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Notion.io is my new favorite

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Posted by nathanb
Aug 15, 2018 at 10:15 PM

 

Anyone here tried this?  It’s a rare combination of intuitive (it just works) interface like OneNote/Google Docs but it allows for a LOT of depth.  It’s on all the platforms (except Linux I think but the browser interface is very good) and the sync works really well.  I can even have multiple desktop windows open which is very important for cross-linking purposes as I’ll explain why that’s particularly important below. 

It’s hard to do a comparison to anything else because it’s a blank canvas that lets you design your system how you want because it enables a whole different way of doing things.  It’s thing is to nest objects within pages that can contain a mix of free form and structured content arranged on a canvas.  Also, you can create relational databases where each item IS US a full-featured linkable/nestable page just like everything else.  This makes for a great combo of quick note-taking with the ability to add a fully-custom metadata index.  And that metadata can be so much more than a simple index because it can be a part of a full RELATIONAL database!  It’s like Airtable and OneNote had a baby.

A simple example would be keeping a reading journal/book list.  You create a database of books and add as many descriptive fields as you want (author, isbn, rating, priority, category, etc). You can toggle that view into kanban or calendar (a now-common feature among the new breed of ‘user-friendly’ databases like Airtable).  You can even NEST a filtered view of that reading database inline within any other page like say a weekly plan.  To get even more specific, you could jot down a new favorite quote from your book notes (that is itself indexed within your ‘book’ database). The quote is embedded ‘inline’ with the rest of that book’s content.  But this quote itself can BE an item within a different ‘quotes’ database!  Can that quotes database have a field that is cross references it with your ‘books’ database?  You bet your a$$ it can! 

The part I’m currently struggling with is this ‘infinite nesting’ feature, which is also the secret sauce. Stuff can show up in many different places (usually called cloning, transclution, or logical linking around these parts).  And that is the case whether it serves as just a page or as an item within a database. The hierarchy on the left takes some getting used to.  I’m used to just being able to drag and drop note pages in different places in the hierarchy two-paner style where a note’s place within a tree is independent of its content.  For Notion, the ‘children’ items in the hierarchy tree are a representation of what objects are embedded inside the CONTENT of the ‘parent’ page.

At first this really confused me because you can drag and drop notes around within the hiearchy to re-organize your content.  But then you notice pages automatically appear as hierarchy children as you create/link to them from within a parent page’s content.  Then you notice that both ‘native’ subpages and ‘dragged and dropped’ subpages look exactly the same under the parent in the hierarchy tree.  Well it turns out that is because they ARE exactly the same things because ‘nesting’ an item vie drag and drop really means that a clone of the item has been embedded within the content of your target.  It’ll appear inside there alongside the ‘natively created’ items.  It took me a while to realize this which is why I’m describing it in such detail here to save someone else that leap.  I’m not aware of any other software that does something like that.  Imagine two two icons on your desktop, ‘bill.txt’ and ‘ted.txt’.  Then imagine dropping the ‘bill’ icon on ‘ted’ and the result is ‘bill’ being appended to the end of the teds content.  But it wouldn’t be bill’s actual content inside ted, just an icon that represents bill which is still it’s own separate content but he’s now nested within ted as if ted is a folder AND note page….and bill can be other places too… ok I’ve confused myself.

Another example of this ‘editing page content without opening that page’ is that if you drag and drop an item onto another item all within the same page then that dropped item actually is transferred to that destination page via the icon acting like a bucket and the hierarchy to the left will reflect the new logical location.  In fact dragging a page item to an item on the tree vs an item link in the page is the exact same result. 

So lets say I have a project page containing a bunch of subtasks that also happen to be their own pages and therefore ‘nested’ under the project item.  I can reference that project in as many other pages I want and it will show up along with its children-tasks as true clones under each one of those items in the hierarchy.  Any edits will be reflected within every instance.  Unfortunately, Notion isn’t good at telling you all the pages any particular item appears in which limits using deep cloning AS your structure like you can do with Ultra Recall.  It can be confusing to remember if you are currently in a cloned branch or the original branch. There is a ‘show path breadcrumb’ you can insert anywhere in the page which will show the item’s ACTUAL home.  Also it always shows you the current item path at the top which is nice because that ‘real’ path frequently doesn’t reflect where you actually are.  So you can always tell IF you are currently looking at a clone and where that clone’s true home is, but you can’t automatically see if other clones exist. 

I’ve been testing some workarounds for the lack of ‘what links to here’.  The simplest answer isn’t a workaround at all, just make sure every note is a database item and link them common fields. Then all backlinks are automatic because it’s a friggin relational database.  Not so simple for your basic in-line wiki references to non-database items though.  That requires a manual step of copying reference links. For database items, I like to put these links into a custom ‘related items’ field, for non-database items, I just have a page section to dump in ‘parent’ item links as a reminder of all it’s cloned locations.  I like to have two windows open at the same time.  That makes cross linking and embedding new database items within pages really easy.

Honestly it’s such a unique animal that I’m constantly running up against my old habits and assumptions about how to structure content that are no longer necessary.  I’m hoping I can recruit some other CRIMPers to play around with more ways to use it.  The intended audience is for group projects and wikis for corporate ‘creative’ types. Also the database functionality is a recent update.  So the vast majority of users aren’t pushing it’s potential and there aren’t many examples of how to leverage this deceptively powerful platform.

 


Posted by nathanb
Aug 15, 2018 at 10:17 PM

 

LOL, I got the name wrong.  It’s http://www.notion.so, not .io.

 


Posted by Paul Korm
Aug 16, 2018 at 12:38 AM

 

@nathanb wrote
>Anyone here tried this?

These threads might be interesting

https://www.outlinersoftware.com/topics/viewt/6196/0/notionso

https://www.outlinersoftware.com/topics/viewt/8143/0/notionso-updated

https://www.outlinersoftware.com/topics/viewt/7697/0/notion

 


Posted by Hugh
Aug 16, 2018 at 07:17 AM

 

nathanb wrote:
LOL, I got the name wrong.  It’s http://www.notion.so, not .io.

For some reason, I’m getting an error message for this web address.

 


Posted by Dominik Holenstein
Aug 16, 2018 at 10:34 AM

 

Here is the correct link:
https://www.notion.so/

Best,
Dominik

 


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