloys. The alloys will be put on a public garden, hopefully.
And from there I can. Make a skeleton and a skeleton is basically the outline for a piece of content, right? Like a video or an article or whatever. This skeleton can be reused because it’s the same outline. I’m just doing it in video format or podcast format or whatever. And from there, it will turn into a weapon and the weapon is basically the piece of content, like an article.
Maggie Appleton: [00:51:11] Oh, interesting. I love, I love that you came up with a different metaphor. That’s great.
Norman Chella: [00:51:17] Yeah. Uh, I think it’s because I have the. I think it’s because the way that I look at it is I look at knowledge workers as blacksmiths of thinking. So the way that they would look at these notes that they would temper them or they would forge them over time.
So the word tempering is a very personal word to me. Like I even have another show that has the word in it, and it’s all about like fiction and stuff, but basically it’s on like trying to temper wisdom and trying to mold it into something else. So on the notion of trying to build an ore or build an alloy and then weaponize it because I want to build something that has an intent.
So this article will be about the following or this video will be about this. So that’s, um, that’s how I will look at it. Yeah.
Maggie Appleton: [00:52:06] You’re making me think, like that’s solving some, I’ve been struggling with the whole thing, the difference between blocks and pages, Roam, doesn’t treat them quite right at the moment.
It’s like, you can’t really query properly. Things are on a page and you’re trying to find them. Yeah. It’s really frustrating. So I’m moving away from pages and moving more towards modular blocks. Yeah. That thing, the speculative outlines is key. Andy Matuschak talks about that in his notes that.
Putting evergreens together and speculative outlines, would form a cohesive whole, um, Now you’re making me think. I want to come up with a new word. It’s like Seedlings to evergreens to like, I don’t want to call them trees, but something that’s like a plant, which is actually a page of speculative that have outlines.
Think about that.
Norman Chella: [00:52:47] Like branches or roots or something like that. Something,
Maggie Appleton: [00:52:49] something I like you all mining metaphor though. That’s really good.
Norman Chella: [00:52:54] Yeah. Uh, the skeleton thing has been, uh, has been with me for like years, like before I even thought of the mining metaphor. And that was because I have all these messy notes, like this is, this is during the dark times, right?
Like, so I have all these notes and they would just fit somewhere on this outline. So to me, it looked like the spine or the skeleton of whatever this thing is going to be. So it made sense. So, uh, I think I would draft out, I would actually draft out articles on pen and paper by just doing bullet points of like, Oh, and then just put it in there.
And then from there just molded into something much more greater. So, and here we are with Roam, with gardens and mines and try to make sense of our notes.
Maggie Appleton: [00:53:41] Yeah. Um, that’s funny. You say you used to draft it on paper? I used to do post it notes. I’ve only ever been able to write on post it notes because you can move them around.
Um, I’d never quite made that connection before that that’s actually what blocks that you do.
Norman Chella: [00:53:55] Oh, wow.
Maggie Appleton: [00:53:57] I’ve never thought of that, but I’ve always written on post-its for articles in the dark times. Um, yeah, because then you can move them around and you can map them all out in a physical space and be like, Oh, that doesn’t quite fit.
Like I remember writing my undergraduate thesis that way, just like the spread of post it notes and
Norman Chella: [00:54:15] yeah, I’ve actually never thought about that. Post it notes are physical blocks. And I guess you can reference them now you’d have to make a copy. Yeah. You’d have to make a copy. Okay.
Right, right. Here’s to the future with more advancements in futurology and digital anthropology and all that. And also final question to you, Maggie, what this Roam mean to you?
Maggie Appleton: [00:54:49] Oh, now I’m supposed to come up with some real philosophical…
Norman Chella: [00:54:53] You don’t have to. I’m just curious what’s your answer?
Maggie Appleton: [00:54:58] Okay. Mine, mine is for sure. I know if we take it, technically Roam technically is like a Clojure app on a service somewhere that allows us to write text in a certain way, like taken in a rather literal definition.
I really love the idea of that. Technology’s are not like the objective scientific definition of things, but instead social material hybrids. So there’s like the material side of what Roam is like in a computer. And the social side is like roamcult and everyone that uses Roam and all that weirdness and like, that’s really what makes Roam what it is.
I am waiting more invested in and like interested in the people who use Roam on the way they interact and the way we all are forming beliefs and cultures together. Um, then I add about like features of the tool or like certain themes of it, like that is, is much less interesting and the sort of. The fact that we’ve used it as a beacon.
That’s a little bit like, Hey, if you’re into weird note taking stuff, like, come over here. It’s more like a tiny flag over on Twitter. And everyone, like everyone interesting sort of like gathers around it. So I just think there’s this excuse to like, get to connect with really like wonderful, good thinkers and the tool itself is it’s almost feels tangential to that.
Norman Chella: [00:56:20] Yeah. It’s like a reflection of I believe it was actually, it was Michael actually earlier today that said that Roam as a tool attracts those with the same philosophical perspectives on note taking or something along those lines, I’m on penning down thoughts and on knowledge work.
Uh, and to me it looks like a filter, right? It’s the, it’s the filter to let people know that. If you use Roam, you are probably weird to a certain extent, or you are obsessive to a certain extent about how you write your notes down. It doesn’t matter about what note like it doesn’t matter about what field like you can be talking about anthropology.
I could be talking about FinTech or I could be talking about ducks. I don’t know. But like the fact that we can, you can have all these references and make all of these pages. It’s what makes it fascinating. And I think it’s a really good way to find the people who like you said are exploratory. So I think that will be great.
Yeah. And with that, Maggie, thank you so much. If we want to reach out to you to contact you for anything that we talked about in this episode, where can we find you? How do we do that?
Maggie Appleton: [00:57:34] Uh, probably Twitter, um, #roamcult, but my, my handle is @mappletons so Mapletons. Um, I try to tweet about things other than grow, but a lot of it inevitably ends up being romance.
Um, although over the coming months, a lot of it will just be visual, digital anthropology stuff as I head into this.
Norman Chella: [00:57:59] Awesome. Awesome. We are excited to see those. A illustration is coming up. So Maggie, thank you so much.
Maggie Appleton: [00:58:07] Thanks for having me on this was great.
Norman Chella: [00:58:09] Thank you for listening to the show.
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