Skip to main content

What do you use for a second brain?

· 6 min read
Bekah Hawrot Weigel
Developer Experience Lead

Today is day 15 of my 29 Days of Open Source Alternatives series, where I'll be exploring open source alternatives to proprietary software in the categories of Game Development and Multimedia, Development Tools and Platforms, Productivity and Collaboration Tools, and more. If you'd like to see the list of the open source alternatives I'll be covering this month, head over to my 29 Days of Open Source Alts Page or if you want more open source to learn-to-code programs, check out this list. This is our first post in the Productivity & Collaboration Category.

Have you ever heard of the concept of a "second brain"? A "second brain" is an external, digital system for storing, organizing, and retrieving information. The concept is that it's like an extension of our own brains because it helps us to retain knowledge, improve productivity, and foster creativity by removing some of the cognitive load on our own brain. Notion and Evernote are popular tools used in this context.

I’ve tried Notion, not once, not twice, but more times than I want to admit. I want it to be the tool that rules them all, but what happens is that I sink a bunch of time with nothing to show. I’ve been a long-time Obsidian user because I feel that it’s simple to get started and not overcomplicated. But I also dislike dealing with Obsidian Sync to get access across devices. I've also tried Evernote and have checked out Bear and Roam. (It's almost like you need a second brain to keep track of all the second brain apps :zany_face:) It made sense to test out Appflowy, one of the open source apps that I’ve heard people recommend over and over again as an alternative to notion, so I wanted to try it out.

AppFlowy is an AI-powered secure workspace where you achieve more without losing control of your data

Factors to Consider when Choosing Your Second Brain

Choosing a tool for your second brain can be challenging because there are so many out there. Here's a list of five factors to consider when making that choice. Let me know if there are other factors you think are more important!

  1. Ease of Use and Accessibility: It should be user-friendly and accessible across different devices and platforms. As a mom of four, who's constantly on-the-go, this is super important for me.

  2. Organization and Searchability: Look for a system that offers tools like tagging, categorization, and linking between notes. A good search function is going to go a long way towards maintaining effectiveness.

  3. Integration Capabilities: Do you need it to integrate with other tools and platforms you use? Integrations can streamline your workflow by allowing you to transfer information between your "second brain" and other applications like email, calendars, project management tools, and social media platforms.

  4. Privacy and Security: Since your second brain may contain sensitive personal or professional information, choose a system that has strong security measures, and consider the privacy policy and reputation for handling user data.

  5. Scalability and Flexibility: Your needs may change over time, so consider a system that can grow and adapt with you. Look for a platform that allows for customization and has the capacity to handle an increasing amount of information without becoming unwieldy.

Spotlight: Appflowy


Some of AppFlowy's functionalities include:

  • Cross-platform Sync: Keep notes synchronized across Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, and iOS devices (although you have to load it through testflight).
  • Rich Formatting: Advanced text formatting with bullet points, tables, and more.
  • Task Tracking: Transform notes into tasks with deadlines and priority levels.
  • Linking Notes: Create connections between related notes for better organization.
  • Block References: Embed blocks from other documents and sync updates.
  • Offline Mode: Work offline with automatic synchronization when back online.
  • Dark Mode: Comfortable viewing with light and dark mode options.

Comparison with Proprietary Software

The comparison table now includes Evernote and Notion as specific competitors:

Open SourceYes (AGPLv3)NoNo
Multi-platformWindows, Mac, Linux, Android, iOSWindows, Mac, Mobile, WebWindows, Mac, Linux, Mobile, Web
Task ManagementYesLimitedYes
Linked NotesYesYesYes
Block ReferencingYesNoNo
Offline ModeYesSome editionsNo
Free Plan LimitationNonefree tier that bumps up to starting at $10.83/month for more space and featuresstarting at $16/mo per team member for teams

Open Source Stats

AppFlowy's open source statistics demonstrate its growth and active development:

    • Stars: 46.4k
    • Watching: 331
  • Forks: 3k
  • License:AGPL 3.0
  • Commits: 5k+
  • Contributors: 264

It's great to see that they have consistent contributions and a high activity rate.

Appflowy dashboard

I think their steady contributors is a testament to how they value their community. They definitely pass the bus factor test.

Appflowy contributor graph

One of the reasons I think they're able to build a strong community and consistent contributions is their clear messaging on their Readme. They want to build this product together. They want to recognize contributions that aren't all code contributions.

If your Pull Request is accepted as it fixes a bug, adds functionality, or makes AppFlowy's codebase significantly easier to use or understand, Congratulations! If your administrative and managerial work behind the scenes sustains the community, Congratulations! You are now an official contributor to AppFlowy. Get in touch with us (link) to receive the very special Contributor T-shirt! Proudly wear your T-shirt and show it to us by tagging @appflowy on Twitter.

Their tech stack is a little out of the realm of my knowledge, but I'm going to check out their issues to see if I can make a contribution, because they seem like such a great project to contribute to.

appflowy tech stack


Appflowy doesn't have all the features of Notion, and they admit that. But they're working on it, and they're transparent about their roadmap, while focusing on the user being in charge of their data. That seems like a pretty important feature if you're using it as a "second brain."

Is there a tool you're using as a "second brain"? Drop it in the comments.