The Best Notion Alternatives
There are several good alternatives to Notion, all more open and under your control.
Mon 25 July 2022
Since Notion came on the scene, it has changed the way many people work.
More of a toolbox than a single tool, Notion not only allows you to write but also to store large amounts of data and then use that data in a sophisticated way.
As is the case with most SaaS tools, one of the problems with Notion is privacy.
The privacy and security of the data you put into Notion is dependent on the reliability of the people that work at Notion. They are probably all good people, and they say they won’t sell your data, but what happens when Notion is acquired by a big corporation? You never know what can happen.
And their new API may contribute to this problem. It’s a nice feature but comes with risks when used by less-experienced users.
Fortunately you can export all the data in your workspace.
It remains to be seen how useful that data export will be, since Notion does not use a standard system to store data. So the more complex your database is, the more of a problem it could be to use any data you export.
So as generic advice: back up often, and don’t store sensitive information in Notion.
If you need team functionality, another problem with Notion could be cost: $10 per user per month can add up to a big number… fast.
With that in mind, what could be some good Notion alternatives?
A privacy-first, open-source platform for knowledge management and collaboration.
Right off the bat, this description has some words that we really like.
- privacy-first ✨
- open-source ✨
Moreover, they mention “management and collaboration”, which is what we want to achieve by replacing Notion.
The license is AGPL-3.0, which is perfect. You can use it both for personal and commercial needs.
Like the perhaps more-famous Obsidian, Logseq has plugins and a lot of features. Among them, there are:
- powerful out-of-the-box queries on your content
- create flashcards to help you memorize or study
- PDF features that, for example, allow you to highlight and link to a specific point in the PDF
AppFlowy is an open-source alternative to Notion. You are in charge of your data and customizations. Built with Flutter and Rust.
If you want to get as close to the Notion experience as possible, this tool may work for you. In fact, they define themselves as an “Open Source Notion Alternative”.
That said, AppFlowy is still very new and immature. It is currently a single-user GUI application (not a web application) that has no collaboration or data synchronization capability. Teams will almost certainly need more control and flexibility than AppFlowy currently offers.
With 24K GitHub stars, AppFlowy is attracting a lot of interest in its future potential, clearly showing how much demand there is for an open-source Notion clone. There is not much video material available about this tool, so we recommend you try it out locally and see how it works for you.
Missing a feature? Maybe it is on the horizon. Try checking out their roadmap.
An end-to-end encrypted notes app.
We like Standard Notes because for them privacy comes first. For some time now, the files you create are end-to-end encrypted.
Given that encryption, in theory you could even use it to manage your passwords with 2FA tokens. We haven’t tried it, but it’s a possibility.
The license of this service is not easy to understand or manage. It is a mix between MIT, Apache license 2.0, GPLv3, and AGPLv3 because Standard Notes is composed of packages with different licenses. We have checked out those packages, and thankfully it looks like there are no problems with weird or non-OSI-approved licenses.
They provide clients for any device you can think of, so if you want to try it, you don’t need to install the server-side application.
They've been around for years, and their choice to remain 100% independent is also very interesting:
We’re an independent company founded on an ethos of software sustainability and ethical data practices. Our code is completely open-source and independently audited.
Focalboard is an open-source, self-hosted alternative to Trello, Notion, and Asana.
Well, it’s more of a replacement for Trello than Notion, as most of the actions are done inside a kanban-board context. Built by the Mattermost team, Focalboard integrates very well with their core chat product, which is also open source.
We mention Focalboard because once you open a task, it is actually a document very similar to a Notion page. It is designed for both a single person and teams.
Furthermore, their goal is to be able to replace Trello, Notion, and Asana, so if development progress continues its rapid pace, many missing features will be added soon.
It’s unclear whether Focalboard will continue to be available as a standalone product or whether it will be subsumed into Mattermost’s goal to become a platform, which gives us some pause.
Unfortunately, Obsidian is not open source.
We use it at Fortressa for a few reasons:
- All data is stored in the very-portable Markdown format.
- As a client-side application, there is no need for the data to touch someone else’s server if you don’t want it to.
- The graph feature is really powerful.
We use Obsidian in combination with Syncthing. For a small team, that allows us to collaborate and keep all our knowledge data in sync.
At a certain point, we may consider moving to Logseq because of its open-source nature.
We did not include Outline in this list because despite its high number of GitHub stars, it has a license that does not qualify as open source.
Exposing the code publicly is not enough to join the large family of libre/free code — it does not make you “open source”, a term that is carefully managed by the Open Source Initiative (OSI). Open source encapsulates a set of concepts, and if additional restrictions are applied, the freedom of that code is compromised.
In this case, the code is exposed but will only become freely usable four years after its release. Adding a four-year delay means the code is obsolete and can have serious security vulnerabilities, defeating the spirit and purpose of what open source is about.