The Problems with Anytype as a Basic Note-taking Software

I have interviewed many people, asked many users, and also gathered information from Chinese social media groups, gaining insights into numerous user perspectives. They have come to a rather pessimistic conclusion: Anytype is a conceptually advanced product, but it might not be a passable notebook. Therefore, they currently choose to treat it as a toy, occasionally checking to see what updates have been made, rather than truly entrusting their note content to Anytype.

I have interviewed many people, asked many users, and also in Chinese social media groups, learned a lot about users’ thoughts. They have come to a very pessimistic conclusion: Anytype is a conceptually advanced product, but it may not be a passable notebook. So they currently choose to treat it as a toy, just occasionally checking to see what’s updated, opening it, testing out the features, and then quitting, rather than truly entrusting their note content to Anytype.

Reflecting on my own actions, I realized that I also treat Anytype as a novelty. I merely marvel at its advanced concepts, but I have never really put my own data into it, nor have I integrated Anytype into my workflow. I began to question why this is the case?

I started to use Anytype purposefully, observing my own behavior and the actual experience of using Anytype in daily life. The result I found is that Anytype might really be terrible as a basic note-taking software.

There are objects that allow you to flexibly define attributes, but unless you put in a tremendous amount of effort to build your library purposefully, it is just a scattered mess, very loose sand, impossible to grasp, without any structure, parent-child relationships, or basis.

When we take notes, we prioritize content, not starting a project. Anytype makes everything complex. First, you have to think about what type of note you’re writing, then think about what relation your note has with other notes. When you only have a few notes, they sink into the ocean of objects, needing a strong effort to retrieve.

Besides, the editing experience of Anytype, the basic note document process, is also unsatisfactory. Below are the most frequently asked questions I’ve collected. These questions are not about advanced features, not about foresight, not about innovation, but about the most basic experience questions that arise when using it as a basic note-taking software:

When can we quickly delete unreferenced files? Some files do not exist as objects in the notebook. They only appear in the management files of remote storage. After the notes that reference them are deleted, they mix with a bunch of referenced files. And Anytype does not provide a download button for synced files, nor can they be referenced again. So they become completely useless files. Why not provide a function to directly delete them? It’s hard for users, as humans, to remember all file names and features.

After creating object hyperlinks, the format of the hyperlink text is too inconspicuous. It’s hard to distinguish from normal content. I think this is a basic problem that all note-taking software should solve.

On the mobile end, having only five buttons doesn’t make users feel simple and convenient. Instead, it greatly delays the user’s step of inserting block elements. Not everyone likes to input commands. Before they insert, they will first browse in the block elements, then choose the final element block they want to insert. But Anytype’s mobile end mixes operations and elements in a “/” button, requiring at least three steps to complete the operation. Anytype needs a “+” button to quickly insert elements. If Anytype has better operation, that would be great. But the current editing experience, I feel, is not good, even can be said to be not smooth.

The undo button on the mobile end is in an absurd location. It’s actually at the end of the menu in the upper right corner. We all know that when editing a document, if you make a mistake, you need to undo quickly. But clicking on the menu in the upper right corner, sliding to the end, and then clicking on undo and redo, completely disrupts our writing process and destroys the editing experience.

Tabbed browsing is really important. It can greatly improve browsing efficiency and work efficiency. When can we add tabbed browsing instead of a matryoshka-style interface? If you want to return to the nth level or the initial interface, you have to go back frantically.

When can the search interface be optimized to show where the keyword matches the document, rather than just showing a document title? In the search results, you can’t see any information related to the keyword. Then I have to click in and flip through where the keyword is in the article, which is a really terrible search experience.

When can a toolbar editing bar be added to the bottom of the mobile end and the floating window of the PC end to quickly insert or format any content?

When can the self-hosted mirror be simplified and the detailed tutorial for self-hosting be improved?

When can database views be exported as PDFs, CSVs, Markdown tables, or even Excel?

When can inline database views be displayed on the mobile end?

When can exports also be based on the parent-child relationship of collections, rather than just exporting one MD document at a time (creating a folder with the name of the collection to hold its documents)?

When can MD documents with the parent-child relationship of folders be imported, rather than just importing one MD document at a time (creating a collection with the name of the folder to hold its MD documents)?

When can the ghost files that still occupy space after all objects are deleted and the trash is cleaned up disappear completely?

When can support be provided for embedding a preview of a block from another note in one note?

When can multiple documents be selected, moved by dragging, and custom sorted?

When can the set filter out object type and template?

When will the calendar view be available on the mobile end?

When can the mobile end support Kanban?

When can the mobile end support graph view?

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While reading the first few paragraphs, I was being reminded of my experience with Notion. I went in expecting a note taking app, which it technically is, but it also required me to setup a structure before I could use it effectivelly. Only after that could I quickly take notes.

It was the same with Anytype for me. I have a space for my work, where I require to take very quick notes with less steps as possible. I was able setup my homepage with a inline collection, where I can very quickly update pages or create new ones.

All of this to say that, I agree but also disagree with what you’re saying. Anytype is bad as a basic note taking app, because it’s not meant to be one. But compared to the more popular option (notion), it does have a steeper learning curve.

I want to add that I agree with you about the file management. I also think that Anytype does not deal well with files. Most people will delete a picture in a page and expect it to be deleted. Except it isn’t. It’s somewhere in the space, hidden unless you check “media” page on “All Objects” set.

This is a recipe for in a few years several people start to complain why they have so much mb’s occupied in their account, unaware that all the files they have been “deleting” are actually accumulating, little by little, wasting their space.

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There’s a lot of good points about UX improvements that I’m sure are in queue for the Anytype team.

Keep in mind this is BETA software, meaning it is far from feature complete. There are many poorly polished edges of the interface that have not been addressed.

Yet overall, it serves my needs very well.

As far as whether it is a good basic note taking software, you are not required to use Relations. To be fair, it is pretty basic as note taking software goes, largely because their focus is not on that use case, but on people with complex data they need to manage.

For instance I have a large database of Tasks, Projects, Humans, Notes, “Resources” (areas of research), Events, etc etc, all of which are interlinked. I can look at what Humans are good at what tasks, and review my research about that task. quickly. For me this is not basic “note taking” like I’m a researcher or student. It’s managing large complex projects.

If I just wanted interlinked notes, I would use Obsidian or LogSeq, because they much better for that. But they don’t do what I need, which is provide a way to structure and quickly access and interlink objects.

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TLDR, people that a bad fit for the current product are criticizing that it doesn’t meet their needs. I would love to see Anytype meet those needs some day and I think it can, however it’s kind of like using a spreadsheet and complaining it’s bad at making text documents. That analogy will fade once the team focuses on more Obsidian like features. However personally they are not critical to my needs.

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Maybe what I said is not comprehensive enough. The ghost file I said can’t be found in any way. Whether you use set to select the file type or the media type query, there is no result. Even if you open the remote file management to browse the synchronized files, you can’t see any files. I think these basic operations of finding files have been tried. That’s why I call it the ghost file. In addition, compared with notion, anytype’s non-tree document relationship is conducive to file tiling and definition, but as I said, it is more difficult to make them structured or to think of a unified way of retrieval. My suggestion is that anytype can try to create a fixed preset “set” that can not be deleted to display documents organically and provide more unified operations.

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Forgive me, because after all, many users use it with the expectation of a “good note-taking software”, and many of us start our work by building a document quickly, focusing on the content of the document, rather than rushing to build a global relationship, build a complex database and so on, as for obsidian and logseq. Both of them can do it. It’s not that they focus on documents and are different types of software, but we’re just talking about the experience of creating documents for users as a modern note-taking software.Anytype gives users a high degree of freedom to define the DOM, but may lack a system based on basic documents, so many users want to write notes but may not be able to start. Then there is the multi-tab function and the split screen. Don’t we do it because we don’t have it? Multi-tab and split-screen are still the most efficient and direct multi-document processing methods. But if anytype just wants to make another piece of software, then maybe none of these claims make sense, because anytype doesn’t serve these needs.

For me, creating documents is not something I do much of these days, and is not the focus of my work.

I spend my time organizing a “complex database” so I can get things done.

I agree with you that Anytype has a ways to go before it competes with Obsidian etc.

It does meet a lot of peoples other needs, which Obsidian and Logseq do not easily meet.

If I were a student or writer, I would much prefer other software. And I probably wouldn’t use Anytype in its current state if research were the focus of my work. That has very different requirements.

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Let’s look at the considerations of the development team. Only they really decide the next step of anytype. I say this not because I think anytype is a certain type of software but it does not do a good job of this type of requirements, but because I think that since the team is trying to attract these people and try to shout some slogans to replace other software, it should be implemented in function. I think you are considering it from a user’s point of view, so you will say that this software is not suitable for some people.Or the requirements are different, but I’m actually trying to talk to developers, what do they want? Which users do they decide to attract? Are they ready yet? For the team and users, there is a supply and demand relationship, rather than just comparing the needs of users or talking about understanding this relationship, the development team can change anytype to anything according to the needs of the people they want to attract, after all, code is omnipotent, everything is based on the consideration of trying to influence developers through users. So it doesn’t matter what kind of people anytype is suitable for now, but its future and the consideration of developers for the user group are more important. Why do I want to mention the user group? To be honest, I am very happy that the number of anytype users has broken 60,000, but many people around me, even those who pulled me into the anytype communication community at the beginning, have left. Is anytype more popular?

I’ll just say I support most of your suggestions and I agree it is not ready for the customers you mention. It is almost ready to be a full Notion alternative for personal use. However it lacks collaboration features so any Notion people coming over may be similarly critical.

I have great hopes for the product addressing all of these shortcomings however realistically it will never please everyone.

What if the image is embedded in multiple objects? If it worked how you suggested it should work, then the image would be deleted from all of your objects, but you might just want to delete it from that one object.

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Maybe check if the file has multiple links or not.

For example, if I delete a file from a page but it still has other links, nothing happens to the file. But if I delete it and the file has no other links, the file gets sent to the bin.

Something like this would make the app more intuitive imo. I would not need to worry about making sure to delete the picture and only then delete it from the page. Same for cover images too now that I think about it.

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My note library is all empty, I think you can try it too, I exported mine, deleted everything OBJECT and also emptied the waste paper basket, the whole note library is blank in the chart, and then you’ll see that there is still something occupying the storage space

In Capacities, there are separate buttons in the context menu for Remove here and Delete completely.
When I backspace a block instead of using the context menu, I get a list of the linked objects that will be deleted, with checkboxes to select if I want to completely delete each object.

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Yeah, that seems like a good way to solve this.
The reason why this part of the app isn’t fleshed out like it is in Capacities is probably because you can’t embed / transclude other objects in AT yet.

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I went through a similar cycle of excitement and frustration when I came across Anytype.

What I realized is that Anytype provides a box of tools to create a knowledge base using a directed graph model. This is not a trivial achievement, and it means that users who are willing and capable of investing thought and time can potentially build a powerful tool.

Alternatively, using one (or even more) of the templates - which are data models - a user can get up and running with a system that reflects the template author(s) conceptual view. To the extent that this conceptual view matches yours, you can get to work; or you can try to modify it to fit your particular use case.

At this point in time, Anytype rewards the user who invest the time upfront to instantiate a system that meets their needs. It still lacks some tools to modify a model that is already populated with data.

Anytype documentation does not seem to provide an abstract view about the underlying graph model and how the model maps to the specific Types and Relations that are provided out of the box or that can be used for a more customized model. I think that is one reason why people complain about the learning curve, or about why Anytype doesn’t meet their needs, because they don’t understand how to use the basic box of tools to customize a model.

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I have to say, even though I agree with almost all of the mentioned bugs and missing features and would like to see them implemented, in conclusion I can’t agree at all.
I think Anytype is a very good basic note taking software. It is so much easier and faster for me to quickly capture something in Anytype and sort it into my system.
I don’t need a single custom relation for that either. 2-3 types, a few collections and that’s it.
There is a lot of room for improvement, no question about that. But the principle of how quickly I can capture something is the reason why I’m currently attached to Anytype even though so much else is missing.
For me, it’s just a shame that this core value feels like it gets too little attention. The focus in development is on a hundred other things, to many fancy shiny things and buzzword features, but not (enough) on making a good note taking software even better. So in some regards, I do agree again.

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I think you may have misunderstood what I mean. First of all, as a new concept and software without too much promotion and marketing, users who can understand and be attracted by Anytype have a lot of software to use, including programmers. The problem most users are facing now is not that they will not build a database. Or you can’t use the Anytype tool box, but in fact everyone can build it, but in the current Anytype,This system is too difficult to establish, this process is difficult, and the experience is not good, its workload is very large, the need to consume a lot of energy, if we spread too much energy in the construction of our note library relationship, the content of our notes themselves will be weakened, and Anytype features, if we do not establish a system. All the data is messy, and Anytype’s current search engine is terrible, so it’s a dilemma. We can’t start our notes quickly. We have to start a system first, and then build our notes in this system.

Everyone has different opinions. My friends all think that anytype is too focused on meta-type data (object, relation, etc.), but it seems that there is not much progress in the body of notes. It is equivalent to being eager to define a person and then put it into a group to form a group. But without talking to this person, meta-type data does help us define our notes flexibly, but how much content do we write?A whole article, half of it is meta, is this off center? Of course, you can also say that we can collect a note without defining meta, but is it possible that the notes that come with the phone are better to use? If anytype loses its meta, it’s not as convenient as applenotes, which offers even more and richer features. Anytype has done too much infrastructure building for meta-type data, which is naturally good. I never think these meta are too much (even now), but about the infrastructure building of the article itself, such as editor, text formatting toolbar, internal multi-tab, internal split-screen, and some text operations. That’s what a normal post editor should have, but it doesn’t seem to be very good.

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@HAN , I think you and your friends simply make the same error as I did in my first three weeks:
You think much too complicated.
You think much too much about the Library, Templates, Relations, Links; specific ways to bring a stiff structure in your system.

Many ways lead to Rome.
There is no need for going one specific way at all costs.

Especially for note taking you mustn’t think about all the hassle.
All you need to do to have an efficient note taking system is this:

  1. Create a Collection for your Notes. Put it in your favorites in the left menu.
  2. If you create a new Note, do it from the Collection, so that it becomes automatically linked to the Collection.
  3. I suggest to use a Page (Template) as default Object for new Notes in the Collection.
  4. Use Tags for your Notes and apply Views in the collection which filter for specific Tags.

.
Now let’s work with it:
You just have a good idea and you quickly want to write a new Note:

  • Mouse to the left, one click on the Collection in the favorites.
  • Now a click on the “New” button in the Collection.
  • Write your Note! Then close it.
  • Back in the Collections Grid, choose Tags for the Note. It will now magically appear in these Views which filter for the given Tags.

While note taking there is no need to think about Links between Objects or some kind of folder structure and all the complicated stuff!
You can apply such things for some specific Objects, yes. But don’t bother with such stuff for Notes.

We all have some Objects where it comes good if we put some brain power in a good and nice structure.
But 95% of our Objects are simply some quick ideas, or some snippets and bookmarks from the web (in my case it is so). In other words: “Notes”.

Some Notes belong to a specific project?
No matter! And no need for applying Links or such stuff. Simply give these Notes the project’s name as a Tag and apply a View in the Collection which shows all Objects with this specific Tag.

If you now work on you project, then you know where to find all the “related” Notes (without using Relations or Links etc. for organizing them).

For me it works quick and efficient this way.
I use only one big Collection for all my Notes and they all are from type Page with a very basic template without fancy layout features.

I use fancy layout features in complicated Templates for some Objects, yes. But only in the rare cases where it really makes sense. That means: not for daily Notes.
These special Objects dwell in some another Collections, isolated from my daily Notes.

.

I come from OneNote. OneNote forces the user to put all notes into a tree structure. There’s no more flexibility.
My error in the first three weeks with Anytype was, that I tried to apply a structure like I used it for years in OneNote.
It was much too much thinking all the time; the situation was even worse then in OneNote!
But finally I understood, that Anytype has a different concept and that it’s strength lays in using its own concept.

You CAN use Links and Relations between Objects, in cases where it makes sense.
In these cases it also makes sense to use own Types with special Templates.
But these cases are rare compared to the mass off daily Notes!
Tags are the better choice for organizing Notes.
And there is no need to thinking about or applying Tags directly while note taking.
Simply write your Note, empty your brain.
After that, and after closing the Note, look in the Grid and from there give it it’s Tags.

If I would ever make an instruction video about Anytype I would start with exactly this use case: Using Anytype a an efficient note taking system! A system with which one can directly start and put some dozen first Notes in it.
After that, when there are some dozen or a hundred Notes, then we can think about the more advanced features; about linking Objects and about fancy Templates and own Types and so on.

I don’t deny that Anytype misses some basic features, or that here and there are still some frictions while using it.
But your critic was about the lack of efficiency as a system for note taking. And I disagree with you in this point.
It’s not Anytype’s lacking efficiency in this case, but it is the wrong mindset - you (and your friends) try to use it in a none efficient way.

Off course it hinders the workflow if you think about structuring the data while taking a Note!
Don’t do that!
Simply write your Note, empty you brain, then look in the Grid and apply one or more Tags.

  • That’s all!
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