General

Review: Craft.do note-taking app from a Roam Research users perspective


I’ve been using Roam Research as my knowledge management system (second brain) to log thoughts, meeting notes, book highlights and everything else. I’ve now established a ‘good enough’ process and flow to my note-taking. Roam does not dictate my process, so I can try other apps to understand if they fit my needs better.

Over the last two weeks, I’ve taken Craft for a test drive, doing the typical tasks I do in Roam. I have been Taking meeting notes, writing daily thoughts, creating permanent notes and using backlinks to link ideas together.

A word of caution

Everybody has a setup that works best for them. My setup may not be ideal for your needs. For me, the most helpful thing has been to hone how I take notes and write. Knowing what works best for you, instead of an app dictating your flow, will help you be more decisive about what app works best for your unique needs.

What I like about Craft

  • Native Mac and iOS apps are fast and smooth. Roam can take a while to open.
  • The page within a document/page is a great feature. When a page relies on higher-level information or context – I don’t need to clutter my list. This feature is handy for breaking down areas of focus too. I have a timeline and create subpages within each meeting I have related to the parent page.
  • Secret links are unexpected and pleasant. I sent this blog post out to several people, including the makers of Craft, to leave comments and feedback. Those comments appear directly within the app (pay attention, Adobe XD!). I would be more hooked if I could use a custom domain to share those links or an entire folder or workspace. Then it could become more like Andy Matuschak’s Evergreen Notes.
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  • Export is excellent for sending people meeting notes or any general doc. For example, I have a Sales template I created in Craft. I duplicate this for each new lead. I then send them a Word and online version. I only have to manage one template within Craft but can utilise it in multiple ways.
  • Copy and paste into other apps without looking terrible is not a feature but an expectation. I write articles and then copy them to WordPress. Roam is all about Roam and does not help you share your content elsewhere. Craft feels like the opposite.
  • The UI helps focus on the current page. Tunnel vision helps me concentrate on the task at hand.
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  • The toggle content block (similar to Notion) makes it obvious there is more content within. Roam adds minor styling to the bullet. The difference between regular bullets and collapsed bullets is slight and not enough to jump out. The style of a bullet list item may seem trivial but Roam primarily uses bullets and indentation, increasing the importance of subtle UI details.
  • There is no visual difference between internal and external links. Yes, Craft does preview URLs, but I use Hook Productivity to link to other Mac apps and folders. Not knowing if this could be a Craft page link or open another app could mean leaving Craft and opening a website, image, video, file, app, etc. This context switching changes my focus state and slows me down. You’ll see I’ve added text to my links in the previous image to make where they go more obvious.

What I don’t like

  • One of the biggest problems I see with Craft is how nice looking it is. Hear me out! The styling options encourage me to tweak layouts to make content pleasant. Styling and layout options take me away from my goals. Input thoughts and learnings and output my views. The number of styling options makes me worry about; who Craft is for, the product direction and best use cases.
  • I’m not too fond of the use of @ for linking. Tagging people in most apps use the @ symbol. Even when that feature is not available (like Zoom chat), we still use the symbol. It’s now everyday use and expected.
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  • Backlinks only show the title of the document. Roam shows anything indented within that tag. Roam’s helps me discover the content within. Craft leaves me reliant on the header or opening the page in a new tab.
  • Indents are powerful when combined with Daily Notes. I add the page/tag to the top and indent anything related for that day. Craft still seems to approach content hierarchically. Pages, documents or whatever they call them all live in isolation. The backlinks don’t add many benefits for sparking ideas, or connecting thoughts.
  • The tab menu. I did not know how helpful it was to open content in a sidebar until I used Roam. Now I wonder why all note-taking apps don’t provide this option.
  • Being a web-based app does have some advantages. Chrome extensions like Grammarly help catch those minor mistakes. Craft does have a spellcheck built-in (but not on by default). Grammarly is way more than spellcheck. Right now, I have to copy from Craft and paste into Grammarly, then copy/paste back into Craft. Not great if I edited the document multiple times. Maybe that is not for Craft to fix. Grammarly should have good integration with Mac OS like it does with iPad OS and iOS.
  • The iPhone app needs better navigation. It’s hard to get back to the documents overview if you’re inside a page, inside a page, inside a document. While talking about pages and documents, I think a better naming convention here would be helpful. We are used to Pages being standalone, but in Craft, a document is standalone. A page is within a document.
  • No templates. At the moment, it is a case of duplicate an existing document.

What I’ll probably use Craft for

  • Meeting notes
  • Sales templates and other business docs
  • Small projects that don’t need much client input (I use Basecamp for larger projects)
  • Writing blogs. I see Roam creating the genesis of the idea and connecting content. Once I have sources or enough for an outline, it can move to Craft. Being unconnected to the rest of my thoughts should help me work with what I have in front of me and not get distracted. Because the UI allows me to focus on that one page, my writing seems to flow and stay on task. I forget about backlinks, tagging, search, etc. In a very Apple way, it just works. The idea of visual progression feels nice to me. Roam is bare and about my initial scrappy thoughts. Craft is clean and polished when refining my thoughts to be ready to output to the world.

What I won’t use Craft for just yet

  • Daily notes. Roam encourages this and makes it my primary focus every time I open it. It’s automatic, which makes me more likely to use it.
  • Generating permanent notes and connecting ideas. The backlinks feel immature compared to Roam.

What I’d like to see in future Craft updates

  1. An ALL search results page. I may not want to jump into a result. I may use search as a form of filtering. Clicking enter and going to a dedicated page makes it easier to browser longer lists. It also makes it faster if I wanted to drag a bunch of documents into folders.
  2. Readwise.io integration is huge, and I think having this brings Craft much more in line with Notion, Evernote and Roam.
  3. Ability to search/query multiple backlinks and tags. The beauty of backlinks is their connection to each other – they enhance and compliment. Being able to go to my ‘books’ backlink and then filter by my ‘status/done’ or ‘status/not started’ is something that has me hooked in Roam.
  4. Space specific CNAME domain for secret links. Each space could become a website of specific notes.
  5. Password-protect secret links and invite-only viewing
  6. Move folders, and multiple files, to different Spaces.
  7. Override document layout for specific folders (like you do in Mac OS folders). I want to have a line item view and other folders I want to be more fluid.
  8. Templates so I don’t have to manually type in metadata for blogs, meetings, etc.
  9. Block references. I’m looking for a tool to use as both a Zettelkasten and a writing tool. But moving Zettels into blog outlines with Craft is all copy and paste, creating duplicate copies of the content.
  10. Daily notes are on the way soon. So is a calendar view. It would make sense to expand the to-do features to add dates within the calendar and daily notes. I want something like Things 3 does with a start date and deadline. Adding a deadline only puts pressure on you. A start date alone does not give you context or enough pressure when approaching its due date.

Take-aways

I like Craft and feel that it has enormous potential. Emotionally I’m more drawn to Craft as it feels built for me. Roam feels much more for the creator and his vision of what should be. Perceived ownership is helpful. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram all done great jobs of making users feel like they own the platform. When you feel like it is for you, you want to use it more to express yourself.

Roam right now does what I need to build a second brain, but I have no attachment. As a designer, Craft draws me in with the visuals. Good design makes me feel like somebody cares about the product. If Craft fixes the few small issues I mentioned, I’ll move in a heartbeat.

If you’re a Roam or Craft user drop me a mail designable-at-hd.ie . I’m always looking to learn from and share with others.