Roam Research is an application that allows you to take notes individually and collaboratively. As the founder says, it uses networked thinking and a graphical database to enable communication between “your past and future self” without losing coherence.
Conor White-Sullivan, the founder of Roam, has opened up a whole new way of thinking by introducing backlinks for which he deserves a lot of credit. Many other founders got inspired by his approach and created their own way of linking information.
However, if you like Roam’s philosophy of bidirectional thinking but need a more visually representative tool, there are other options that allow you to see a whole map of your connections as well as the contents of your notes for a more holistic and inspiration-driving perspective.
In this guide I will introduce Scrintal by comparing it with Roam Research side-by-side and showing the pros and cons of each. Hopefully it will allow you to decide which personal knowledge management system will work best for you (or it may indicate that the two tools are great companions that work well together for different stages in the ideation and writing process).
With a personal knowledge management system, users can collect and create information to organize for more effective future use. PKM sounds daunting because of the breadth and depth of potentially relevant information, but with Scrintal you can organize information as it appears and make connections between topics. You can also customize the visual display of this information: make clusters, trees, or intricate maps as needed, or dismiss and display notes as needed without losing the connections.
Scrintal’s spatial canvas is a critically important feature for mind-mapping, but it is far more than flashcards on a corkboard: there is no word limit for any card, and you can also embed images, videos, tweets, and PDFs to expand the potential for connections and remain within the Scrintal ecosystem. Backlinks to other cards make related information easily accessible.
In both Scrintal and Roam, the user can create networked connections between notes and edit more than one note simultaneously. In Roam, two notes can be edited at one time, with the second note (which must be linked to the first) appearing in the sidebar. In Scrintal, one could technically edit as many cards at one time as can fit on a screen, except in full-screen mode which also allows two cards. You can also open embedded tweets, pictures, videos, and PDFs in a new card-like tab within the Scrintal ecosystem, allowing you to read, watch, or listen while you type.
Being able to recognize the connections between different ideas inspires further creativity, which makes these features critical. Scrintal and Roam both use visual representations to display the connectedness between notes; Roam uses a graphical database to display overall connections between notes (and this visual representation cannot be permanently altered), while Scrintal displays the entirety of a particular map of notes using boards that differentiate topics (and this map can be permanently altered as long as it is not dismissed from the board).
Roam does allow for embedding images, videos, and PDFs into notes, allowing you to type while watching or reading; but Roam in general requires learning a bit of coding to understand how to embed properly, and for PDFs, the document must be hosted somewhere to allow the user to view it on Roam. In Scrintal, all it takes is to paste, link, or upload the image, video, or PDF and it is viewable within the ecosystem; Scrintal also has features allowing for floating tabs and floating notes, meaning you can drag your embedded media file around your desk and continue interacting with your map or notes while you listen.
Both Roam Research and Scrintal contain useful (and different) features. For those that find Roam cumbersome to learn and navigate, Scrintal may be a better solution. The platform is intuitive, navigable with a few clicks or shortcuts, which are described in an easily-accessible guide any time it is needed. This makes Scrintal an intuitive choice with a very small learning curve and no requirement to know or learn coding.
Instead of one “notebook” per user, there are boards, and within a board there can be many trees and even many solitary cards as required. Side-by-side comparison and editing of notes means that the flow of ideas does not have to stop in order for the user to navigate to the proper note to write down information; this is true for both Roam and Scrintal. However, Scrintal has more flexibility in this feature while in Roam, needing to code for formatting may hinder creative flow for some.
Roam is a brand with many supporters who enjoy the bullet-point note-taking format and bidirectional linking, especially the graph overview that showcases all their ideas and how they relate to each other. They were the first to bring bi-directional linking to the online note-taking scene. They have integrated some coding requirements in order to more effectively customize your notes, and users find it helpful for personal knowledge management that they don’t have to worry about stopping in the middle of their train of thought to change formatting.
Roam also has an interesting and unique feature known as block referencing; using double brackets, you can link to a block of text elsewhere on your note or a different note, avoiding duplicate content and optimizing your notes. This block can appear as a link (which you can jump to or open in the sidebar), an embed that is directly editable, or even a duplicate (which you can edit without affecting the original block).
There is a desktop app for Roam and it has an offline mode allowing you to edit notes on the go without a wifi connection. They have a mobile app for Apple and Android, though users overwhelmingly prefer to work on desktop or tablet. It has a diagram feature that works just like a Scrintal board, as well as the ability to calculate basic formulas like an Excel file due to its basis in coding.
The structure and flow of Scrintal lends itself to an intuitive process from beginning to end: plan, brainstorm, execute, and share. This method of work makes the journey from ideation to presentation smooth and prevents interruptions to the creative thought process due to formatting, organization, or tab switching.
Scrintal’s virtual canvas ensures the steady flow of creativity without interruptions. Connections rise to the surface more easily in a visual format and are not at risk of being forgotten or overlooked. The Scrintal ecosystem can host videos and PDFs on the same screen as an editable note, avoiding the need to scroll up and down or switch back and forth between tabs or windows. Your research and writing can take place in the same environment.
As needed, notes can appear as cards, full-screen text editors (for focusing), or titles only (for a holistic view of the network). This is a tool for the mind to more effectively engage with information and produce new ideas, as well as determine whether any information is missing or lacking.
Cards can be linked together or tagged, and these are two of Scrintal’s most important features. Our minds work similarly, forming connections between ideas and using these connections to create a knowledge base that not only consists of information, but also a network that inspires innovation and enables problem-solving. Creating a visual representation of this network, whether hierarchical or more flexible, is more efficient than holding it in your mind, where only one connection can be considered at a time and new ideas may be lost or forgotten.
In Roam, the connections between notes can be solidified through links and tags and visually viewed on the graphical database; but you cannot permanently alter the visual tree. If you move a dot out of place, go to a note, and then return to the graph, the dot will have been replaced in its original position. In Scrintal, you can use boards to keep placements of cards consistent and ensure mind maps are organized in whichever way makes sense to you.
In Roam, connections and links are not represented visually the way they are in Scrintal; while visual links between notes exist and can be viewed, these links cannot be altered on the graph to suit each user, making them difficult to parse and navigate. For some, Scrintal’s board system is more intuitive.
Roam is a great tool for people looking to build a large knowledge base of ideas that will inevitably be linked somewhere else on the graphical map, especially if visuality is less important and more of an abstract tool to show the interconnectedness of ideas without needing to interact with these connections in a holistic way. If you don’t mind a little coding and prefer a bullet-point note-taking system, it can be a great tool. But it is not too dissimilar from similar note-taking apps that have a one-note-at-a-time approach, with only two notes that can be opened at one time and only if they are linked together.
Embedding media is more difficult to learn in Roam, and there are many tools that exist on both platforms but are easier to use in Scrintal. For example, tables in Scrintal and kanban boards in Roam function like Trello boards, with tasks that can be moved along to indicate stages of completion; but in Roam, the user needs to type a bullet-pointed list with many indents to populate the kanban board with tasks, while in Scrintal you can create a table with one click and add new card within it with a second click (and you can move it around your board or desk as needed so you have room to work on other things).
Scrintal is an early stage product slated to be launched in 2022, so there are more areas for improvement compared to Roam (which has been around for many years). The Scrintal team implements community feedback in product updates.
For example, the ability to annotate PDFs is a hugely important feature for research and note-taking purposes, and this functionality is not yet available in Scrintal (or Roam). Within Scrintal, you can publish boards, but content in Roam may be more suitable for simple copy-and-paste publishing because Scrintal is more intuitive for ideation rather than content finalization. Collaboration tools on Roam, which in many cases rely on integration with other apps, are more developed than collaboration in Scrintal. Integrations with a wide range of other apps like calendars, meeting platforms, and others that are used by knowledge workers on a daily basis are still being developed for Scrintal. Offline support and a mobile app are in the works in order to provide a competitive experience with other note-taking apps and be a more commensurate alternative to Roam.
For now, some users may find they are best served using Roam and Scrintal together, especially since both rely on bi-directional linking.
Consulting projects are almost always unique, composed of a specific set of deliverables to meet the needs of each client. It involves collecting loads of information, most of which will end up being irrelevant. For a client to execute recommendations requires careful planning and thorough explaining on the part of the consultant.
Scrintal has exactly the kind of features to enable and improve this process. Parsing through information to find the significant data points is made easier with a hierarchical structure. A visual network of connections that was created during the long research phase is valuable in explaining the reasons for recommendations, and the linking and tagging system makes it simple for a client to navigate between different facets of a recommendation. The ability to share a board is the perfect medium: a simpler, cleaner, and more easily navigated version of a Prezi presentation. However, Roam does have more integrations and may be easier to work with if writing a report rather than creating a presentation. In this case, Scrintal and Roam can work as companion tools.
Scrintal is very useful for organizing knowledge work like writing journalistic articles, scholastic papers in the arts and sciences, and reports for corporate use. Ideating and planning is made easy with the hierarchical and flexible structuring that the platform offers, and the abilities to fold, unfold, display, and dismiss cards as needed enables holistic awareness and focused work.
For example, a journalist can use Scrintal to record the different facets of a story, including interview notes and critical images, documents, and videos, see how they connect, and have a bird’s-eye view of how an article can come together. With Roam, this bird’s-eye view would not be available, and it would be difficult to see how the multiple notes on a single article would eventually come together.
Also, scientists can plan their papers within Scrintal, utilizing the whole ecosystem to keep their sources, notes, data, and original ideas together in a single place; in Roam, separate notes means they cannot be seen in a single place, only by opening each note one-by-one.
In a corporate setting, the platform can be used to construct business reports from the ground up by consolidating information; connections may reveal new areas of exploration and new data to collect.
Finalizing the content of the report, if not done on a document, can be simpler to do in Roam because of its more traditional layout. This is another area in which the tools can be used together.
Visual representations of a network of knowledge are particularly important to students and researchers because in order to study material effectively or write a convincing essay or thesis, information must be organized, holistic, relevant, and cited. Within Scrintal, one could store notes on lectures or research papers, a list of sources as a bibliography, ideas for an essay topic, or a table of contents outlining a scholarly article.
The hierarchical structure of a network on the platform can help cultivate a thesis; this feature is not present in Roam to the extent that it exists in Scrintal, because the graphical database that stores Roam notes by title is not permanently editable. An important future feature for both platforms would be the ability to annotate documents like scholarly papers; in Roam, you can highlight PDFs but not annotate them, and in Scrintal you can only read them while note-taking.
Different tools suit different tastes and serve different purposes. As a visual learner and thinker who moves quickly through different ideas and needs to hold on to them before I forget, Scrintal is the best tool for me.
Roam Research is a note-taking app with myriad features similar to Scrintal and a basis in coding, allowing users to link their ideas and notes and view these links in one graph. The notes can be linked, tagged, and searched; videos and PDFs can be embedded to prevent switching back and forth between tabs.
But the structure and layout of Roam is not much different than a kind of document. The notes are read top to bottom and only two can be displayed simultaneously. If you’d prefer not to scroll or click back and forth between links to the same few notes, Scrintal may be a good alternative with all the same important features as well as an editable visual layout and the ability to pop out videos and PDFs into new tabs within the same ecosystem.
On the other hand, Scrintal can also be a great companion to Roam. Both use bi-directional linking, with Scrintal focusing more on initial ideation and Roam on writing and formatting publishable content. Together, the two can take a user through the brainstorming and writing process if they prefer to write in Markdown format.
Scrintal’s flexible mind map means you can structure your thoughts exactly in the way you think them in your head, saving brainpower and facilitating understanding and creativity. It has many of the same features as Roam and even more in the pipeline. If you are a visual thinker who prefers the holistic view from flashcards to the top-down approach of a document of notes, give Scrintal a try!