RoamLab: A Framework for Building Community Labs

I stumbled upon RoamLab recently, which has a lot of overlap with the goals of Hyperlink.

Here are some really interesting conceptual metaphors they use, which might be relevant for everyone developing a course:

  • The Community Garden: Focused on growing evergreen knowledge for sharing. A collaborative mind garden.
  • The Networked School: Focused on self-directed learning outcomes, either tightly focused on a single course or broader-based like an entire school. People pick topics to explore, learn about, share and connect their knowledge to others.
  • The Hackerspace: Focused on ideating on and building projects.

It’s related to the note-taking app Roam Research (for those who are familiar) and sets up an interesting framework around it. I have personally done an online book club using Roam as the collaborative environment and was really blown away by what is made possible.

Wondering if this expands anyone’s vision of what their course might look like? More generally, does anyone else has thoughts about this initiative? Please share!


Cool, this looks very interesting, thanks for the link!

I like the idea of “community laboratory”, space for exploratory learning / research together. Definitely something we’d like to support with Hyperlink — we’re doing some prototyping now of a sort of programmable document-based social learning space. Kind of a shared campus or “lab bench” as it’s put here, for writing, sharing, feedback… more on our approach to come :slight_smile:

Gardens, networks, spatial metaphors, meta-frameworks, all very useful for thinking about the multifaceted interconnected ways of learning collaboratively.

I like this idea too:

A seed pack consists of pre-made networked knowledge that gets installed in the lab. Installed seed packs allow users to link pre-existing knowledge back to their work.

Interesting possibilities thinking about templates / frameworks / maps as starting point for exploring a topic.

Btw how was the book club using Roam? Would love to hear about any particular things that worked well in how it structured the reading and group discussions.

Hi! I’m the facilitator of the course Antifragile Writing with Roam Research.

This is an interesting topic. It looks that Roam is becoming an empire that conquers every possible territory. I would like to know more about your experience with the book club.

We’re experimenting with using Roam along with the forum for documentation, discussion, and exercises in the course. I still have some doubts about it but we’ll see.

There are some assumptions in using Roam for more that it was designed for, at least in this moment of its development.

First, thinking that everybody writes. Roam needs users to write down ideas and discussions in order to work. Even in courses about writing, the major difficulty is to encourage students to write and share.

I see designers or more visual persons trying to use Figma as a tool for teaching, presentations, mind mapping, brainstorming. They don’t think in Roam but in Figma for obvious reasons.

If Roam can be used as a learning platform, it can be used just for a specific persona. A writing-driven persona.

The article mentions Montessori and Wikipedia as inspiration. Montessori is a very strong presence-based system. Adaptations have been done, but the truth is that the Montessori system is far from ideal for distance learning. And is for kids.

Wikipedia is a very bad paradigm. If we consider Wikipedia as a learning platform, the proportion of writers/experts/editors versus readers/learners is huge. I read an interesting article about how Wikipedia came out in the best moment it could come: before social networks. Wikipedia would not be possible in the Facebook era. Can you imagine anti-vaxxers or astrologers maintaining Wikipedia entries as if they were Facebook groups?

There are a lot of attempts to use Roam for things it wasn’t designed for. I have read about Roam for publishing interactive books, blogs, ebooks… There are apps for that!

As in the example above, Figma is a tool that has been used for collaborative meetings, presentations, mind mapping… Good, but everybody needs to know how to use Figma before the meeting or event. Otherwise, you need to spend time teaching Figma before using Figma for other proposes.

Roam Help—the official help docs written on Roam—is a nightmare. The best example of not using an app for something that it wasn’t designed for.

Can we use Roam as a learning platform? Yes. Can we use Twitter, Facebook, TikTok, as learning platforms? Yes. Indeed some are using them for that. Are they ideal for that? I don’t think so.

Another assumption is that everybody has an internet connection and a desktop/laptop computer. Roam doesn’t work well on smartphones or even on tablets.

And besides the obvious—a high-priced app, not open source, database proprietary—we assume that the next generation of learning platforms need to be very different from what we are using today. Or that the users/learners need something very different from what they are used to. I don’t think so.

I think the most important parts of a course are the content and the enacted experience. That’s the reason I like A simple platform with a strong focus on the content. And I think that the originality and creativity for a new era of online learning must be in the content. The content drives the experience. A well-written traditional book can enact a learning experience without the necessity to have interactive tools or resources. After you read a book, sharing your experience with others is simple. You can have a talk, share highlights, comments, reviews… but the important thing is to have good content.

Roam Research is a great app to generate content and ideas to design learning experiences, that’s for sure. I think that is its potential.

But, I may be wrong. I want to be in a course with a multiplayer use of Roam and see what happens.

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Roam provided a common space for the book club members not only to leave their own thoughts, but also to read through the thoughts of everyone else for a specific chapter or section.

For example, we went through the exercise of providing a brief summary of each chapter. After everyone added their summary, it was a really magical experience to read through 50 different interpretations of the same text. Here’s a sample:

It not only gave me a much deeper understanding of the ideas we’ve discussed, but also a greater appreciation for the diversity of perspectives within the group. It was a reminder that we all come to the table with vastly different sets of experiences.


hi @adolforismos!
A couple of interesting thoughts here. I’m not sure I can respond to all in a coherent manner so I will pick individual statements and try to respond to them

If Roam can be used as a learning platform, it can be used just for a specific persona. A writing-driven persona.

Some time ago I had a chat with one of the roam creators and some other guys on twitter. The creator mentioned that there was one software project which was more ambitions and that was . So I have to agree that roam is focused on writing. But a computer can offer a bit more. For me Gtoolkit is in the real tradition of Smalltalk and Alan Kays vision of the computer revolution. Not venturing to far off but its really interesting to see the shift in perspective. From User to programmer, how many apps and other software people use could be replaced by “scripts” shared over roam or gtoolkit? When “people” aka user become programmers thats quite a leap. So I’m really looking forward to what comes out of this If people can actually do interaction with a computer themselves instead of relying on the additional layer of “programmers” and the concept of “apps”.

Wikipedia is a interesting case in my opinion because. It solved many problems by using hierarchies and other things which do not tackle the hard questions: how to have a discussion that has the potential to de-legitimize the format/platform the discussion is happening on. I think some refer to this as decentralized content moderation. Wikpedia about facts is quite OK but wikipedia pages about anything socially related you discover, IF you decide to dig deeper, that there are very strong opinions in wikipedia. But this should not come to a surprise! If science and the modern national state even a nation wide language would suggest a kind of uniformity among people we should know that is is a kind of foolish attempt. Each human is unique but our humaness also gives us the ability to engage in a kind of sameness which enables cooperation and other things.
From this perspective it seems to me as wikipedia tried to convey a image of homogeneity of society , its opinions and even its institutions ( science) where there in reality there are “just” people with different opinions.
Looking at roam and wikipedia from a technical standpoint its horrifying how much text duplication there is in wikipedia. Its interesting to see how the wikidata project tried to counter this problem. Also slightly addressing the problems of homogeneity I mentioned above by simply providing statements with sources. The claim for “the truth, of the wikipedia page on topic XYZ” becomes much more subtle from this perspective.

A last remark on roam and even the endeavor of hyperlink academy. Just recently I came across this:
I came across this by the hackernews site in which the comments where quite negative about stuff coming from the semantic web “academia” space. Too complicated to bloated and other engineering related remarks. Its quite interesting to see here how institutions like academia fail to engage with a broader audience. Even if the engineers complaining also did their part, at least in that comment thread, to make a productive discussion difficult.
Back to the article , its really interesting to see how all these standards and different technical implementations changed over time. With now being at the pinnacle, personal knowledge graphs. Its quite interesting to me to see that where companies and corporations failed, the use case for the individual is now pushing forward the vision of : how can knowledge representation work for the individual and potentially enable larger entities of shared understanding.


@curious_reader Just read that Semantic Web article and have a lot of thoughts around it! The same thing struck me, that the movement largely focused on large scale knowledge webs, but it’s ideas are thriving today for personal use.

I think there’s a huge amount of potential in taking the ideas from the Semantic Web and linked data standards and reframing them as user centered, but still social.

It’s a bit early, but we’ve started working on a hyperlink “Campus” a social space for courses to happen in, and it’s quite inspired by both Roam and the Semantic Web. We’re also thinking about end-user-programming, so tools like GToolkit are a point of reference as well. There’s an opportunity to take a these ideas and present them in a simple, social context, with an immediate use-case: learning with your peers.


Love this discussion.

For anyone interested, I just realized they’re launching their new Roam book club this Sunday:

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