Moving from TheBrain to RoamResearch

Last week, long time personal knowledge management fellow traveller, Matt Mower, introduced me to Roam Research. Over 20 years or so we’ve been crossing paths looking for a personal knowledge management system that gives more than it takes. The best candidate for that so far is the recently launched Roam Research and as I’ve written about in the past, the only way to really trial any kind of software is to throw yourself into it and put yourself in a position where you rely upon it.

To that end, and based on what Roam Research offers, I’ve decided to withdraw my investment in TheBrain‘s way of doing things and shift my content to RoamResearch.

This is not going to be an article on why I am changing. A quick Google search will show there are plenty of people spruiking the benefits but if you really need something, start with Nat Eliason‘s video What’s So Great About Roam Research.

A quick primer on TheBrain

The core concept that drives TheBrain is that of the Thought, a node that links to parent thoughts, child thoughts and jump thoughts (same level). Each thought can have notes and files attached, and be typed.

Relationships between thoughts are show as connecting lines in the Plex and as you build connections some thoughts become more central than others. When you select a thought all related ideas are shown as well.

It sounds good and it is but there are some problems with the technical implementation. I have been a user of TheBrain (previously PersonalBrain) since about version 4. It’s now 11. The notes editor is kludgy and on two separate Macs, performace degrades quickly after any extended period of use. Ideas do come together over time, but compared to Roam Research, require more effort. Linking thoughts to text notes is slow. Things have improved, including sync and mobile, yet the software now has the feel of multiple parts that don’t quite fit being held together with some difficulty.

Brain Surgery

Pulling apart my existing brains, requires

  1. Individually dragging each file associated with a thought to a folder

  2. Deciding to load those files into Roam Research or to leave them external

  3. Creating pages in Roam Research to copy notes into

With several thousand files that’s a bit of work (shows how impressed I am with Roam Research doesn’t it). That list doesn’t sound a lot to do technically and is the same you’d expect moving from any one personal knowledge management system to another.

What did I learn from doing this?

There is still a lot to be learned from the "simple" mechanical process above.

  • I had created a lot of hierarchy still in TheBrain. Much of this was hierarchy to provide organisation where organisation wasn’t required. I had groupings for Types of Technology, Types of Scientific Discipline, Types of People and they weren’t ever used.

  • There is a tendency to add knowledge that I know. What you say, isn’t that the point? Yes, but I know who wrote Harry Potter and David Copperfield. There is no need to track that relationship in TheBrain or any similar system.

  • Files are a problem. My approach will be to organise into broad category folders on the file system and use OneDrive shared links in the new system to access them in-situ. With OneDrive, if you move or rename a file, the link remains the same. Too often I need to access a file outside of the personal knowledge management system I’m using. My current categories are:

    • articles – and books
    • instructions – manuals, how to etc
    • memorabilia – ticket stubs, school reports
    • finances
    • personal – items other than finance needed to operate in life

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