Notion and Coda vs. Word and Google Docs

It took a number of a long time, however the latest doc editors have lastly stopped copying Microsoft Word.

Trendy editors reminiscent of Notion and Coda don’t mimic the printed web page. Moderately, utilizing them feels extra like looking the net. Their writing areas movement freely with out web page breaks, and they will department into subpages that hyperlink amongst themselves. These pages are additionally interactive by nature, with checkboxes, charts, Trello-like kanban boards, and tie-ins to exterior knowledge sources.


Whereas Notion and Coda have each been round for a number of years, their method is immediately attracting a whole lot of competitors. Google Docs added interactive checklists and simpler linking to other documents earlier this 12 months. A future replace to Field’s Field Notes will add anchor hyperlinks, callout bins, and overhauled tables. The mission administration software Monday launched a document editor in August with clear nods to Notion’s drag-and-drop content material blocks. Microsoft itself is engaged on a modular Workplace modifying system known as Fluid Framework. In the meantime, smaller upstarts Skiff and Craft are placing their very own spin on the components, with respective focuses on privateness and writing.

Field Notes

The end result could possibly be the primary main paradigm shift for doc editors in a long time. But it surely might additionally result in new complications for customers, as firms upend their tried-and-true instruments in pursuit of the subsequent massive factor.


Loss of life of the file, rise of the indie editor

Shishir Mehrotra, Coda’s cofounder and CEO, says massive firms reminiscent of Microsoft, Apple, and Google haven’t historically cared about reinventing the doc editor. As a substitute, they created their phrase processors to serve a bigger purpose of creating their respective computing platforms.

“Each innovation within the productiveness area in [decades] has been by a know-how firm whose main purpose was to evangelize its platform,” Mehrotra says. “In case your main purpose is to evangelize your working system, you’re simply not that incented to alter a lot within the productiveness suite.”

However with the rise of cell gadgets and extra highly effective internet apps, customers’ expectations have began to alter. Final month, The Verge’s Monica Chen wrote about how faculty college students struggle to grasp traditional computer file structure. Having grown up on companies which can be online-first, file hierarchies now not appear pure.

Instruments like Notion and Coda observe that concept to its logical conclusion. In contrast to Google Docs—which nonetheless makes use of pagination, allows you to kind paperwork into folders, and maintains compatibility with Word—these new editors are unconcerned with supporting legacy ideas.

“There’s a generational shift occurring to those instruments, much like what we noticed when individuals moved from issues like Microsoft Workplace to extra cloud-based instruments,” Notion spokeswoman Elaine Greenberg mentioned through electronic mail. “Folks don’t need to be tethered to the rigidity of the incumbents.”


Notion and Coda didn’t invent the concept of free-flowing, interlinked doc editors. Lots of their core ideas first emerged in an editor known as Quip, which launched in 2013 as a mobile-centric various to Workplace. Quip itself drew inspiration from social media apps like Twitter, utilizing @ mentions each to ping different collaborators and hyperlink to different paperwork. It additionally launched reside checklists to paperwork, which made them really feel extra like reside planning instruments than printed pages. Quip cofounder Bret Taylor cheerily spoke of killing the pc file and turning paperwork into all-in-one project-planning hubs.

However the software program was just a bit forward of its time, one thing that Kevin Gibbs, Quip’s different cofounder and present CEO now acknowledges. Whereas Salesforce acquired Quip for $750 million in 2016, Notion was simply valued at $10 billon, and Coda is valued $1.4 billion. It’s taken till now, Gibbs says, for customers to simply accept doc editors that mirror the freewheeling nature of the net.


“It isn’t about group and making folders and hierarchies,” he says. “It’s actually an internet of interconnected paperwork the place you discover and reference issues.”

The brand new doc wars

After all, the coronavirus pandemic has acted as an accelerant as effectively. As extra firms and people shift to distant or hybrid work, the way in which that they work can be altering, and they want new instruments to maintain up.

Aaron Levie, the CEO of Field, provides the instance of a convention name. Earlier than the pandemic, coworkers would meet in individual and one designated notetaker may electronic mail notes to everybody else. Now employees are assembly in individual and remotely whereas utilizing their computer systems the entire time. Which means everybody can collaborate on a single planning doc, each in actual time and afterward.

“You’ve bought this excellent merger of synchronous and asynchronous collaboration on the identical asset,” Levie says, “and so it’s essentially altering how we’re working.”


All-in-one doc editors like Notion and Coda might doubtlessly be the holy grail for this type of work, which explains why so many different firms are speeding to adapt. Google is attempting to suit product planning into its doc editor, whereas Monday is attempting to suit doc modifying into its product planner. It wouldn’t be fully shocking if Airtable or Trello have been to develop past their core spreadsheet and kanban board interfaces to incorporate phrase processing-like paperwork as effectively.

“This market is essential not solely as a result of it threatens 50 years of what a doc is but in addition as a result of if it really works, it’s going to finish up subsuming these different classes proper subsequent to it,” Mehrotra says.


All of this might find yourself feeling overwhelming for customers. As a substitute of getting completely different instruments tuned for various jobs, they’ll possible must take care of apps that appear more and more homogenous.

However Levie says that is simply the pure consequence of a brand new paradigm taking maintain. He sees Notion-style modifying as changing into desk stakes as extra clients demand it, leaving firms to distinguish in different methods.

“I don’t assume you’re essentially going to win on the editor,” he says. “You’re going to win within the context of the way you’re sharing all that data.”

For Field, that may be the info governance and compliance options it presents for companies dealing with delicate knowledge. For Google, it may be the deep ties to different elements of the Workspace ecosystem, reminiscent of Gmail and Meet.

Google Docs

And within the case of Notion and Coda, each are racing to construct ecosystems across the templates their customers are making. Final week, Coda introduced a central marketplace the place customers can promote templates to at least one one other. Notion hasn’t taken that step but—at this time, customers typically promote their work on different websites reminiscent of Gumroad—however is in a robust place to take action. Notion spokeswoman Greenberg factors to the corporate’s “unusually massive and engaged group of 20 million customers” as a differentiator.


The end result could also be a wholly new set of conventions round doc modifying, upending a long time of editors that modeled themselves after Word and earlier word-processing behemoths reminiscent of WordPerfect.

“If you happen to count on that each doc works this fashion,” Coda’s Mehrotra says, “it’s going to progressively work its method into each product.”