Why I Switched: A deep dive into Roam vs. Obsidian

6000 words discussing the differences and why you might choose one over the other

Niles Wyler
26 min readOct 25, 2020
Photo by Lysander Yuen on Unsplash

Table of Contents

My Note-taking Background

This will be a long read, but hopefully a helpful one for folks trying to decide between these two applications.

For some background, I am a fairly long-standing Roam user, having used the application since around February 2020 up until the last few months.

Let me start by saying, I think Roam is amazing.

What the founders are doing with block-level text manipulation has turned it into a ground-breaking tool for writing and knowledge-work.

That being said, I also think Roam has its issues.

For one thing, it is expensive. Coming in at $15 per month — or $500 up front for a 5-year subscription as part of their “Believer’s” plan — Roam is more expensive than any other SASS application or knowledge tool out there.

For another thing, Roam’s development is a bit haphazard.

Releases are brisk, but what’s being worked on at any given moment is vague. New functionality, when it does get added, seems only half-baked (take the delta function, for instance, which was supposed to be the solution to spaced repetition in Roam). There is no public roadmap outside of intermittent tweets from the company founders. Help is spread out amongst an online forum, YouTube videos, Twitter, a Slack channel and a multitude of community-run websites and pricey online tutorial courses.

These things really didn’t bother me over the short term for several reasons:

  1. I had been using Roam for a long time and knew it well. It was easy to keep up with changes and additions and I didn’t need a course to help me get up to speed with new functionality.
  2. I mostly didn’t care about any of the new additions. I was using Roam for the outliner functionality, block level referencing and frictionless linking and writing experience. That alone was worth any other issues with the application (even the potential risk of data loss and lack of local storage).
  3. I had free access. Since I had an account prior to the release of their subscription model, I was able to continue to work within Roam for free.

But over time, these issues did begin to wear on me. The cult mentality of the online community became a bit jarring. Concerns over privacy, whether founded or not, grew. And ultimately, I went looking for other alternatives that could meet my day-to-day needs without any of the additional background noise.

My goal here is not to be inflammatory or to build up one note-taking application over another, but instead to highlight my experiences over time with Roam and why I went looking for alternatives.

In any case, after a few weeks, I stumbled upon Obsidian.

I’m now around 2–3 months into using Obsidian and over that time, it has slowly become my daily driver for note-taking, knowledge management and writing. There are a lot of reasons for the switch, only one of which is the difference in pricing models (Obsidian is free to use forever).

This post is a way to explore, in probably too-great detail, the differences between Obsidian and Roam and why I think Obsidian, like Roam, is a truly revolutionary writing and note-taking platform — one that will likely explode in popularity in the coming months.

It Took Some Time

I should probably start by saying that it took me several tries to get into Obsidian.

The main hindrance? The separation of edit and preview modes.

Coming from Roam and other note-taking applications like Notion or Evernote, I was used to a what-you-see-is-what-you-get (WYSIWYG) writing experience.

In Obsidian, this is not the case right now, though WYSIWYG is on the roadmap and coming soon.

So when I first looked into Obsidian, I actually thought you needed to do one of two things to use the application successfully:

  1. Have two panels open for each note you worked on: one in Edit mode and one in Preview mode, or
  2. Constantly cycle between Edit and Preview mode using “cmd-e” in order to fully utilize and navigate your database.

Coming from Roam, where the writing and navigation experience is frictionless, this was a huge turn off.

It also happened to not be true.

Nowadays, I spend around 90+% of my time in Obsidian in Edit mode. This is made possible by a multitude of keyboard shortcuts for nearly everything you can think of, including opening links (cmd-click), opening links in a new panel (cmd-shift-click), and opening links under your cursor without needing your mouse (cmd-enter and cmd-shift-enter).

The best part is that all of these shortcuts are entirely, 100% customizable, meaning you can change them to suit your own personal workflow and style.

Here is a screenshot of the application settings, where you can modify any keyboard shortcut you want:

You can easily adjust the keybindings for any of the shortcuts available in Obsidian

As examples, here are some of the shortcuts I use frequently:

  • “cmd-r/l” to switch between panels/notes
  • “cmd-shift-f” to pull up vault search
  • “cmd-w” to exit/close out of the currently selected note
  • “cmd-shift-d” to jump to or create the Daily Note for the day
  • “cmd-shift-r/l” to open/close the right and left navigation panels
  • “cmd-comma” to open settings
  • “cmd-forward/backward” to jump to end of lines and exit out of markdown/brackets
  • “option-forward/backward” to skip between words in a line
  • “cmd-up/down” to jump to start or end of a page
  • “cmd-shift-forward/backward” to jump forward and backward between notes

By learning and understanding shortcuts within Obsidian, I have been able to achieve a workflow that is both smooth and seamless. Everything I need to do to write and utilize my Obsidian Vault, I can do from Edit mode, with the exception of visualizing images and embedded text, which do still require switching to preview mode currently (or having a second panel up).

As noted above, WYSIWYG is coming to Obsidian in the near future and when that occurs, there will no longer be any need to cycle between viewing/editing modes at all and this whole section (other than the keyboard shortcuts portion) will be a moot point.

Plain Text Files + Local Storage = Future-Proof

A major difference between Obsidian and other applications like Roam, Evernote or Notion is that Obsidian is just a shell application.

What do I mean by this?

Obsidian is simply a tool that allows you to effectively work, manage and manipulate your own, personal, locally-stored markdown files. The application is not actually your notes itself, just a tool to help you process them.

If Obsidian shut down tomorrow, my notes would still remain, exactly as they are now, on my computer or cloud storage system of choice.

This is the power of local-first storage.

As long as computers exist, there will be programs able to work with markdown.

This means that your data is yours for life. Your hard-earned knowledge and writing is future-proofed. There is a longevity implied to anything you write down in Obsidian.

What this also means is no lock-in.

Because there is no proprietary formatting, you can open and access your notes in any other text editor or note-taking application available.

As an example, I could load my entire vault into The Archive, Bear or even Roam and more or less pick up exactly where I left off. I can also access or edit my files using any text editor on my computer or iPhone, with changes automatically synced by my cloud storage. Additionally, I can search and access any file from my Vault using Alfred or even command line prompts.

When you own your data, the options are essentially limitless.

Now, I know there are export features in Roam and that users report no lock-in because of this, but if you’ve ever actually tried to get your data out of Roam, you will know that this is not entirely true.

There are two reasons for this:

  1. The lack of distinction between pages and hashtags
  2. Block references

Because of the former, a lot of users will have pages that consist entirely of linked references. These are essentially pages that serve only as a dumping ground for references from other pages via backlinks. These will often be a mix of hashtags and true page links, given there is no functional difference between these two in Roam.

On migrating to another platform, those “reference pages” will be blank.

Additionally, since the lack of distinction between hashtags and page links is unique to Roam, these will be parsed differently when imported into any other application, breaking the continuity that was present in Roam.

As for block references, exporting your vault will retain the referenced text on the page, but no link or notation displaying the source will come with it. More concerning, however, is what happens on re-importing your dataset, for instance in the case of data loss. Re-importing your database back into Roam also currently fails to retain these links, meaning the referenced text will still be present, but you you will lose all the connectivity you previously set up via block references.

The short of it is this: the longer you stay inside a proprietary note-taking application, the harder it is going to be to leave with all your data intact.

You end up relying on the longevity of the note-taking application, itself, instead of the longevity of your own thoughts.

This is not necessarily a reason to leave Roam, as with their current ARR and recent funding valuation they are likely to be around for a long time, but certainly something to be aware of when using the application.


I will be the first to admit I was never too concerned with data privacy when working with Roam — at least when I first started using the application.

I have never been one to store personal or protected information in note-taking applications and so why should I care too much about a web-based platform versus local-only storage?

Still, the more I worked in Roam, the more information I wanted to include in my database, the more I wanted to incorporate into the system I had built. I began to experience this constant presence in the back of my mind anytime I wrote something — would I be okay if this somehow became public?

In a sense, I was censoring myself a little bit every time I wrote. This added a subconscious level of friction to my writing.

The only true way to get around this is with local-first file storage, like Obsidian, or with true data-privacy based encryption, like E2E.

As it stands, Roam has already said that it will be extremely difficult to incorporate E2E encryption across databases, as this would hamper the way in which the linking within the application works. They are looking into alternatives, though there is limited information about the status of this, the timing of implementation or even if it will be possible.

Since Obsidian is based on local files and markdown, E2E is not only possible, but is a planned implementation for when they start offering sync services between local and mobile devices.

If the Obsidian-based sync service is not something you are interested in pursuing, you can stick to local only storage of your notes (free) or use a cloud-based service of your choosing (pricing depends on your choice). You could even use something like Boxcryptor to encrypt the files in your Dropbox account for added security.

If you use local-only storage alone, you can be sure your data stays private. You don’t even need an Obsidian account to use the application!

No account sign in is even necessary to use Obsidian.

Data Loss

I should preface this by saying that I was an avid Roam user for around 8 months and never experienced any data loss that I know of.

Whether I am one of the lucky few or whether data loss is actually in the minority of users, I cannot say (though probably the latter). Still, the issue has been vocalized enough by the user-base to discuss it here.

Obviously, another benefit that comes with a local-first note-taking system is lack of data loss and easy backup options. While there is a local-only version of Roam, there are a few issues there:

  1. To get access to it currently, you have to be on the Believer Plan, meaning you have to be willing to pay $500 up front.
  2. It’s not a true offline application. Instead, your entire database gets stored in the cache of your web browser of choice. This comes with its own downsides and risks of data loss, meaning backups become even more important.

The Roam team has said that a local-based application is on the roadmap, though the timing of this is unclear, as other advances are taking priority: public API development, mobile application, etc.

It’s Beautiful

This may not be a huge priority for most people, but Obsidian is beautiful.

I find that if you enjoy spending time in an application, it definitely makes it easier to be productive. And having a writing environment that is visually pleasing, without being distracting, is one way to do just that.

Not only is Obsidian beautifully designed, structurally-sound and premium-appearing, it’s also just a joy to work in. It’s fast and seamless, rising up to the frictionless writing standards even of Roam.

Obsidian also has many community-developed themes, which are very easy to access. Just open the help menu, click the themes link and with a simple click you can apply or preview any of the available themes.

Community themes are available for selection directly from within Obsidian. It’s as easy as clicking a button.

There are also amazing CSS hacks developed by the community that allow you to do certain unique things with Obsidian.

For example, coming from Roam, I did miss the outliner feature for some of my note-taking needs, as I often like to start with outlines, then convert to full form writing. Well, there is a CSS block that adds the drop down lines to show relationships between bullet points.

There is also a CSS block that allows you to access “Andy Mode,” which allows for scrollable panels of notes based on Andy Matuschak’s online note system (see: https://notes.andymatuschak.org/About_these_notes)

These CSS “hacks” and many others are readily available on the Obsidian forum for viewing and use:

You can also easily modify the CSS of the base theme or any community theme yourself to get Obsidian to look how you want.

As someone who knows essentially nothing about CSS, this was initially very daunting. However, the community is extremely helpful and there is also the ability to access the developer window from within Obsidian by pressing “cmd-option-i.”

You can then click the pointer in the top left corner of the developer window and highlight any part of the application you are interested in. This will show you the exact CSS code you need to edit to get whatever effect you want.

The developer window can be accessed for Obsidian and can be used to select any part of the application to determine the CSS code needed to modify.

Knowing nothing about CSS, using this trick allowed me to edit my personal favorite community theme (Warmth, dark mode) into exactly what I wanted.

It has also enabled other users to create truly amazing visuals within Obsidian:

From a modifiable standpoint, I think Roam and Obsidian are on similar levels, though I personally think Obsidian is a more visually pleasing working environment.

Plug-in Methodology

On the backdrop of plain text/markdown files, Obsidian is built around a plug-in methodology.

There is a base-level of functionality that the application offers. On top of this, you can then individually chose to add or subtract other functionality in the form of plug-ins.

This gives users the ability customize Obsidian to meet their own individual needs.

There are 23 currently available plug-ins. Some of the more noteworthy ones, include:

  • Tag pane — sidebar that shows all your current hashtags and how frequently they are each used
  • Page preview — preview pages on hover. You can also preview pages within page previews indefinitely and can even follow links and toggle TODOs from within page preview
  • Starred — save unique boolean searches (similar to Roam’s queries)
  • Daily notes — allows you to create daily notes, an idea taken from Roam
  • Templates — templates are fully supported within Obsidian
  • Zettelkasten prefix — allows you to automatically generate a designated zettelkasten prefix for any new note you create
  • Random Note — allows you to randomly select a note from your vault
  • Outline — creates a new window in the sidebar that forms a clickable navigation outline based on the headers created within the note
  • Publish — allows you to publish your notes online at a unique web address. This features has a monthly cost, but works perfectly and is beautiful. You can also select whatever notes you want to include/exclude
  • Workspaces — allows you to save specific panel configurations within Obsidian that can be reopened with just a keystroke

Currently, the Obsidian team is working on creating their beta API. Once the API goes public, community generated plug-ins are likely to rapidly expand the offerings of Obsidian functionality. These plug-ins will also allow users to fine-tune Obsidian to work exactly how they want without having bloat features that otherwise would have to be released to the entire community.

Backlinks, Linked Mentions, Unlinked Mentions and Tagging

Similar to Roam, Obsidian allows for easy linking between notes using wiki-style formatting. Linking also automatically generates backlinks to the original source, similar to Roam (and now Notion).

Backlinks are slightly less effective in Obsidian, given the lack of a base, block-level structure. However, the developers have done an amazing job allowing expanded visualization of text around the backlink to provide additional context. This is admittedly not as strong as the contextual backlinks seen in Roam (see the next section for more details), but is a very nice adaptation for a markdown-based application.

Unlinked mentions — showing any other text that isn’t a true link, but matches the note title — are also supported and automatic in Obsidian, as they are in Roam.

Linking remains the basic building block of connectivity in Obsidian, though use of a folder structure is also possible. There is also full support for tagging with autocompletion.

Unlike Roam, tags and page links are handled separately, meaning they both serve unique functions. Tags can be used to provide an additional level of structure or denote certain types of pages, whereas links typically serve as the primary method of connecting pages together.

Of note, unlike Roam, pages are not automatically generated in Obsidian until you actually click the link. Links to pages that have not yet been created will appear gray in View mode to delineate them from pages that have already been generated. Even if the page has not yet been created, you can still link to it from other pages using regular wiki-links and autocompletion. The page will also still appear in your graph view and search, even when not clicked yet. If you then delete that link prior to generating the page, it will disappear from your Vault entirely.

Block Structure

The major difference between Roam and Obsidian and by far the most talked about distinction.

Roam is built around a block-based, outliner structure. This means that every new line (every time you press return) becomes its own block and bullet point. These blocks can then be nested indefinitely underneath each other and they can be collapsed or zoomed into/out of.

Roam can use this block nesting to generate relationships between thoughts and a contextual framework for ideas.

Why does this matter?

Well, when you create links between pages, the nested blocks are also automatically shown in Roam along with the breadcrumb, block-level links that lead up to the selected block of interest. This provides additional context between pages, but also allows for impressive, block-level filtering capabilities.

A excerpt from the Roam White Pages, showing the linked references for [[Roam Demo Video]]. You can see that the nested blocks are also shown alongside the backlinks, providing additional context. Notes that are higher level than the block of interest are also shown, but in breadcrumb view. These breadcrumbs are also clickable links. Every link is capable of being filtered.

Obsidian, because it is structured at the page-level, and not the block-level, is not as adept at providing this contextual information via backlinks. The developers have enable additional surrounding text to be shown with the backlinks, though it cannot completely duplicate the nested structure seen in Roam. There is also currently no way to filter backlinks in Obsidian.

Top right panel shows the automatically generated backlink and the nearby text, providing some context to the link
You can click the “show more context” button to provide additional surrounding text, though this is not the same a delivering nested relationships as is seen in Roam-delivered backlinks

Block References

Obsidian is developing so quickly that at the initial time of outlining this article, block references did not exist in the application at all.

Now, block references and embeds not only exist in Obsidian, but function nearly as effectively as in Roam.

So, what are block references?

Block references allow you to embed content from one page into another, but at the atomic level of a single block (or in the case of Obsidian, at the level of a single paragraph).

Previously, Obsidian only allowed for page-level linking or heading-level linking. Now you can link to individual paragraphs, without having to create a heading just for the explicit need of creating a linkable portion of a page.

This allows you more flexibility in how you break ideas down and mix and match thoughts.

How does block referencing work in Obsidian?

You can reference by wiki-linking to a page and then typing ^ to pull up a list of all the searchable blocks from that page. Or you can perform a global block search of your entire Obsidian Vault (helpful for when you don’t know what page the text of interest is on), by typing:


you can then start typing to find the block of interest.

When a block reference is made, Obsidian will automatically generate and add a block ID to the end of the referenced text. This does not need to be generated ahead of time at all.

Essentially, this works exactly like block referencing in Roam does when using the “((” to locate and add references. The referenced text is embedded in the other page with a link that can navigate back to the original source text.

There are a few main differences and subtle limitations in Obsidian to be aware of though:

  1. Block references cannot pull in adjacent nested text automatically, since Obsidian doesn’t operate on a block-level structure. This can, however, be individually modified in Obsidian manually
  2. Block references in Obsidian cannot be created using “alt-drag,” something that I do miss a lot from Roam
  3. Block references can only be viewed in Preview mode at the moment (this will change once WYSIWYG is added to Obsidian)
  4. Unlike Roam, there is no number next to the original text to show how many times the text has been referenced and where each of those references are located

All this being said, there are some benefits over Roam’s system as well.

The main one being that Obsidian now has the ability to “query” at the page level, but also link at the block level, which provides a substantial amount of added flexibility to the system (see Boolean Search section below for benefits of page-level querying).

Overall, block references are now possible in Obsidian. Do they have the same detailed functionality of Roam? No, but they work well, are easily added to your notes and provide a key functionality to Obsidian that was:

  1. Previously missing, and
  2. Previously deemed impossible for an application not based on a block-level structure.

If nothing else, this should prove that the Obsidian developers are exceptionally talented and that there are few limits to what this application will be capable of in the future.

Note Outline, Tag Panel and Pinning Panels

Two of my favorite plug-ins for Obsidian are note outlines and the tag panel.

The Note Outline plug-in creates a side-panel that shows a structured, hierarchical outline of the note you are working in based on the headings included on the page. From this outline, you can click on any of the headers and automatically be taken to that section of the page. This is something that is incredibly handy, especially when writing long-form articles in Obsidian.

The Tag plug-in creates a side panel that shows all of the tags you are currently using in your Obsidian Vault and the number of times each tag has been referenced. Each of these tags is also clickable from this panel, which then automatically pulls up a search for all the notes with that tag. Very handy for looking at tags you are using and which ones are most active versus which ones are getting dusty.

Outline panel can be seen in the bottom right corner. Each line in the outline is a link that will take you directly to that section of the page.

The last subtle trick of Obsidian is being able to move any panel and pin them to different places in each of the side bars. As an example, I have my saved boolean searches (essentially queries for Obsidian) to the lower left panel and my note outline panel to the lower right panel. But you can modify the structure of the panes however you like. You can also pin certain notes to the side panels, as some Obsidian users do with a calendar note or with the local graph view.

The local graph panel is pinned to the bottom right sidebar. As you navigate between notes, the local graph view will change to reflect the connections of each note automatically

Boolean Search

Boolean search is the Obsidian equivalent to queries in Roam, only I find them easier to use and, in some regards, more powerful.

Boolean search takes advantage of easy to understand syntax:

  • AND searches for pages that have both terms
  • OR searches for pages that have one or the other
  • If no term is delineated, two phrases or words separated by a space automatically infers the AND syntax
  • If you want to search for exact text, enclose the word or phrase in parentheses
  • If you want to search specifically for a tag, use “tag:” syntax or enclose the actual hashtag in parentheses
  • If you want to exclude text, use “-” followed by the word/phrase/tag

That’s really all you need to know.

As a brief example, here’s what a query looks like in Roam and what the same Boolean search would look like in Obsidian.

This is what a simple query in Roam looks like:

{{[[query]]: {or: [[learning]] [[mindset]]}}}

The same query in Obsidian could look like this:

“#learning” OR “#mindset”

Other than the easier to use syntax, I also find Boolean search more powerful than queries since you are not limited to searching for previously defined links. In Obsidian, I can query any combination of page links, hashtags and random words or phrases.

As an example, I can search my entire Vault for any page that has both #learning, but also the word genius (either as a hashtag or just written on the page somewhere).

This is what the returned search looks like
The numbers to the right of the page title shows how many times one of the search criteria was met. Clicking the “… and 2 more matches” expands the findings to demonstrate the context in which the words/hashtags were found on the page

Clicking any of those search results will take you directly to where that instance of the text lives on the referenced page and will also highlights the word, phrase, tag or link. Shift-clicking will open the exact spot in a new panel.

Combinations like these are not possible in Roam. You would have to convert “genius” into a link and then convert all the unlinked mentions into links as well. Even then, it would not be exactly the same.

This functionality of Obsidian helps avoid what Nick Milo calls “link dilution.” It also allows for spur of the moment searches and unlimited flexibility when calling up notes from your Vault.

Beyond these differences in syntax and flexibility, the other main important difference between queries in Roam and Boolean search in Obsidian is at what level the searches are functioning.

Obsidian performs these searches at the page level. Roam, of course, at the block level.

Boolean search will still display multiple “block-level” results for each page (see example above example with learning; the number 4 denotes the number of returned searches per page), but is overall less effective with things like task management or spaced repetition since the search parameters are applied to the entire page, instead of parsing each line/block individually.

For instance, a page that has multiple tasks each with different hashtags will undergo boolean search as one unit. The tasks will not be parsed individually, unlike in Roam where each task would be made up of its own block. This makes filtering tasks (particularly filtering out, since you would exclude the entire page) significantly less effective in Obsidian.

On the opposite end, being able to query at the page level also has its benefits, particularly for general knowledge work. Since you are essentially querying the entire page of notes, you don’t run into the current issue that Roam has where you can’t query multiple separate lines of attributes or links at the same time. In Obsidian, this is no problem and is highly effective.

This query is not possible in Roam, for instance, without placing all links and tags on the same block. In Obsidian, this search would be no issue at all, since it parses the entire page and not individual blocks.

At the end of the day, things that require filtering at the individual block level will be more effectively assessed with queries in Roam. This includes functions like task management, CRM work and linked journaling.

For things that don’t necessarily need to be parsed on an individual block level, you have more flexibility with Boolean search in Obsidian. And while block-level manipulation is highly effective for knowledge work, when it comes to searching across your database, I find “querying” at the page level to actually be more effective when it comes to parsing connections across your second brain.

The Graph View

I think no one would argue that the Obsidian graph view is far superior to Roam’s graphing at this point in time.

Not only is the graph more visually pleasing in Obsidian, but it comes with a significant amount of added functionality that actually makes it useful. In Roam, I would open my graph from time to time to admire how my database was growing. That was the extent of the use I made of the graph feature.

In a way, it was almost a mental flex.

In Obsidian, you can search your graph to narrow down the view to specific pages or tags, view orphan nodes or adjust the link distance between pages displayed, among many other features.

There is a lot you can do with the graph in Obsidian.

However, the most impressive feature of the graph view is that you can perform Boolean searches from within the graph search! These are the same complex searches you can run on your Vault, which you can also run from within graph view to help narrow down the nodes you are seeing at any given time. These are not just searches of the page titles, but searching within the pages themselves.

Demonstrating a Boolean search of the graph view, while also showing the same boolean search in the regular search box to demonstrate both yielding the same two page results. The search here is looking for any page in my Vault that has both the hashtag learning as well as the word genius somewhere on the page.

This is incredible and makes working with the Obsidian graph not only fun, but an actual functional part of your workflow.

By essentially “querying” your graph, you can much more easily visualize specific topics or trains of thought and see how you might create links between previously unconnected nodes.

There is no equivalent feature in Roam at the moment.

The only feature available to graph view in Roam is to exclude daily notes

The Developers

Amazingly, the Obsidian team is only a two-person show:

They are extremely impressive coders and have a history of successful projects, having worked previously to create Dynalist.

They are also very active in the Obsidian community, frequently responding to posts in the forum or on the public Discord personally with long, detailed replies. Their dedication to the application is readily apparent. And the speed at which updates are released is crazy.

You can see how frequently updates are coming out for Obsidian and how easily accessible all changes are for viewing by the community.

They have also delivered every time on promises made for Obsidian’s future and even on parts previously thought not possible (e.g. block references).

And since the Obsidian roadmap is publicly viewable and kept up to date, there is never a question as to what is coming down the pipeline.

The Community

I would be remiss to not at least briefly talk about the Obsidian community. Extremely friendly, helpful and active.

The Discord forum is the main hub where the most active members are at any given time, though there is also an official forum that is active as well. You can access either from this webpage: https://obsidian.md/community


I think the pricing differences between Roam and Obsidian speak for themselves, so I won’t belabor this point. Roam is $15/month or $500 upfront for a 5-year subscription. There is a Roam Scholars program where you can apply for a discount or even free access, depending on your situation, and many folks have been able to get access through that program. Definitely have to applaud Roam for putting this into play.

Obsidian, of course, is free to use. If you are interested in a sync service with E2E encryption (to be offered once the mobile app is released), then there will be a $4/month fee for that additional service. However, you can always host your notes on any cloud service of your choice and not utilize Obsidian’s own service.

If you are interested in hosting your notes online on a personal webpage, that service (Obsidian Publish) is currently $8/month. It’s very nicely done and you can see an example of what Obsidian Publish looks like here: https://publish.obsidian.md/santi/welcome


If you’ve made it this far, wow. As I see it, this is where Roam and Obsidian stand at the current point in time. Of course, these are just my personal opinions and are unlikely to be reflective of everyone in the community. So take this with a grain of salt.

To summarize:

Roam Research:
Amazing product, albeit pricey with limited local support. Block-level, outliner based structure with second-to-none contextual linking capabilities

The block level structure provides much better support for things such as task and project management, building a CRM and interstitial journaling. Filtering by backlinks and block-level support for contextualized backlinks is smooth as butter. The navigation and linking experience is frictionless. Queries are nice, but have strengths and weakness. Queries are also limited to links alone, though a database search function can catch non-linked searches to some degree. The application is web-only (outside of local storage in browser cache for 5-year subscribers) and has a minimalist appearance.

Bottom line? Folks who are using Roam for their entire life (e.g. project management, task management, CRM, knowledge management, journaling, etc) will likely find it difficult to migrate away from Roam. The lack of a base, block-level structure in Obsidian will be stifling when it comes to task/project management and other functionality that requires individual, block-level querying. Still the best out there when it comes to contextual backlinking, though Obsidian is not far behind.

Amazing product, free, local support, markdown based and therefore portable data, privacy-focused

The page level structure provides a more universally-supported linking structure, while the new addition of block references now also allows for embedding text at a more atomic level. The lack of a block-level base structure limits the contextual benefits of backlinking to some degree. Boolean search (the equivalent of queries in Roam) searches at the page level, which is weaker for things that need to be parsed individually (like tasks), but can be stronger for filtering knowledge work. Boolean search is also capable of multiple unique combination searches, unlike queries in Roam which are limited to links alone. Graph functionality is second to none and blows Roam out of the water. The application is beautiful, allows for incredibly individual customization/flexibility and is fluid and frictionless to use.

Bottom line? Obsidian is a powerhouse note-taking and knowledge work application at a ridiculous price point (free). It provides a lot of the strengths of Roam, expands and improves on other parts (e.g. Graph functionality, local storage, privacy), has a rapid development pace and a high ceiling for future improvements. The lack of a base block-level, outliner structure is the main differentiator and may be a limiting factor, especially for those currently entrenched in the Roam ecosystem. Otherwise, a clear choice for folks who have a strong interest in privacy and future-proofed knowledge.



Niles Wyler

A would-be writer, trying my hand. Interested in tools for thought and the anti-productivity movement.