I have mentioned it before, I’m sure, but I use Notion.so a lot. I once referred to is as “abusing the free tier” because it has become my go-to note-taking and organizational platform since its release. When I attempt to use other platforms, I find myself falling into “Notion-isms” when formatting a document. It has become part of my life the same way my reMarkable tablet had which is really something I can only state and hope you understand by the number of times I beat that drum; I can’t actually feel that for you which is a real shame because I really like Notion.
Never one to not give it the ol’ College Try, Microsoft apparently also loves Notion, but not as much as I do because thanks to having an army of in-house developers, they have released a preview of their own take on Notion (I will never call anything a “[ESTABLISHED PROJECT] killer” because that’s never ended well for anyone) called “Loop”, which I assume alludes to “keeping project members in the loop” as this tool is being bundled up in their Office 365 ecosystem.
The gist of Loop (and Notion, though I will labor to talk about things in terms of Loop and not fall back on Notion) is that digital note taking should be as easy as it is with pen and paper. Taking notes on a computer is already hampered by having to type and switch to a mouse or, if you’re on mobile, frequently correct your spelling because you have massive thumbs. Computers don’t allow us to draw, usually, so we can’t sketch, meaning we’re limited to letters and formatting to get our thoughts down. On the upside, computer-based note apps can do things pencil and paper cannot, like embed drawings and other images, automatically format our content, and automate processes that should hopefully speed up our info entry and ideally will make more sense to others than whatever chicken-scrawl we’d otherwise lay down on a legal pad.
Loop offers the concept of “workspaces”, which in normal-speak would equate to a notebook. We then create pages which can be nested ad infinitum as far as I know. This is really just a rudimentary organizational tree because the hierarchy we create this way has little bearing on whatever flow we impose through the body of the document. We can lay down hyperlinks that lead out of the workspace, or to other sections, or even other workspaces.
Content is added to each “page” which can be as short and direct or as long and verbose as necessary. Content is added in “blocks” which can represent a heading, an inline table, a list, or plain old text, and any of these can be added using slash commands before typing, which is a shortcut that quickly becomes second nature. In terms of more advanced blocks, Loop offers task lists, a voting table, and a progress tracker.
Loop is off to a good start but is certainly not going to cause anyone to abandon Notion unless that anyone had always wished Notion had better integration with Office 365. It’s very obvious that Loop is hyper fixated on collaboration as it offers workspace sharing and comments at the block level. If and when this app becomes integrated with Teams (which my company uses), I could see using it a lot more than I would otherwise.
One thing I didn’t like Loop — and about Notion as of late — is the incorporation of AI. For me, these note taking apps are for people to lay down their thoughts, not to have some ill-advised regurgitation machine spit out content. I personally feel that incorporating AI into these tools is a poor use of developer resources, and although I rarely wish bad luck on people, I hope these companies get bit on the ass because they chose to chase a shiny train-wreck of a feature instead of putting their money where it would actually do good for their users.
It looks like Loop is trying for one of those “exclusive invite only” soft launches, but I logged in and was given access immediately. I checked it out on the iPhone, but was told that as far as that goes, there was a waiting list. I’m good, really; Loop is currently a very, very weak contender in the digital note-taking space, even compared to the old workhorse OneNote. Maybe Loop will catch up to Notion, but the latter has a significant head start that has allowed them to set the bar to a point where I’m not entirely sure Microsoft will even attempt to reach. I wouldn’t be surprised if they cop Notion’s look and feel but then do some kind of hair-flip and claim that their value is aimed at Office users, not the general public, which is fine as there’s a lot to be said for integration at the enterprise level. For people like me, though, who have a weird fascination with note-taking and note-taking “culture” (I am saying there is a note-taking culture), I would hope the Microsoft doesn’t try to pull a Nintendo, and does try to reach for equality with Notion, because right now Notion is kind of alone in this space, and could really use someone to help light the fire under them for at least some quality of life improvements (why can’t we have all pages at full-width, Notion?!).