The Best (and the rest) of Personal Knowledge Management Software  [Updated 2023]
I spend a ridiculous amount of time searching for a PKM tool that fits my organizational needs. Everything falls short. I want to help others on their own quests by compiling this list. Tags on AlternativeTo are helpful, but I wanted a place to keep a curated list with my own findings that others can contribute to.
Where I can, I have tried to answer the following important questions for each app:
- Is it open source?
- Is it offline-capable?
- Can blocks/notes exist in multiple locations? As well as providing rough overall ratings (Scale of 1 to 5) for the following metrics: - Organization: How does the app allow you to structure information? Is it flexible? Is it logical? - User experience (UX): Is it easy to use? Is the interface designed in a way that is not just logical, but natural for the everyday user? - Privacy: To the best of my (limited) knowledge, does this tool protect your personal data AND is it designed so that you can ensure the safety of your data yourself rather than relying on the app developers (trust, but verify).
Please comment with additions/suggestions, collaboration makes things better.
The apps that, for various reasons enumerated here, seem like they have the best chance of developing into something truly outstanding. At this point, there's nothing that I can say is truly satisfying, but I am very picky.
My daily driver. This app has a lot to like and is development is rolling along at an encouraging clip. Logseq is an outliner at heart, but with a fluid enough user experience (based on markdown and/or org files) to make it a comfortable option for editing documents. Has a decent selection of plugins that looks like it will continue to expand. Still, there are plenty of rough patches to smooth out in terms of customization and user experience (see this post: https://discuss.logseq.com/t/thoughts-on-logseq-vs-obsidian/8614). This is probably the favorite to meet my goals in the future.
Is it open source? Yes Is it offline-capable? Yes Can blocks/notes exist in multiple locations? Almost. Through the block embed feature, Logseq allows you to transclude blocks in multiple locations. Transclusions can be edited in place, which is a big advantage over other programs that allow embeds/transclusion. But the block only has one "true" parent block, so functionality is limited.
Organization: 4 UX: 3.5 Privacy: 5
A powerful markdown editor with a large user base and a lot of great plugins. It isn't open source but can be configured so as to ensure data integrity. Mobile app is surprisingly good, a rarity among entries on this list. Honestly if this app had a better system for block embeds and editable transclusion, it would probably be my go-to.
Is it open source? No Is it offline-capable? Yes Can blocks/notes exist in multiple locations? No. Pages and blocks can be embedded/transcluded, but transclusions can't be edited in place. There are some clunky semi-workarounds for this but I didn't find them to be practical.
Organization: 3.5 UX: 4.5 Privacy: 5
My heart is with this one. It is still in alpha but the developers' vision is strongly in line with what I'd like to see from an ideal PKM tool. Very flexible layout and block/object based organizational structure. I am an alpha tester and I can attest that this app is still missing a lot of functionality, but you can see that it has huge potential. The verdict is still out, but if Anytype can deliver what it promises it will blow away the competition.
Is it open source? Not yet, but devs say it will be Is it offline-capable? Yes Can blocks/notes exist in multiple locations? Yes
Organization: TBD UX: TBD Privacy: TBD
After failing to include Remnote at all in the initial version of this list, I am adding it directly to the "Frontrunners" section. What gives?? I discovered Remnote shortly after creating this list, and though a lot of its core functionality was impressive, it had a lot of kinks to be worked out. Frustrated by finding yet another app that just didn't quite live up to its potential, I didn't bother to add it here. Now, having revisited Remnote several months later, I am pleasantly surprised by the steady stream of improvements the Remnote team has been adding, making for a much improved experience and a promising future. Highlights include:
- Strong offline functionality, desktop app, and free plan make trying this app as a daily driver relatively painless (and easier to trust with your data despite being closed source)
- Android app available (haven't tried it) and iOS app scheduled for release in February 2023
- Solid plugin system with small but growing list of user-created plugins
Stay tuned! This one could be the app to beat.
Is it open source? No Is it offline-capable? Yes Can blocks/notes exist in multiple locations? Yes
Organization: 4 UX: 4 Privacy: 4.5
These apps are good. With some changes they could easily be on my shortlist. I note here why, in my opinion, they fall short.
Trillium gets a lot right in that it is a good outliner and a good note-taking app, and it has a robust system for allowing notes to exist in multiple locations. Those traits alone make it a solid contender. However it seems to lack a decent plugin system, something that gives options like Logseq, Obsidian and TiddlyWiki much-needed additional functionality and allows users to easily benefit from each other's ideas. There is a script API (actually two APIs), but they are still "experimental" and regardless there's no sign of any sort of centralized collection of user-created scripts.
If this had a working plugin system and an offline-capable mobile version, I'd say it would be better than Logseq and Obsidian. Unfortunately there's no sign that those features are going to be added any time soon though, if at all.
Is it open source? Yes Is it offline-capable? Yes (desktop only) Can blocks/notes exist in multiple locations? Yes (through the "cloning" feature)
Organization: 4.5 UX: 3.5 Privacy: 5
TiddlyWiki is based on a great concept: all components of TiddlyWiki (both notes and the underlying building blocks) are blocks called "Tiddlers" that form a single HTML file that can modify itself. This makes it a lightweight note-taking app that is portable and infinitely customizable. There is a wide selection of plugins, although the degree of quality varies and some may not work well with others. In practice, the notes you create as a user tend to be longer than they should given TW's focus on atomization (there is a promising plugin called Streams that addresses this). Overall, it feels like a strong foundation that someone could build a truly outstanding tool with, but the baseline experience is clunky if you aren't prepared to take some serious time customizing things.
Is it open source? Yes Is it offline-capable? Yes Can blocks/notes exist in multiple locations? Not exactly. Tiddlers can be transcluded but transclusions can't be edited in place. There might be some way to hack together a slick editable transclusion method but I haven't found one.
Organization: 4 UX: 3 Privacy: 5
I really like the functionality and feel of Notion. I don't like that your data is stored remotely by a for-profit company. Pretty much as simple as that. Notion isn't really a contender for me because they'll never change their business model, I just put it here because I really like using it. Note that Anytype is sometimes described as an aspiring Notion clone.
Is it open source? No Is it offline-capable? No Can blocks/notes exist in multiple locations? Yes (through the "synced blocks" feature)
Organization: 4.5 UX: 4.5 Privacy: 1
Other options. I've looked into them, but I've learned enough to put them on the backburner. Note that just because an app is here, doesn't mean it isn't the right choice for you. Some of these seem pretty decent. Others, where noted, have serious shortcomings.
I've actually never tried Roam Research, but it's hard not to learn about from how much people talk about it. Frankly, if you are willing to shell out $15/month and don't mind the privacy concerns, try this out. I would, except that both are dealbreakers for me. Maybe soon Logseq will be as good.
[Update: I finally tried signing up for a free trial of Roam. If there's something that sets Roam apart from Logseq, I sure didn't notice it. Seems Logseq has done a great job of replicating] Roam's key features. As it stands currently I see no reason to let my free trial roll over to a full Roam subscription.]
Is it open source? No Is it offline-capable? Yes Can blocks/notes exist in multiple locations? Yes
Organization: 4.5 UX: ??? Privacy: 2
This program has a really strong implementation of what they call clones (allowing a node to exist in multiple places). It's a shame that it is an immense pain to set up and to use. Limited selection of plugins and it doesn't look like the developer/community have much interest in making it easier for novices. If you are a serious programmer and have more patience than I do, you might find this to be a really neat tool for coding. Maybe you can find a way to tap into Leo's powerful outlining functionality from a more user-friendly app (the website has a decent explanation of how to use Leo with other programs). I don't know. This one frustrates me because it could be great but the UX is just not there.
Is it open source? Yes Is it offline-capable? Yes Can blocks/notes exist in multiple locations? Yes
Organization: 5 UX: 1.5 Privacy: 5
A powerful organizational tool based on the Emacs text editor. I tried for a while to get into Emacs and concluded that while it is a neat text editor that I continue to use sometimes, I don't have the time to customize it to the point where it I think it would be useful to me as far as PKM is concerned. If you're an Emacs person, you probably already know and love Org and maybe could benefit from combining it with other Emacs packages like org-transclude (pretty underwhelming when I tried it) or Hyperbole. If you're not an Emacs person, be prepared to fully embrace learning how to navigate the Emacs environment if you want this to be your go-to.
Pretty self explanatory: a TiddlyWiki variant trying to replicate the functionality of Roam. Pretty good, but as with many TiddlyWiki-based tools it is kind of rough and doesn't always play nice with other TiddlyWiki plugins. Wasn't for me but this is one I encourage people to try out.
An attempt to replicate Roam using org-mode. Again, if you're an Emacs user, worth checking out, if not, maybe not. If Roam is all it's cracked up to be, this didn't succeed in fully implementing its functionality.
Kind of old and clunky looking. Strictly hierarchical outline structures so I pretty much lost interest when I learned that.
Worth checking out if you are a fan of pure mind-mappers, not so much if you like text-heavy organization methods.
A great app for basic note-taking but not especially feature-rich when it comes to full-fledged PKM.
Tried it, wasn't for me
Outstanding functionality as an outliner app--including the coveted ability to include blocks in multiple locations--but honestly not much else. Not open source, not offline capable, no plugins, and no sign that any of that will change. If you just want a straightforward outliner tool Workflowy does the job well but for a more complete PKM system there's nothing this app can do that couldn't be done just as well by Remnote (and a lot Remnote can do that this can't).
Bonus: Sighted In the Wild
Options I've heard of, but don't really know anything about. Included here to save you some time. If you have experience with them please chime in.
Billed as an open source Evernote alternative. Thanks @candroid_man for suggesting this one.
Don't know much about this one, but of course I have been seeing a lot about it because they are spending a ton on advertising. They are clearly targeting users in the business realm but it looks like it has a ton of features and would probably be a great option if it weren't for what I'm sure are glaring privacy concerns (despite their toothless assertion that they are "serious about security and privacy." I honestly have been meaning to sign up (with a throwaway email of course) and check this one out, but the lack of personal control over your data makes it hard for me to imagine sticking around.
Absolutely no idea if this one is legit.
Seems to me very similar to Logseq, but less feature-rich.
[Update: Athens Research has been discontinued]
End note: Sighted in the Wild (continued)
Here are a couple more "sighted in the wild" options that aren't yet on AlternativeTo. Some of these might be total duds but if they amount to anything someone can add a page for them:
- Tangent Notes
I think StandardNotes would fit in this list : Standard Notes
Best Personal Knowledge Management Software Thanks for sharing knowledgeable content...
Check out Notesnook as well. I've been helping the devs find bugs and whatnot, and it is very promising, I've been using it as my daily driver for about a year. My only issue with it currently is how limited organization is currently. You get Notebooks and Topics for "folders" and you cannot go any deeper in the hierarchy yet. Their main goal is open sourcing by the end of this month, but they do plan to fix this soon
Hey thanks for the suggestion, and apologies: I meant to add this to the list when I first saw your comment. Adding it now.