- What actually is Notion?
- What actually is Tana?
- Unique features of Notion
- Unique features of Tana
- Why are some people moving to Tana? 🤔
- Should you move? 🏗️
- What’s my workflow?
What actually is Notion?
Notion is an all-in-one workspace that provides you with basic building blocks for creating databases, wikis, calendars, and other common tools. It has a number of features that make it an attractive solution for teams and individuals alike, such as its intuitive UI, collaboration features, and deep integrations with thousands of tools.
Most people miss the fact that Notion is a tool-making tool.
Notion’s mission statements:
Our mission is to make toolmaking ubiquitous. We want everyone everywhere to feel empowered to customize the software they use every day to their exact needs.
After the Notion AI launch - Our mission is to make software toolmaking ubiquitous, and Notion AI will help make that a reality. Not only will anyone be able to mold a computer to their needs, but they’ll also be able to augment their thinking and get even more out of their tools (hopefully, Engelbart would be proud!).
What actually is Tana?
Tana is a cloud-based outlining application with many of the same features as Roam Research and Obsidian (more specifically LogSeq) but with improved databasing capabilities. I’m actually contemplating moving from Obsidian to Tana for its outlining and databasing abilities.
With Tana you can create bullets, within bullets, within bullets (okay simply nodes). Then you can tag and link these bullets together to create a network of information that can help you stay organized and visualize the relationships between topics.
In simple words, if apps like Roam Research and Notion had a baby 👶, it would be Tana.
Unlike Notion, they haven’t published their vision statement. But their website byline is - “Welcome to the future of work. Build anything. Use it for everything. Kill your SaaS subscriptions.”
If you’re coming from Notion, Tana’s terminologies may feel strange to you.
Here, I'll map Tana's terms to their Notion equivalents.
- Super tag = Database
- Nodes = Potential database items
- Fields = Properties
- Tag = A tag (that Notion doesn’t have)
- Search node with filters and sorts= Linked Database
- Instance = Relation property
In Tana’s editor, whenever you create nodes, you’re creating potential database items.
You can assign these nodes a tag or a supertag.
The process of adding a super tag to a node is similar to creating a database item in Notion.
After that, you can make use the “Search node” to pull the filtered data in any format you like.
If you think 🤔, Tana’s workflow is inverse to Notion's. First, enter information and then decide what to do with it.
Unique features of Notion
- Formulas: Notion provides users with the ability to input basic formulas to calculate values within the database. Tana's team seems to be working on this.
- Rollups: Rollups in Notion allow you to summarize information from other databases in a single view.
- Notion AI: It has a powerful AI assistant feature that allows users to do more with their documents. The AI assistant can help with tasks such as spellchecking, grammar correction, summarization, translation, explanation, lengthening and shortening the text, finding action items, and simplifying language.
- Teams: Notion provides features for teams, including the ability to view who last viewed a document, add comments, review revision history, and work in team workspaces.
- API: Notion offers a robust API, which allows developers to access and integrate Notion with other applications and services. It’s pretty robust.
- Integrations: Notion integrates with other tools natively. Also, you can use the Notion synced databases feature to sync your Notion databases with GitHub, Asana, etc.
- Additional database views - Timeline and Calendar views are especially helpful for projects and task management.
- Dependencies: Dependencies allow users to create tasks that are dependent on another task, ensuring that tasks are completed in the right order. This feature is especially useful for managing larger projects and ensuring that all tasks related to a project are completed on time.
- Note exports - Notion allows users to export their notes in several formats, including HTML, PDF, Markdown, and CSV. When exporting, users can choose to include only the content or the content and its subpages. They can also create folders for the subpages in Markdown or CSV formats. With Tana, exporting individual notes is not possible. But copy-pasting works (but not for images).
- Cross-platform apps - Notion has decent Electron-JS-based apps for all platforms like macOS, Windows, iOS, and Android, but Tana has no applications. For now, they encourage you to install their Chromium-based application, and they do have plans to offer a native app for iOS to begin with.
Unique features of Tana
- Daily pages - All your notes (sorry, nodes) are encouraged to reside under the automatically generated daily pages. You can also maintain a journal in them. In Notion, you can create a database called “Days” and set a recurring template. In Tana, it’s built-in.
- Searchability - Notion's search feature tends to be slow and clunky compared to Tana, making it difficult to locate content inside the pages. On the other hand, with Tana, the regular search functionality is fast and also has search nodes functionality which is robust.
- References/Backlinks - Tana offers more feature-rich references and backlinks, allowing for more complex cross-referencing within documents. It also shows you unlinked references. Although Notion has backlinks, it’s not powerful.
- Tag extension feature - In simple terms, in Tana, you can set parent tags to a tag so that the child tag inherits all the fields configured for the parent tag. For example, all fields associated with #notes also belong to #book-notes, not another way around. This helps you get rid of “fields” that you never use with some tags.
- Also, there are various other features that may not deserve mention in this post.
Why are some people moving to Tana? 🤔
- Creating items as you write is much harder in Notion than in Tana. You can using “[[” and “+”, but it’s not frictionless as Tana.
- In Notion, it is difficult to see what you actually wrote about an item. Needs additional mouse clicks.
- Creating as many database views as there are different item types in your schema is the only way to see all database items related to each other in Notion.
- The friction of sorting the content after entering it in Notion is huge!
- Backlinks aren’t first-class citizens in Notion.
In short, with Notion, you need to decide where you want to put content before creating it. But in Tana, you create sustaining the state of “Flow” and then decide where to put or what to tag. Also, the related items are spatially close to each other in Tana, and it simulates how your brain works.
Should you move? 🏗️
It might seem like the perfect solution, but before you go all in, it's important to consider a minimum viable implementation and then decide if it's worth pursuing further.
Shiny object? ✨
Why not try it out for 7 days and see how it works?
That way, you can make an informed decision on whether it's worth pursuing or not.
However, it's also important to remember that some of the features and workflows we take for granted in Notion may not be available in Tana.
Familiarity breeds contempt, and you may find yourself disappointed if the features you rely on are not present.
Also, Tana has a big learning curve; it feels, even more complex than Notion for some people. Anyone can use Notion as they get a well-refined system that hides the underlying complexity (like, say, CoreOS), but with Tana, it can be challenging. Because, after all, Tana is not a tool to make tools.
- Extend the existing “backlinks” module.
- Introduce an outliner mode/block along with their regular editor.
- When you enter “@” or “[[”, ability to search “blocks” vs. only pages to add them as synced blocks.
- Ability to create linked databases in a specific view, filter, and sort in natural language.
For individual users, Tana is a great choice if you want to improve your knowledge mapping and outlining capabilities. It is a great tool for organizing and visualizing information and has the ability to search nodes with filters and sorts making it easier to find the information you need.
The lack of certain features in Tana, such as timeline, calendar, dependencies, rollups, AI, refined team permissions, and robust API, may be a dealbreaker to using it for work.
What’s my workflow?
I use Notion for:
- Managing my life area operations like goals, projects, and tasks, as well as allowing me to track my progress and make changes as needed easily. Additionally, Notion's integration with other tools, such as Slack, Google Drive, Dropbox, etc., makes it a great tool for staying on top of my work. I use Notion CoreOS.
- Habit tracking and periodic reviews involve reflecting on and planning my objectives, projects, and goals.
- For managing my content projects because it makes it easy for me to create checklists for my team. This can be beneficial for helping people stay on the same page with tasks and deadlines.
- Writing blog posts. I use Tana to create blog outlines, which helps me create an organized structure for my posts and to identify headings and subheadings clearly. I then use Notion to flush out the post, taking advantage of its AI assist features to help me write faster and more effectively. This way, I can spend less time writing and more time publishing content that resonates with my readers.
I use Tana for:
- Taking notes (on books, lectures, and meetings), as it allows me to easily capture my ideas and link them together for effective synthesis.
- Daily pages help me plan my day and keep a work journal.
- Creating blog post outlines and brainstorms for which I was previously using mindmaps more often.
In essence, I use Notion for a structure to operate in and Tana for knowledge capturing, connecting, and synthesizing. Although Tana has database features, I use it only for organizing my knowledge.
For me, using Tana for everything adandoning Notion seems absurd.
Because I believe in Notion's mission, the team, their design patterns, first principles implementation (nature-inspired), and how they are building a strong network effect and community and acquiring strategic early-stage companies to growth-hack the speed of implementation of features.
Notion’s originally pioneered workspace design patterns are hard not to copy, even for big companies like Microsoft. Even Tana's design patterns are pretty similar, especially their latest “Tab-view” to show different database views in tabs.