First impression - Tried to start building in Anytype twice

It’s been a while since I got access to Anytype now. I’ve tried to build a structure with notes/content in Anytype twice now, for different projects/types of data.

While I really like the vision of Anytype (E2EE, local storage, connections), every time I started to use Anytype I got lost in the different objects and organization. For objects it was very hard to figure out what was for what and why, what their differences are and how to best use them. For the organization… I could not manage to set up an overview of projects, for instance. It all seems scattered around which makes it hard to find for me. Maybe it’s there, but I didn’t find it, and that’s not a good sign.

I’m surprised, because usually I get to grips with tools very quickly. I’ve built large projects in Confluence, Airtable and Notion for instance, and that was relatively easy. I’ve used many markdown apps incl. Obsidian. Once the projects were set up in there, more power exposed itself progressively behind the “simple” facade. For some reason I never managed to get close to that feeling with Anytype.

For now I assume this is because it’s still an early release and that it will get better in the future. I sure hope so, because it has huge potential. So I will try again in a few months!

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@Arnoud thanks for the honest feedback, and for willing to try again in some time. Some questions to better understand your onboarding process:

  • Did you explore the built-in onboarding content? I personally did not because it was not yet there when I started using Anytype, but that could have made the onboarding experience better.
  • Did you explore any of the content available on Vimeo? It is not yet well known and I think the amount of content is to be expanded, but it seems to be a pretty good start.
  • Did you explore the Anytype docs? It was in a pretty rough state not too long ago, but steps are made and still being taken to improve the documentation big time!

Apart from that, you might be interested to have a conversation with @Charlotte so she has a good understanding the pain points so they can be used to make the product better.

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I think it is because Anytype requires a different mindset then almost all other apps at this moment.

It has different terminology compared to other apps. For example Objects are Pages (notes). But Page is also an Object Type and an Object Type is a bit like a folder but Anytype doens’t have folders… and the Layout is something different then a template and there are Sets which look like databases we know from Notion but aren’t. Yes, it takes you a while to get this hehe.

In Anytype you need to think backwards, at least that’s how it feels for me. You FIRST need to think what you want to add, then set a Type and Template and then add notes. Which is really counter intuïtive from what we are used to. It also doesn’t help that the interface is not yet all that great.

Also there are a few key features missing for your usecase (as far as I can see).

A way to view all your Objects is coming soon and managing sets/views based on relations is really powerful but has a small learning curve and requires you to set your notes up with relations.

One could and should also set up maps of content, since there is no folder structure or hierarchy in Anytype at this moment.

Also think of Object Types as folders. An Object can only be one Type, like a note can only be in one folder. And an Object Set is the quick acces/overview of what is in that folder.

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  • Yes, I did look at the onboarding content.
  • No, I did not look at Vimeo or docs (even though I know about it).

In general, I expect basic usage to be easy to pick up without studying the product in depth (through videos or docs). The other products I mentioned were. For a successful product, I would say you need to assume that the majority of people will look at it this way too. So progressive learning is key, unless you aim to be a niche product (which could be fine).

Only when doing advanced things, I would expect to look up how to do it through Google or a knowledge base, which could include videos.

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I agree, AnyType is not very “accessible”. But due to the wide swath of functionality, and AnyType-specific data metaphors, I’m not sure what can be done to remedy this problem. Maybe something like wizards can be added to streamline common use cases. :thinking:

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I agree with most of what you’re saying here. I found my first week with the tools just completely baffling.

Object types are all just pages with different default templates and the differentiation appears totally arbitrary. Some things are possible to make only in a page or set (like a bookmark) but other things can be made from the new object UI on the dashboard.

You can only make sets based on object types, except from when you’re looking at the relationship library and then you can make sets of specific relationships?

It’s also super easy to create objects and then immediately lose them to the graph void.
I am really enjoying it now but it took making a few new objects and relations and templates to work it out. I also enforce a hierarchy by creating objects from within sets that have a filter for the linked project relation with that set as the filter, meaning that any object I create is already linked to that set. It’s much more like a standard database structure but I still get the benefit of being able to use sets to parse that data in other places as needed without duplicates or links.

Once you start populating the app, the value does grow progressively so as long as the on-boarding experience can be ironed out, I think it’ll be really successful when the public release comes.

Talking of which, the tutorials and in-app hints I found were not super useful as without the context of understanding the app, they just didn’t make much sense. Also, the whole “start with a project in mind and just make something for that” is not a tutorial. “Trust me and copy this and just try for yourself until you can do it” is not teaching anything really so I think constructing a specific pedagogy for the first steps tutorials will be incredibly useful. Definitely something for later though as you don’t want to go through all the work for that on a system that will change so just something to think about closer to the open / stable releases.

I’m keeping a list of papercuts and bugs - I want to see if some things are just my own misunderstanding before I make a post - but we just tipped into triple figures there so there’s a definite feeling of development software.

Compared to the alternatives, I just can’t ignore the promise of local, E2EE, and open source so I’ll go to whatever lengths to find a process that works :joy:

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I suspect a big part of the problem may have been starting with a desire to make something really flexible (objects, relations, etc.), but then not actually coming up with not only an end-user-legible organizational model, but also enough real-world use-cases (e.g. “how would I do X in our proposed system and how does this compare to existing options in ease of use and flexibiliy?”) to validate the approach as being the right balance of flexible and powerful.

I would contrast this with something like Tana, which is all the rage right now yes, but there is - I think - some good reason for that. They appear to have developed a very intuitive approach to highly flexible and powerful content and data modeling, with some very simple and mostly intuitive primitives (blocks, tags, supertags, views). It too is complicated, but it starts as a simpler outliner, which many people are already familiar with, and then you can progressively add structure and organization to both new and old content as-needed. It feels to me like a more natural progression from “I am a new user and can only understand how to use this tool simply, but I still want to get good value out of it and have it be intuitive” to “I am now a super power user and if the app allows me (with its toolset), I could organize an entire country with my deep knowledge and mastery of the app functions.”

I am a bit concerned that it will be challenging to develop this ease of use, intuitiveness, etc. out of the existing Anytype data and concept model. I raised most of these concerns quite a long time ago, and work has been done toward this, but it takes a long time. I know the team has high hopes and long-term vision, so I hope they do find the path to something that is more out-of-the-box intuitive, while remaining as powerful as their initial concept was (and even more so).

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