What is Notion?
Notion is a project and workflow management solution that helps with tasks like project status tracking, goal setting, knowledge sharing, and lead management. Users can organize, rearrange, and share their ideas and existing content or resources, via a drag-and-drop interface.
Notion enables companies to build and maintain a knowledge base on multiple topics related to an organization or its customers. It provides collaboration features including:
- Built-in calendar—allowing users to plan tasks and set weekly agendas.
- Kanban board—allowing users to create roadmaps and monitor tasks based on completion status, categories, priorities, or assigned team members.
- Comments and discussions—allowing users to add comments and initiate discussions about tasks and projects.
- To-do lists—allowing users to plan activities and prepare meeting minutes.
Notion comes with application programming interfaces (APIs) that allow businesses to integrate multiple third-party solutions and systems, such as Slack, Figma, and InVision.
This is part of an extensive series of guides about software development.
Notion software features
With Notion, you can create and find information, such as office policies, company goals, procedures and workflows, employee contact details, and engineering best practices—all in one place.
Content creation and collaboration
Notion supports multiple content types, including lists, images, and embeds from online data sources. Content can be arranged and shared using a drag-and-drop interface. A useful feature is to nest pages under each other in a hierarchy. Users can share individual pages or entire websites with external guests, with configurable access levels. The software also allows discussions, via comments and mentions, throughout the shared working space.
Task and project management
Notion allows users to plan and track tasks and projects. It uses the concept of a “database” for managing and managing collaboration items. Users can customize workflows by defining and adding database properties. There are multiple views of the database—as a table, board, or calendar, and enables filtering by property.
Each item in the database is its own page, and users can create additional pages within a page, or organize tasks related to the page. Rich content features allow users to add any type of information to pages. Filters make it easy to track tasks and easily switch between personal and team-wide tasks. All features support multi-user collaboration and mentions, with configurable notifications.
Convenient note taking
A key feature of Notion is the ability to easily take notes. It allows users to type undisturbed in a clean, blank space. Users can add and rearrange all content by dragging and dropping. They can choose from different types of content such as images, bookmarks, videos, program code, and more. Shortcuts make it possible to type uninterrupted without touching the mouse.
The database concept allows users to track documents and notes with custom tags, add team members and set collaboration deadlines. The sidebar provides quick navigation and search of all content. Users can keep notes private or share them with other members of the team or open them for public access.
Security and integrations
Notion provides enterprise grade security with encrypted SSL communication, and single sign-on (SSO) using the SAML protocol. It integrates with over 50 applications including Slack, Typeform, Twitter, and GitHub Gist, to unify an organization’s content and messages into one platform.
What is the Notion App?
The Notion app is a user’s gateway to the Notion workspace. It is accessible via popular browsers like Google Chrome, tablets like Apple iPad, and can also be installed on operating systems like Mac or Windows. Its goal is to provide a consistent working experience for Notion users, regardless of the platform or device they are using.
The Notion app client is just a wrapper—technically, it is a website disguised as a desktop application. When a user launches Notion on their device, the app loads the Notion interface in a “stripped back” web browser.
Notion app versions and platform support
The Notion app comes in five versions:
- Notion for Android
- Notion for iOS
- Notion for Mac
- Notion for Windows
- Notion for Web
The key difference between the versions is that the native apps (for Android, iOS, Mac, Windows) allow offline editing. Notion for Web, which is accessed directly from a web browser, can only be accessed with an active internet connection.
There is no official Notion application for Linux. Users who want to access services on this operating system must use Notion for Web.
What is Notion Web Clipper (Notion Capture)?
Notion Web Clipper, also known as Notion Capture, is a Notion feature that makes it possible to save and tag content from the Internet, web and mobile applications. Users can save online content, give it a location in the Notion workspace, add notes, and even convert the content directly into a Notion task. It is also easy to keep a database of historical clips for future reference.
In Notion for Web, Windows, and Mac, the Notion Web Clipper is provided as a browser extension. In Notion for Android and iOS, the Web Clipper is packaged with the Notion app and can be used on the device without installing additional software.
Notion content blocks
When users create a page in Notion and start typing, they can limit themselves to text, or add many other types of content.
Everything a user adds to a Notion page—text, images, tables, and embedded objects—is a building block, which users can combine and organize on the page. Every block in Notion can be converted into a different type of block by using, displaying, or deepening the information in new ways.
Below an example page showing the different block types:
- Toggle lists
- Video embeds
- To-do lists
Image Source: Notion
Notion tutorial: create your first page
To create a new page in Notion:
- At the bottom of the sidebar, click + New page, or use the shortcut CMD/CTRL+N. You will see options to view templates or select a type of page to create.
Image Source: Notion
- Give the page a title and hit the enter key. A new blank page is displayed.
- Start typing in content. While you are typing, other features fade to the background.
- Highlight text to display the options and tools menu—this menu lets you add hyperlinks, comments, and style text with bold, italic, underline, and more.
Image Source: Notion
- Now try using the / command. While creating your content, type a forward slash to show a menu with all block types (content options). You can use this menu to add rich content like images, tables, or embedded content.
- You can also add a few letters after the slash to immediately create a specific type of block—for example, /h1 creates a large heading. See a list of all slash commands here.
Below we present several tools you should consider as alternatives to Notion.
Learn about these and other tools in our detailed guide to Notion alternatives (coming soon)
Notion vs. Swimm
If you ask software teams using Notion about it’s drawbacks, they will mostly name two: It becomes increasingly hard to find information needed about the code, processes, and decision made as the amount of documents and versions increases. Also, since the code is constantly changing, and since documentation in Notion is stored separately from the code, content often becomes stale.
Swimm was designed specifically for software engineering teams. Swimm documents may include live code snippets and references from the code, and are stored within the code as .md files. Swimm also keeps documents up to date as the code changes, to avoid staleness. Finally, Swimm makes it easy to find documents that relate to specific code with plugins for IDEs.
However, since Swimm was designed with software engineers in mind, you’ll find it’s not as good of a fit for HR, marketing and other less technical departments.
Advantages of Swimm over Notion include:
- Editor and integrations designed specifically for software engineers, and include powerful features for them.
- Docs as Code – Documents saved as .md files within the codebase. Keeps documentation close to the code and versioned with it.
- Automatic syncing of documentation as the code changes, using an integration with CI, with every pull request.
- Plugins for IDEs like VS Code and IntelliJ (Jetbrains family) make it easy to find documents that relate to specific parts of the code, and easily access them.
Advantages of Notion over Swimm include:
- Notion is a better fit for personal note taking, and can make it easier to handle business and personal matters on the same platform.
- Notion is a generic platform, less focused on any specific type of internal organization, and can therefore more easily become an organization-wide knowledge hub.
Notion vs. Confluence
Both Confluence and Notion are designed to help teams organize knowledge, collaborate, and share information. Both tools allow organizations to build a knowledge base, share internal documents, share organizational processes and policies, and more.
Many large enterprises prefer Confluence’s solid organizational structure, reliability, and scalable pricing. By contrast, many startups and small teams are adopting Notion, because it provides more flexibility.
Advantages of Confluence over Notion include:
- Confluence integrates with a wide range of apps and plugins, making it easy to connect to the tools you already use. Notion provides integrations with approx. 50 applications.
- Confluence has a draft mode and a publishing workflow that makes it easy to prevent accidental edits. Notion lets users edit everything and changes are updated live.
- Confluence is a more mature product with more than 15 years of continuous development, while Notion was released in 2016.
Advantages of Notion over Confluence include:
- Confluence is not as flexible and versatile as Notion, making Notion easier to set up and get started with.
- Notion provides collaborative editing by default, preventing version conflicts.
- Notion has a more modern and intuitive interface.
- Notion’s drag-and-drop editor makes building and structuring content much easier than Confluence.
- Notion is a general purpose tool that covers more use cases than Confluence.
Notion vs. OneNote
OneNote is a note-taking application developed by Microsoft. Originally released in 2002, it is available as part of the Microsoft 365 package. The app is available even without a paid Microsoft subscription.
Notion and OneNote serve different purposes and target audiences. If you want to balance aesthetics with ease of use and advanced features, Notion might be your best bet.
If you already have a Microsoft subscription, there’s nothing wrong with using OneNote. Likewise, if you just want to export to PDF and don’t care too much about how your notes look, this app will do just fine.
Advantages of Notion over OneNote:
- Notion provides a lot of functionality in one application, while OneNote has limited functionality.
- Notion is good at organizing and sharing information, whereas OneNote is less effective at organization.
- Notion’s user interface is more intuitive than OneNote’s.
Advantages of OneNote over Notion:
- Notion has a more complex user experience than OneNote, because it provides more functionality.
- OneNote is more suitable for users who are less computer savvy, especially those accustomed to the Microsoft ecosystem.
Learn more in our detailed guide to Notion vs. OneNote (coming soon)
Notion vs. Asana
Asana is a more traditional productivity tool, with a more limited scope and focus than Notion. It is designed to help teams manage projects, and does not offer distractions in the form of documentation, wikis or databases.
This allows Asana to present a simpler and easier to use interface, which is easier for new users to understand. Asana has a very smooth learning curve, while new users of Notion might find it difficult to understand its multiple features and options.
Advantages of Asana over Notion:
- Asana is easier to get started and work with.
- Asana is highly extensible, so it may be better suited for managing larger and more complex projects.
- Asana is a traditional project management tool, which is familiar to many users and organizations and supports common workflows.
- Asana’s interface is clean and well organized.
- Asana offers advanced team management and collaboration features, some of which are not available in Notion.
Advantages of Notion over Asana:
- Asana is simpler and more limited in terms of features and configuration options compared to Notion.
- Notion covers more use cases, so it can replace Asana as well as tools like Google Docs and Confluence.
- Notion allows users to complement tasks with rich information around that task, and share other types of knowledge that might be needed for users to complete their tasks.
Learn more in our detailed guide to Notion vs. Asana (coming soon)
Notion vs. Coda
Coda is a task management platform that combines spreadsheets and documents into one tool. It is very flexible, allowing users to design custom productivity applications.
Coda’s core strengths are the ability to use formulas and strong automation capabilities. Users can automate tasks like assigning new issues to developers and delivering notifications to Slack, and more.
Notion also provides some workflow automation, but mainly relies on Zapier, which does not provide the same level of flexibility. Its ability to handle spreadsheet formulas is quite basic.
Advantages of Coda over Notion:
- With regard to spreadsheets and tasks, Coda provides a broader feature set than Notion, including formulas and workflow automation.
- Coda allows adding an unlimited number of editor and viewer users, making it a more affordable solution.
- Coda offers more add-ons and integrations with third-party applications than Notion.
- The Coda team develops new features at a very fast pace, releasing updates almost every week.
Advantages of Notion over Coda:
- Coda’s features are powerful but also very complex, with a steep learning curve. Comparatively, Notion is much easier to learn and get started with.
- Notion is a better choice for a wiki and knowledge base implementation. Coda provides a documentation option, but is not as easy to share as Notion and provides less collaboration options.
- Notion tends to be faster and more reliable than Coda.
Learn more in our detailed guide to Coda vs. Notion (coming soon)
Notion vs. Airtable
Airtable is a low-code hybrid spreadsheet-database solution, which enables users to transform data into powerful applications. Airtable and Notion are both productivity software, but they have different features and purposes.
Airtable is suitable for managing structured data such as production plans, invoices and inventory. Notion is excellent for knowledge management, organizing documents such as organizational processes, engineering guidelines, documentation, and other wiki-style documents, as well as tasks and projects.
Advantages of Airtable’s over Notion:
- Airtable provides a better database experience, with faster and more efficient handling of large data volumes.
- Airtable enables setting the primary key of an object to any field type, which makes it easier to link records across tables.
- Airtable makes it easier to switch between views.
- Airbase offers a Form object, which Notion doesn’t have.
- Airtable has a more extensive set of extensions, with a full app marketplace.
- Airtable provides native automation features.
Advantages of Notion over Airtable:
- Notion does more than manage databases—Notion’s database block is a “mini Airtable” inside a document. This combination puts data in context of wiki-like content.
- Notion is very flexible and can be configured for almost any use case, including many that are not supported by Airtable.
- Notion has a very active community that adds to its user experience. Notion users are forthcoming in sharing tips templates with other users.
- Notion pricing is more attractive for new users and small teams.
Learn more in our detailed guide to Airtable vs. Notion (coming soon)
Notion vs. ClickUp
ClickUp aims to be an all-purpose organizational app. It provides to-do lists, documents, wikis, spreadsheets, chats, and more. ClickUp is also relatively simple to use—even though it packs a large number of features and the interface is cluttered, it is quite intuitive and easy to get started with.
In addition, ClickUp is highly customizable, letting users configure fields, filters, views, dashboards, and almost everything else.
Advantages of ClickUp over Notion:
- ClickUp provides a feature set that extends beyond Notion’s, including time tracking, screen recording, and instant messaging.
- ClickUp lets users build custom dashboards and easily track relevant metrics and performance metrics.
- ClickUp provides more granular user roles and permissions than Notion.
- ClickUp offers a cheaper plan than Notion for smaller teams.
Advantages of Notion over ClickUp:
- Notion is easier to set up than ClickUp and requires less customization.
- Notion is free for single users and great for smaller projects.
- Notion enables fast, highly intuitive composition of rich content pages.
- Notion offers convenient note taking capabilities.
- Notion has better mobile and multi-platform support.
Learn more in our detailed guide to Notion vs. ClickUp (coming soon)
Notion vs. Evernote
Evernote is an advanced note-taking tool. It is a mobile app designed for quick and efficient note-taking, with tools to easily capture ideas from online sources.
When Notion first launched, Evernote was one of its main competitors. Since then, Notion has significantly expanded its feature set and positioned itself as an all-in-one workspace solution. However, some users still consider Evernote an alternative to Notion.
Advantages of Evernote over Notion:
- Evernote follows the Trello approach—focus on one task and do it well. It is probably the best note-taking app for work or personal projects, with a user-friendly interface, simple settings, and special features such as sketching and document scanning.
Advantages of Notion over Evernote:
- Notion provides robust note-taking capabilities with strong multi-platform support, which rival those of Evernote.
- Notion provides many other features including calendars, task management, and easy composition of rich content pages.
- Notion provides more advanced collaboration and content organization capabilities, so it can be used as an organizational wiki or knowledge base.
Learn more in our detailed guide to Notion vs. Evernote (coming soon)
Notion vs. Obsidian
Obsidian is a note-taking app that stores files locally on a user’s device rather than in the cloud. It uses the markdown language to write notes. Unlike Notion, which has a database structure, Obsidian has a knowledge graph structure, and all notes are connected to each other with two-way links.
When using Notion to take notes, the key difference between the tools is that Notion is available both online and offline, whereas Obsidian is primarily offline. Obsidian requires an extra fee to sync notes across devices.
Advantages of Obsidian over Notion:
- Simple, straightforward software that lets users take notes without being distracted by other features.
- Works completely offline and keeps data private by storing all data on a local device instead of in cloud storage.
- Enables backlinking to notes, making it useful for research.
Advantages of Notion over Obsidian:
- Notion makes it easy to share notes and content across devices.
- Notion provides a centralized hub to share files, folders, and documents with colleagues and across the organization
- Notion provides additional capabilities such as task management and calendars.
Learn more in our detailed guide to Obsidian vs. Notion (coming soon)
See Additional Guides on Key Software Development Topics
Together with our content partners, we have authored in-depth guides on several other topics that can also be useful as you explore the world of software development.
Authored by Swimm
- What Is Code Documentation?
- Documentation in agile: why it matters and 6 tips for success
- Documentation as Code: Why You Need It & How to Get Started
Authored by CodeSee
- CodeSee – Simplify code reviews
- Code Review Best Practices
Authored by NetApp