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Here's what’s in this Wonder Tools post:
🧑💻 Almanac’s three advantages over Google Docs
💼 Examples of Almanac documents, useful free templates, and limitations
📄 From Google Docs to Coda, Notion & beyond: how the document ecosystem is evolving
Almanac is a useful alternative to Google Docs. Here are three reasons why.
Almanac is a new Web-based tool for creating documents, along the lines of Microsoft Word or Google Docs.
Those tools haven’t changed much in recent years. That’s fine if all you’re doing is typing words out on a page.
Increasingly, though, many of us use documents as one part of our workflow, linking one part of our work to another. If you want to do new things with documents, such as embedding multimedia, connecting your docs to other services like Slack, an external spreadsheet, or a database — new tools can be useful. That’s why I use new services like Notion, Coda, and now Almanac.
If you want to mess around with an Almanac document to see what it’s like, here’s an open sandbox page you can edit, add things to, or play with.
Almanac offers three valuable advantages over those more traditional services. 👍
Templates Rather than starting from scratch, you can build on thousands of existing documents that have been created by others. You can tame someone’s doc listing 8 types of quick thank-you notes, for example, and make it your own. Or Wes Kao’s checklist doc about how to onboard yourself when you start on a new team. Or this anti-racism doc for managers. Whether you start with your own document or one of hundreds of templates, you can always fork documents to make your own versions.
Add Multimedia Almanac lets you embed videos, social media posts, maps, and other content that Microsoft Word and Google Docs won’t let you show in a document. This capability puts Almanac on par with Notion and Coda as a visual document tool.
Create multiple versions of a document for distinct purposes Almanac is the only tool I’ve seen that allows teams to “fork” a doc, or build multiple versions of documents the way that developers “fork” their code. Just as Github and Figma assist coders and designers with efficient collaboration, Almanac benefits document creators.
Rather than just saving something as a new document with a new title, leading to confusion about which version is the “correct” one, you can maintain a single document that branches off in different directions. You can see who recommends which changes or track who has made which additions. Almanac can help your team follow a structured process for collaboratively building a shared resource.
Limitations of Almanac 👎
The process of forking documents can be confusing. If you’ve never used Github or encountered the concept of forking, it might take you a while to get used to it.
If you already have many of your documents on Google Docs, Notion or in some other place, adding documents in yet another location can create additional confusion. Almanac says it will help any user quickly migrate from Docs, Notion or Confluence for free, and will be launching a doc import tool soon.
Almanac has features for work teams — like shared handbooks and document review workflows — that may not be relevant for individual document creators. It’s ultimately aiming more at work teams than at solo document creators.
Interesting documents made with Almanac 🎨
Scroll through the following Almanac docs or search through the Almanac “core,” a directory of templates in categories like career, lifestyle, management, marketing, remote and sales.
Legacy tech companies are falling behind
Google Docs, Microsoft Word and Evernote — three of the foundational tools for notes and docs — haven’t changed much over the past five years. Apple Notes likewise remains mostly stuck in 2016.
These legacy players make surface updates, and add occasional new features. But their general stagnation has opened an opportunity for creative developers to build a new generation of productivity tools. That’s why new note taking and document apps are flourishing.
Google and Evernote strive to catch up
To their credit, both Evernote and Google's Workspace (formerly GSuite) have both begun rejuvenation projects. Evernote recently announced a new tasks feature. Google also announced new features. Apple’s Notes app likewise gets periodic tweaks.
But many of these adjustments — like Google enabling people to create and edit documents from Google Chat rooms, or making it possible to launch Google Meet sessions from a document — are mostly about linking Google services. They don’t address modern functionality like embeds and interactivity that have helped Coda, Notion and now Almanac stand out. Google still seems focused on satisfying Microsoft Office legacy customers, even as it struggles to keep up with software upstarts.
A new generation of note and document apps
The best of the new crop of note and document tools — apps like Notion, Coda, and Roam— have been growing exponentially. Early adopters been switching to them from Evernote, Google Docs and Word. Investors have noticed, fueling further growth.
Notion has raised more than $68 million and is valued at over $2 billion
Coda raised $80 million and is valued at $636 million
Roam is valued at more than $200 million
Given the amount of money raised in this space, it won’t be surprising if Google, Apple, Dropbox, Salesforce or Microsoft eventually acquires one or more of the document or notes upstarts to update their own offerings.
Each of these mew players has their own place in the emerging productivity ecosystem, as I've written in prior posts. Just as your kitchen toolkit may have numerous pots, pans and cooking implements, your digital toolkit may benefit from specialty tools.
Here's how to get started with Notion, the most popular of these new tools, if you're exploring these new tools for the first time.
Three niche journalism projects to check out
In the new Entrepreneurial Journalism Creators Program I lead at CUNY’s Newmark Graduate School of Journalism, we’ve hosted journalists from 17 countries building new ventures since we launched last October. The pilot cohort developed these 20 niche journalism projects. Here are a few to check out.
Connect the Gulf - Smart, factual news from the Gulf region in about 5 minutes. Read about why and how Andrew Mills launched this new venture. I find it to be a helpful newsletter for learning a bit about what's going on the region beyond the scarce U.S headlines.
Unbias the News — a project to explore journalism from diverse creators collaborating to "unbias the news." It's led by Tabea Grzeszyk, co-founder of Hostwriter, which is an open network that helps journalists collaborate across borders. Tabea wrote about her lessons learned from our 100-day crash course in entrepreneurial journalism.