The Coming Research App Revolution

In the last several months, I have been experimenting a lot with  Roam Research and Obsidian. There is a lot to like about these apps and their crazy-powerful internal links. With both Roam and Obsidian, cross-linking is ridiculously easy. In the case of Roam Research, this isn’t just true for note titles, but instead every word in your database. So you can be writing away about subject A, but then easily cross-link to the 37th paragraph of something else you wrote about subject B.

Not only can you cross-link, but you can also even embed that paragraph 37 in your subject A text in a way that lets your reference or modify it right in the middle of your word pile on subject A.

With both Roam and Obisian, any phrase (or word) in your database can become a separate page by merely putting two brackets around it. That newly minted page will include links to every other page in your database that consists of that phrase. It is powerful stuff, and I am not doing it justice, but the cross-linking and dynamic page/note creation is an entirely different way to research and take notes. I am using it now daily for legal research and Field Guide development. Throwing all of my ideas in one big bowl and letting them mix around pays immense dividends.

This, however, is not going unnoticed by the rest of the development community. The Archive has been using a similar linked text system for years.  Bear recently added a new feature that lets you cross-link not only titles but also note subheadings. It does not go as deep as Roam Research, but it is a start. Moreover, my beloved Drafts, which also supports cross-linking note titles, have an ecosystem of mobile apps, and there’s already an entire Drafts action library that lets you cross and backlink to Drafts notes.

This influx of cross-linking, dynamic referencing, and the linkable chaos that these apps create feel, to me, like something entirely new, and that bell is not going to get unrung. Not only do I expect these apps to push further ahead with these tools, but I also anticipate other apps to develop in the same direction. A year from now, we are going to have some fantastic options.

One of the best parts of being enthusiastic about technology is when I witness something fundamentally change. I can’t help but think that is happening right now in the research and notes space.