Workflowy Review: Example of Bad Productivity App

Brian Bojan Dordevic
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Brian Decoded

President at Alpha Efficiency

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Update: These were my opinions about Workflowy prior to some of it’s updates. While I still don’t endorse it as a good outliner, considering it’s free, it’s not as bad as I showcased it in this review. Read a review from someone who actually uses Outliners (and that wouldn’t be me). Alpha Efficiency endorses quality reliable (offline) tools for task management such as OmniFocus and Evernote.

Update number 2: Wanna see what apps does Alpha Efficiency crew uses? Check our post: Digital Anatomy of The Alpha Efficient.

Review of Workflowy

Brankica from Blog Like A Star, recommended me to check out the new productivity web app. I just finished completing some non writing tasks on my computer and decided to take on the chellenge. She said you should write about this, therefore I am.  She was thrilled about the software, and “who is using it”.  Great marketing tactic, reach out to people through influencers, but not so great when it abuses the trust of the people.

This app was fairly long on the market since the time I initially did this review, and the recent comment about import/export functionallity made me do a refresh of this article.  It has minimalistic design and layout, but features are timid and limited. Since the product got out of the beta phase, you are limited to 250 items per month. Considering that this is the outliner, I tend to go crazy with adding items. When I am brainstorming I can add 250 items in one session, let alone one month. Now this wouldn’t be the problem, if the price was reasonable, but monthly fee is 5$ a month. Considering that you get the basic features that should be included in the freemium model, I find this insanely expensive. This means that for the full year, you would pay 60$ or 40$ if you pre-paid the whole year.

For 40$ you could get OmniOutliner on your OSX, which is recognized the best outlining tool, with support for OPML. For 60$ you could get Omnioutliner PRO. Ubiquity is even better once you save OPML files in the same Dropbox folder where you save your mind maps, so you can access them in 2 different views. Previously I’ve stated that Workflowy didn’t have mobile apps, while that changed (for iOS.  I had to make a review about it, in order to give developer feedback.    If you think of competing in this highly competitive market of Productivity applications, you need to re-innovate and defeat applications like EvernoteOmnifocus and Omni Outliner, or offer something that doesn’t already exist.

Here is the list of things that would greatly improve outlining application:w

  • Integration with iCal / Google Calendar – for those who rely on Google SMS texts as reminders
  • Powerful search – so I don’t have to waste time looking for the things that I need
  • More powerful import / export feature – OPML for outlines is an absolute must, especially if you want to use it with your mind mapping software
  • Cross-app / social sharing – So I can export my work into other applications where I can continue what I’ve started without friction or letting me share with my email contacts or Twitter followers.
  • Clipping and Multimedia integration – Ability for me to easily add content without asking me what it is (Cotton Feature)
  • Reminders – so we can setup alarms without finding the native app
  • Offline access – so we don’t have to rely on internet in order for our system to work. (this is announced as premium only feature, still not there yet)

This might seem like a big wish list, but the app doesn’t have to have all of these in order to be great. It needs to do just one thing right and better than other already existing apps out there. And some of these are a complete deal breaker for the outlining app, like the lack of OPML import / export. (Those who are into outlining and mind mapping know exactly what I mean.) 250-500 items limit is also a killer for an app of this type. You will quickly find yourself paying 5$ for a second grade product. For 40–60$ there is so much more that you can get out there. Cotton for example (which is only mobile for the time being, costs 4$, and offers more). iOS app is not Native app, which means that it’s just an icon on your springboard that completely relies on network access in order to work. You can do the same from your web browser. And even when it gets offline access you will have to pay for it. In this era where almost every app is coming with Dropbox support out of the box, this doesn’t make it the best contestant as an Alpha Efficiency recommended app.

What I didn’t like about this app, it was marketed by internet influencers and various bloggers, that were nudging people into trying it out, while not telling them, that there are far better alternatives to outlining than Workflowy. And this prompted me to write a bad review. As there are far better alternatives, which might be cheaper and offer you more options. If you are using free version of this app, it might be a good temporary solution. After that you should move on to some more cost effective apps. I hope you guys find something useful in this review and implement some of the suggestions in order to make it better. Now question for the readers. Have you used Workflowy? If so, what did you like about it? Do you mind paying 5$ if you know that you could get more bang for your $ elsewhere? Look forward reading your thoughts.


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