Early thoughts on Tana

Early Access

The first thing to know is that the product is in development and, at the time of this writing, it is in “early access” which means it’s further along than an alpha version of an app but not really a full beta yet. This means things are missing from the tool.

Outliner-based note-taking & database

I am not sure the good crew at Tana would explain Tana this way, but this is how I view Tana:

Outliners are the thought scalpel of

the modern-day thinker

For example, in the following screenshot, I have my notes on “cognitive distortions.” There are many of them, so I create one bullet as a top-level description, then I include notes under that top-level bullet to take further notes on that topic.

Tana outliner
  • Level 1: a supertag behaves like a tag as we would use in any other tool. Tags are labels that identify the type of thought or idea they are “tagged” to. So, for example, you make a note about your mother’s apple pie recipe, and you tag it with #recipe. Later you make a note of your friend’s fudge cookie recipe, and you tag it #recipe. By tagging these as recipes, you identify what they are, and often it makes it easier to find all your recipes hidden away in your archive of notes at a later time. Tags are a common feature in most programs today.
  • Level 2: In addition to traditional tag support as described, Tana goes to another level in allowing a tag to have additional data elements.
A node with #recipe supertag applied to it and showing all the fields connected with that recipe.
Defining the fields of a supertag called #recipe.

Inheritance

With inheritance, you can define a supertag and have it based on another supertag. That is to say, one supertag can inherit all the fields of another supertag and still have its own unique fields.

Merging

Regarding merging, supertags can be combined on one node. Imagine I am doing a personnel review. I may need to use the #employee supertag and #yearlyEmployeReview supertag together. They work independently of one another, but they can be used together, and all the data elements of these supertags can be captured in one note. Here is a note with two supertags demonstrating how Tana merges them:

Two supertags on one node, thus merging their collective fields into that node.
  • — — End NERD mode — — -

Querying your data

Another superpower of Tana is the ability to query your notes. Tana has several fast ways of generating queries based on supertags or the contents of your notes. It also has a query design tool:

Query designer in Tana, along with results output as a table.
A recent Tweet on the value of investing time into changing from one TfT to another.

Exporting Data out of Tana

Today, you can already export your data from Tana in JSON format. What impresses me about the export is it is a full-fidelity export of data related to your graph. This means that you can export all of your data into this format. This is an excellent start!

What is missing?

As mentioned, Tana is in early access. The product has an amazing foundation, but we are waiting for a few key features.

Mobile

Tana works in a mobile browser, but like most outliners, it’s not a great experience in a mobile scenario. I do know that the Tana team, already from early on in their development work, have been prototyping and experimenting with mobile. So the good news is that we will eventually have a good mobile app for Tana.

Offline

Tana currently requires a live internet connection. Again, at some point in the not-so-distant future, I know it is planned that Tana will function offline. For some people, this is a big deal. For me, I don’t think in the last few years I have had a device that isn’t always connected to the internet, so this is not something I worry about. But ok, this will be nice to have.

Markdown

As mentioned in the previous section, we can't yet export Tana data to markdown. However, for some users, data storage in markdown is a key requirement. I think I can reasonably conclude and say that Tana will never store its data in markdown. Tana is a graph database, and this is impractical to store the native graph data in markdown. However, exporting it into usable markdown files will be possible.

Programmability (API)

Currently, no API on the client or server has been made publicly available. But I know firsthand this is being worked on. Again it’s just a matter of time until we have this feature.

Who is Tana for?

Oh, this is a question I have been pondering now for months. I have no simple answer to this question. Tana will be very useful to those who like outliners and who believe in the power of having a database built into their notes.

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