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Using Sunk Costs for Good (Why I Became A Roam Believer)

I decided to sign up for Roam Research’s 5-year believer plan yesterday, despite the #roamcult phenomena getting my hackles up a bit. When I sense that something I am involved with is becoming a bandwagon, my instinct is to jump off and throw rocks at it. But I am also a sucker for novel UI paradigms and Roam is certainly that.

If you have not seen Roam before, I’m afraid it’s kind of hard to do it justice by comparing it to other software. Calling it an “outliner with wiki-linking” is sort of right, but also undersells a lot of what makes Roam interesting. Rather than try to go deeper into why I like Roam right now, I recommend the write-up from The Sweet Setup.

When the beta period ended, I considered my options:

  • Use org-roam in Emacs. I’m deeply impressed by Emacs and the org-mode plugin, but one of my general computing principles is to use my muscle memory on keyboard shortcuts that work everywhere. As much as I appreciate the power of old-school text editing in emacs and vi, I do way more text editing in browser text fields, etc. I want to use keyboard shortcuts that are consistent across contexts. Using Emacs as part of my daily workflow is a major violation of that principle.
  • Use DEVONthink with scripting for backlinks. Kourosh Dini has written up how to build similar worklows in DEVONthink in his new book Taking Smart Notes with DEVONthink. It’s impressive, but also feels fragile. Do I really want that much more AppleScript in my life?
  • Use Bear with scripting for backlinks. Bear is a great app, I’ve already done a fair amount of scripting with it in concert with Drafts, and the iOS app is top-notch. But maintaining the backlinks still seems like it will entail a lot of manual work.

All of these are doable, but not without some work to recreate what I love about Roam. When I start to think about that opportunity cost, well, sticking with Roam makes a lot of sense.

So why pay $500 up-front for the five-year Believer subscription instead of going month-to-month for $15? Mostly because I don’t want to second guess my decision. If I find myself balking at the ongoing $15 subscription (and I know I would), I would be tempted to bail and go right back to fiddling with other tools to try and recreate what I missed from Roam. That would be fun, but ultimately a distraction from work that actually pays the bills, interesting writing projects, or learning new things — all activities which I am confident Roam will support. By paying up-front, I’m using my sunk cost bias to my benefit by binding myself to focus on more important things.