Notion, the new Editor Taking on Word and Google Docs
November 30, 2021
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by Stephen Kanyi

When I first heard about Notion, my first reaction was to dismiss it as just a cheap knockoff of the main editors we have in the market; Microsoft Word and Google Docs. I mean an editor is quite a simple tool, just a space to write, nothing much to it. With Microsoft Docs and Google Docs, I, like many others thought there is simply no more room for innovation in this space.

But Notion is proving me and a lot of people wrong. Maybe that’s why I am a writer and not an innovator. Who could have thought that there was something more to be done in the editor market?

Notion and a few other modern applications like Coda and Quip are completely revolutionising the modern editor. While traditional applications like Microsoft Word and Google Docs stick to the traditional file system, modern editors like Notion are embracing ‘new age’ concepts of freedom and flexibility.

Free-Flowing Editor

The newest editors are finally not copying the traditional hierarchical file system of Microsoft Word, rather they are made to mimic the web. Notion provides free-flowing spaces without page breaks. These can then branch into subpages that link among themselves.

Pages are also designed to be interactive in nature with checkboxes, charts, tied into outside data sources and Trello-like Kanban boards.

The rise of mobile devices and with them, powerful mobile and web apps has led to a monumental shift to how people engage with their devices. No longer are people tied to the traditional hierarchical file structure. Unlike Google Docs and Microsoft Word, Notion takes an online-first approach that freely interlinks documents without any rigidity.

Talking to Fast Company  Notion spokeswoman Elaine Greenberg said, “There’s a generational shift happening to these tools, similar to what we saw when people moved from things like Microsoft Office to more cloud-based tools. People don’t want to be tethered to the rigidity of the incumbents.”

“It isn’t about organization and making folders and hierarchies. It’s really a web of interconnected documents where you find and reference things,” says Quip CEO, Kevin Gibbs.

More than An Editor

Notion is however more than just an editor. For some, it is more like a productivity app with hundreds of templates for various uses.

Thanks to its users, Notion has become much more than it set out to be. The company is leaning on its now more than 20 million fervent users to drive template focussed strategy that transforms the application from a simple editor to a study system, habit tracker, to-do list app, reading list and much more.

Notion’s Templates

Notion’s templates are perhaps its greatest asset and also its greatest weapon against competitors Microsoft Docs and Google Docs. While the templates can be easily copied Notion relies on its users to keep updating their template gallery to keep it ahead of the curve.

As pointed out in an article on Fast Company :

‘The idea is that while Microsoft and Google might be able to clone Notion’s basic features, the enthusiasm Notion users have for creating new things won’t be so easily copied.’

There is something very special when you have folks who are putting in so much effort, and really feel like they have a strong emotional connection to software and what they’re creating,” says Ben Lang, Notion’s head of community.

Template Business

So popular are Notion’s templates that they have become a business unto themselves. However, it is not Notion that is collecting on this thriving enterprise, marketplaces such as Notion Everything and Notionery are thriving platforms for freelancers to create their own templates and run a good business based on Notion’s templates. Templates here can cost as much as $79 and vary from basic ones such as task-listing which comes free on a basic Notion personal account to specific ones for building a start-up, engineering and managing a freelance business.

Notion is however not easy to use. For beginners, the experience can be a bit overwhelming especially with hundreds of templates to choose from. However, with its popularity rapidly growing, Notion experts have managed to create some sort of cottage industry selling Notion mastery courses online.

One such expert is Marie Poulin whose online Notion Training Course has earned her over $500,000 for the last two years. Talking to Fast Company she says “I basically pivoted my whole business around Notion-related products and services,”

With such a thriving template business, one would think that Notion would want a stake. However, Notion is still providing these templates for free. The paid ones are linked to other storefronts such as Gumroad and Etsy to handle transactions.

Notion’s basic service is (for now) basically free. The company does however charge $5 per month for unlimited file attachment size and guest editors with also a $10 charge for team plans.

Our goal is not to monetize the creators,” says Olivia Nottebohm, Notion’s chief revenue officer. “Our goal is to make sure that the underlying software is so incredibly valuable that people would like to pay us for it.

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