I have been using TheBrain since back in the days of PersonalBrain (PB). At that time, PB was somewhat revolutionary in that is allowed for unlimited linking and the creation of structures that were customized to the end users liking. The graphic interface was also novel and interesting compared to the rigid directory/subdirectory structures of PC computers or Microsoft Office products. 

However, for years I have struggled to do anything really productive with TheBrain. I watched the webinars and set up a Writer's Brain, and a GTD Brain, and various other productivity systems in an attempt to get things done more effectively and elegantly. The anemic notes and calendar sections, the substandard mobile experience, the bugs and problems, and the limitations how much useful data you could see on a single screen really undermined this effort in the past. Given the very significant expense of owning and upgrading this product, I am more than a little disappointed. 

What has really brought this to a head is my current commitment to creating an intentional life. In order to do this, I really want to build a dashboard that sits on top of a robust platform that will contain all the data I need to schedule, manage, store, and track my workflows, commitments, and responsibilities. In other words, I want to build a digital system that helps me better see how my values and principles align with my goals and habits, so that I am receiving feedback as to how effectively my decisions and choices are supporting values and principles I want to live by. And I want that all in one place. 

I tried to do this in TheBrain. It was an abject failure in part because of the poor mobile/online experience and in part because, at my current level of understanding, TheBrain is based on a series of linkages. So what you see on the page is a set of static labels with linkages that can also be labeled but cannot really change except in static ways like an outline or expanded view. This is great for collecting webpages or files but not for tracking data or managing projects. I am particularly surprised, in this regard, at how poor the notes experience is even in TheBrain 10 and how TheBrain team seems to be overly focused on cross-platform/mobile compatibility at the expense of the functionality of its core product. 

So i recently moved to a platform called Notion. It is has been a revelation. Using a series of "blocks" and relational databases, I can set up a dashboard any way I like and then link into a variety of data feeds. I can then visualize that data as a spreadsheet (like Excel) or change it to a Kanban board (like Trello) or a Gallery view (like Photos). I can easily collaborate with others (like Asana) or set up a wiki (like ConnectText) or create a Project list tied into a Task list (like Todoist or Nobze). I can sort and filter the data so I can see just what tasks are a priority for today, or which people I haven't connected with in six months, or when how my habit streak is progressing. The mobile experience is top notch, there are desktop and online versions, it has a webclipper (though not as good as Evernote), security does not rely on passwords, and it is free, unless I choose to add enough data to need the Premium level. 

Here is an example: https://www.notion.so/Leo-s-Universe-b542c4f451c04c389cce7c9a6d74734a 

My question: is it just that TheBrain was not the correct tool, or is it that I just don't really understand what TheBrain can do? 



I am becoming a fan of Notion too. I do wish that:

Notion.so gets a notes navigation feature similar to the Brain plex, and/or

TheBrain gets a notes editor similar to Notion.so

I'll keep dreaming...
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@fabu: I share your quest for the OSFA (one-size-fits-all) digital solution to run your personal and professional life. I haven’t found OSFA “best in class”  so am choosing to go “best of breed” and use a mix of tools integrated by URLs.

As a past Stephen Covey 7 Habits of Highly Effective People facilitator, I built my “what matters most” framework in Trello because I like the linear column layout. I created lists for QI, QII, Circle of Concern activities. I appreciate Trello’s card style and the Kanban feel for project management. So far I’ve been able to to use the freemium version. That includes creating a new board for each project with oversight by my What Matters Most board. 

I use Evernote as my primary database. Main reason is EN’s OCR capability; I can add hand-written notes, PDF docs, sketches and EN can search within them. I use EN’s Share feature to add links to Trello. The downside is an EN search can be slow. I have over 25,000 notes consuming 42GB. I frequently do an overnight re-indexing which seems to improve the speed. OCR is only available to premium subscribers so it does increase expenses. 

To connect Trello and EN with TB, I simply copy the URLs and create a new thought with the weblink. Why am I using TB Cloud services? Because of TB non-linear hyperlink capabilities that reflect how our human brain synapses and neurons actually function. It’s great for helping me to “connect the dots.” I often discover thought connections that I had never crossed my mind. Yes, EN does provide a scrollable card view but TB’s highly visible views are centred on a specific thought; for me this aids my focus and attention. I purposely keep the TB file size small by minimizing file attachments. I recently had a bad experience on my iPad. For some reason syncing stopped working so the only solution was to delete the iOS data and re-install. A smaller TB means less time to get back up and running.

There’s seems to a lot of good things happening with the latest Notes editor. However, I’m choosing to stay on the sidelines and not increase my volume of notes. Since TB includes notes in the search list, I prefer keep the list short and potentially avoid a lot of scrolling down. If you are using the Timeline feature, you know what I mean by a very long match list. 

My strategy is to keep my notes in Evernote and use the TB notes section more as “awareness triggers.” For example, I will paste images of Powerpoint or Keynote slides or a screenshot from a PDF article or a webpage. These graphic glimpses simply remind me what the thought is about. It comes in handy when I design my PPT/Keynote presentations. Using the “ordered number” trick in TB works but is cumbersome. So I build my slidedecks in Trello. Each card represents a slide and it’s easy to move the order around. Instead of an attachment in Trello, I just add the TB thought link and with one click can readily see the slide image. 

I’m impressed how fast the TB search feature is. I’ll go to TB first before EN or Trello. Over time the number of note images has grown. When I need to show something to a client or colleague, I can quickly find and shown them a graphic to make my point. On my iPad, the half screen view works very well. On my MacBook Pro. I can use the entire screen to view the graphic. 

Thanks for your impressions of Notion. In my ongoing Best of Breed search, I found this comparison article interesting.


We see the world not as it is but as we are.
@kbunders: That would be awesome, either way.

@Gary: thank you for your thoughtful response and for sharing your sophisticated system. I did try Evernote for a time and loved its webclipper. Unfortunately, I disliked the interface (personal preference, not a criticism of EN) and the tagging zeitgeist, which is why I also do not make much use of my Gmail account. I much prefer OneNote as I have a version where I can still store notebooks locally, it handles subtask/sub-subtasks better and with hoisting, and it has a excellent way of creating a summary sheet of tagged items for doing my GTD weekly review of projects. I wish I had liked EN, since it seems like such a great tool for so many people.

For the Kanban methodology, Trello is excellent. We used it at my publishing company for a time, but when our previous editorial manager left, the new one was not interested in continuing with it. I could never get any of my staff interested in TB, despite the fact that it is great for presentations, as you noted. I loved your idea of having the Covey system in Kanban form. I think that would really facilitate effective use of that system. My Covey system was set up in Word docs and Excel spreadsheets - for example my weekly template is a spreadsheet. For me, however, linking all of that through TB was clunky and not very portable since the online experience of TB is nowhere near as smooth and powerful as Trello. 

I think some of this for me has to do with personal preference for an interface. For example, I am working on creating a Zettelkasten, which was originally a notecard filing system that allows for serendipity and thought connections one wouldn't have thought of. I want to make a digital version of this.  I hoped to leverage the hyperlinking power of TB to do this. It certainly is possible, and the hyperlinking is smooth. But that actual reading and making connections between thought and text has a significant amount of friction in TB because you have to work with the less than elegant Notes field. For what I needed, wiki software like ConnectedText (CT) was superior. In TB, all I could see was the linkage and a tiny note box that I had to scroll through to maybe find what I was looking for. I couldn't meaningfully jump from one complete notation (article, book quote, discussion, etc.) to another like you can in CT. 

What all of the above says to me was that the organizational principle of "nesting" is just as important to me as the principle of hyperlinking. Sometimes one is better, sometimes the other. Finding the correct balance that matches your workflow is what I think is key. Notion is far better at this than TB for me. It is certainly true, as the link you provided pointed out, that both EN and TB are more mature products, since I think Notion has only been around for a couple of years. Especially with TB, however, I have not found that it being more mature means it has become more helpful.The opposite is actually true, since I am tired of fighting with the interface to get it to do what I need it to do. And, like you, I have to use supplemental apps like OneNote to make it functional. 

Looking at productivity management software, I found this article on alternatives to Notion helpful not only for other options, but for its view on where we are going in terms of the way people manage projects and workflow: https://hackernoon.com/the-next-wave-of-work-management-software-81f392c728e3 

I don't use TheBrain for short-lived things like project planning or meeting notes — I think there are better tools out there for that. But even with the current issues with the editor, nothing works better as a long-term reference data store.

If you're familiar with the Zettelkasten methodology, in my view TheBrain is the best tool out there for a Zettelkasten. Strangely enough it's basically unknown in that community, and might not get much traction because a lot of the ZK guys are obsessed with plain text, and won't use anything that's not a collection of flat text files at the bottom. Still, for me nothing's better.

As an example of something TheBrain can do that nothing else can: when I take notes on a book, I can file interesting points or quotes from the book in a structural hierarchy, so it's clear what chapter and section the quote came from, and I can also file it under a thematic hierarchy and easily cross link it into a larger web of themes that come from other texts. This allows me to create a web of notes about multiple texts that is coherent both structurally and thematically, which I can explore visually. Similarly for things like code snippets, which I can file by language and by functionality.

For me there is a pretty clear division between the place where live data is manipulated, and where reference information is put so that it can be found later and interesting connections can be made with it. Notion strikes me as a great tool for the former; TheBrain is a great fit for the latter.

Though I would love some more rich editing in TheBrain, I also think one of the best things about TheBrain is that it hasn't let its feature set sprawl. It does a few things very well. I would rather the devs work out the kinks in version 10, such has overly high CPU utilization, before they start working on adding a bunch of features that, without excellent and attentive product design, could end up making the tool a big mess.
@galenmenzel: Thank you very much for your post. This is an interesting development. I would very much like to use TB for creating a Zettelkasten. As you say, I have come across many in the ZK community that are very attached to a methodology that uses plain text, although I have had some interesting interactions with people like Manfred Kuehn and Christian Tietze,  who blog in this area, that are open to other options like we are. 

So here is what I tried to do. I have a topic called "Philosphical Movements." Under this I have various types like Absurdism. Under that I have notable authors like Soren Kierkegaard. Now, it is very easy in TB to link Martin Heidegger as an influence on Kierkegaard and even label that link as such. What I was unable to do was to take a piece of writing by Kierkegaard that shows Heidegger's influence and link to a section of Heidegger's work that is relevant to that influence.

This is very easy to do in ConnectedText because it is designed to be a wiki, does hyperlinking very well, and is text driven. As I understand it, a Zettelkasten works the same way in that you would, in the old school method, have a note card with a bit of text by Kierkegaard and you would then reference the relevant note card about Heidegger right on the Kierkegaard note card for future reference. 

Are you saying that, in your methodology, you are actually linking notes to each other in TB, like you can link thoughts to each other? Or are you saying that the book, to use your example, is the parent thought and  each separate note on the book are children thoughts that you are then free to link to other thoughts? 

I agree with you about work out the kinks in version 10. Two things on that. First, if you peruse these forums, you will see that many people have posted about how useful version 8 was, and how 'working out the kinks" since then has actually made the product less useful since features were taken away or changed. So I am not optimistic that the kinks in version 10 will be worked out any time soon. 

Second, the developers have been promising since version 8 to measurably improve the core functionality around notes, and I think many would agree that there is a way to go in this area.

To give one example of what I am talking aobut, graphics you add to a thought already have the functionality that allows them to "blow up" when you roll over them. It would be great if this could happen with notes. It would be even better if, once the note was enlarged, you could actually have the option go full page with the note and, once in the full page view, that hyperlinking or adding other elements like a photo would be available. This is one of the features of Notion that seems aligned with TB's core functionality and would notably improve its usefulness. I don't think this would be "feature bloat." But then again, maybe something like this is already available and I just don't know it. 


I have tested Notion and instantly took to it. In my mind it is better for what you describe than The Brain. I don’t think one tool can do it all. 
This is a topic of great interest (as I've posted thoughts in TB forums in the past), and I've explored your references and Notion et al.  Although I desire the all encompassing application that would bring all my various repositories together, I can't say immediately that Notion strikes my fancy yet. 

FWIW, I was concerned when I saw the .so domain website code, and finally found Notion's Privacy statement, here: https://www.notion.so/Terms-and-Privacy-28ffdd083dc3473e9c2da6ec011b58ac#52954f076e0e4fddae20fe8987a45e0a .  Still have questions about where the data are stored.


@Rob2050: thank you for your comment. I think you are right about one tool doing it all.

@PaddyVA: privacy is one of the areas I am concerned about as well. It is one reason I do not do much in the Google ecosystem, esp Gmail and Google Drive.  I am still on OneNote 2010 because the newest version of ON does not allow for local storage. I believe competitors to Notion like Airtable and Coda are also in online and also have privacy concerns for that reason. This seems to be the trend as people want 24/7 access to their data and in some ways this is reasonable if you want to schedule something or jot down an idea on the fly. Here is a Reddit discussion on privacy concerning Notion that provides more information:  https://www.reddit.com/r/privacy/comments/aff2on/what_are_peoples_thoughts_on_notionso/ 

Do you know the current status of privacy for web-based TB? I have to admit I have not looked into that since all my TB files are local only. 

Two other areas that concerns me about Notion. First, backing up your account is not frictionless and requires you to actually export it manually. Not optimal in my mind. Second, the company is only two years old, so not clear about longevity. Hopefully, Google or Microsoft will not acquire it. 

For these reasons, there are limits to what I will put in Notion. But it is still useful for my quest to create a dashboard for an intentional lifestyle. 
@favu - thanks for your comments and links to Reddit; following another link there, leads to:

"From Notion:
In terms of data secruity [sic], we use SSL everywhere, run 100% on AWS behind a VPC (based in US West, Oregon), with the database encrypted at rest. Everybody on the team follows the necessary security hygiene and Cloudtrail is turned on at all times."

That sounds reassuring, but why in the world is the domain country code for Notion .so?

As to TheBrain web cloud, I searched to find this: https://www.thebrain.com/about/legal/privacy/ , and find this in particular:  "To ensure the highest level of protection of the information you disclose to TheBrain, we recommend that you not disclose any sensitive personal information about yourself to TheBrain."

Because I've used TB for so many years, and feel I've come to know key individuals, at least indirectly, I've developed a level of trust, somewhat unquestioningly, and nothing has raised any alerts.  But, I think I probably haven't put any directly "sensitive personal information" into TB.  That isn't so true of Evernote, although even there, I avoid putting some information into it.

With the state of affairs in internet security being what it is, where major corporations, banks, cities, political parties, etc. have all been breached and millions of peoples' data stolen, or encrypted for ransom, for sale and criminal use, an individual would seem to have little chance to avoid being violated, except to keep everything possible off the internet, and not even to connect to the internet.  I use the best security protection I can find on my computer and mobile (Apple) devices, and do my best to avoid the phishing emails, etc.  Every click on a link, even here in the Forums, is some risk that it will go somewhere nefarious. 

I put very little on Facebook or Twitter, but somewhat more on LinkedIn.  I pay two external security services to monitor my accounts for misuse.

I backup my computer to the cloud, because I've learned the hard way that backing up to an external hard drive doesn't mean it is going to be there when I need it; but again, when I backup the whole computer to the cloud, I am potentially exposed if the encryption fails or something else goes wrong.  Nevertheless, my computer is a system that I've been building up since the 80's, and to start over from scratch would be essentially an impossible task, even if some of the data is stored in the cloud at places like Dropbox, et al.

It is a Sword of Damocles that hangs over anything personal or useful put on the internet or stored digitally anyplace.


I sometimes wish I had gone to work for the CIA, where I could have had access to those supercomputers that can digest so much intelligence so quickly, and present it for human review.  Instead, I went to work for the Air Force, and learned to program in Fortran to analyse experimental rocket test data.  So, my experience with computers goes back quite a ways, and still I search for the system that can take all my acquired information, link it together, and quickly regurgitate it to me upon request or upon possible need.

Amazon or Microsoft or Google, even Apple and Facebook, probably have the computing power and storage capability to do something like that -- a new service, a repository for all our information, and artificial intelligence to process it.  Maybe someday we'll see it.  But could we trust them, or the government?
Well, there's Watson Knowledge Catalog and other Watson products.

TheBrain, despite its name, lacks any built-in intelligence for evaluating and analyzing information to provide new insights. It still offers the fastest, easiest way of connecting many pieces of info to many other pieces of info. It is practically impossible to create TB's level of interconnectedness in a "megabrain" by using software like Notion or Airtable.

And, speaking of Airtable, I've gone back to it to store some data that I have tried (tediously and clumsily) to bring into TheBrain.

I think that the biggest structural limitation of TheBrain is the absence of different types of fields for different types of information. The important attributes of, say, a creative work (book, painting, movie, etc.) are not the same as those of a geographical entity,  and not the same as all the various characteristics that distinguish one person from another. In TheBrain, all Thoughts have the same types of info (name, label, icon, color) regardless of what the Thought represents, and there's no ability to store and manipulate numeric data.

Also, it would be nice if TheBrain offered the option to display data in a traditional tabular format that reflects the structure of the underlying SQLite database. This would require the ability to create queries and display data by selecting:
1. A table or related tables
2. Fields to be displayed
3. Constraints/filters
4. Multiple levels of sort order
5. Multiple levels of grouping, with aggregate functions for each level.

Maybe in TB13 ...


@PaddyVA: thank you for your thoughtful analysis. There are certainly lots of challenges without optimal solutions, esp when it involves privacy and security.

@Cerebrum: I appreciate your insights and the link to the Watson Knowledge Catalog. I do very much enjoy TB interconnectness and, in fact, I will sometimes put it into "Expand All" view and just stare at it like a mandala. But when it comes to helping me with visioning or setting up workflows to assist with living an intentional life, is has not proven to be as helpful as I had hoped. 

How do you like Airtable vs Notion, if I may ask? I haven't looked into Airtable or Coda, although I hear that these other options are superior for some people. I think the emerging consensus is there is no "one tool to rule them all" and so it is probably best to just get comfortable with having a tool box. I do agree with you that if TB had the functionality you describe, it would be a more functional tool. 

I've been using Airtable on and off for three years and, as a relational database, it is better than Notion in almost every way. But, unlike Notion, it doesn't have rich text formatting and there's less flexibility in arranging and displaying different types of info on one page. 

As for "visioning or setting up workflows to assist with living an intentional life", I think that TheBrain is not the right tool but I'm not sure what is. Seems to me that it would be useful to have some type of mindmapping (for visioning), along with a journal and task manager to set up and monitor the workflows. Maybe a paper notebook ...😉
fabu wrote:

So here is what I tried to do. I have a topic called "Philosphical Movements." Under this I have various types like Absurdism. Under that I have notable authors like Soren Kierkegaard. Now, it is very easy in TB to link Martin Heidegger as an influence on Kierkegaard and even label that link as such. What I was unable to do was to take a piece of writing by Kierkegaard that shows Heidegger's influence and link to a section of Heidegger's work that is relevant to that influence.

The way I organize this kind of thing is to generally make thoughts more abstract to less abstract, with lateral connections such as influence of one author on another being as concrete as possible. This way the reasoning behind the conclusion that one author influenced another, for example, is represented directly in the graph. So you might have

Philosophers -> Heidegger -> work1 -> [section from work1 that influenced Kierkegaard]
Philosophers -> Kierkegaard -> work2 -> [section from work2 that shows influence of Heidegger]

I would then insert a jump link from both sections to a thought called "Influence of Heidegger on Kierkegaard". The note of this thought would contain my own thoughts about this influence. If more and more examples of influence are added, so that the jump links become too messy, then I would switch things around a bit and add some hierarchy to keep things manageable. For example, I might create an "examples" child of the "Influence of Heidegger on Kierkegaard" thought, and link examples under that; or I might have different children, such as types of influence, influence on different themes, etc. In any case the structure always bottoms out at specific citations so that you can easily retrieve the concrete examples of influence that have led to your conclusions.

Meanwhile I would also have each of the cited works in other hierarchies, such as

Books [this is a type thought for me] -> work1
Books -> work2
Philosophy -> Absurdism -> work2

I might not bother filing specific philosophers under types of philosophy. I have a Person type with various tags like "Author", "Philosopher", "Committed Suicide", etc. That's good enough for me. You can always add more structure later.

fabu wrote:

Are you saying that, in your methodology, you are actually linking notes to each other in TB, like you can link thoughts to each other? Or are you saying that the book, to use your example, is the parent thought and  each separate note on the book are children thoughts that you are then free to link to other thoughts? 

It's the latter.


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