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Notion improves document search and sharing for larger teams

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Notion has just launched a handful of new features for its modern document editor, all of which are aimed at bringing in bigger companies.

The update includes a much-anticipated overhaul of document search, along with a new sharing feature called “Teamspaces” that gives organizations more control over who sees what. Notion also adds new access controls for IT managers, such as the ability to reassign content when an employee leaves the company.

As a tool for taking notes and managing projects, Notion has always sought to cross the line between personal and business use. The generous free tier, which allows individuals to create an unlimited number of documents, has helped Notion attract more than 20 million active users, and the system of interactive, interconnected notes is now widely imitated by companies like Microsoft and Google.

This latest update marks a more explicit effort to cater to large corporations, which represent Notion’s most lucrative customers. (The company charges $8 per user per month for team use.) Madhu Muthukumar, Notion’s chief product officer, says the new features came naturally as the companies using Notion grew.

“We’re excited to see these companies that are much bigger, providing them with the same things that smaller companies love,” he says.

Refresh search

For diehard Notion users, search has long been a pain point. Results can load slowly and are not always accurate; it is often faster to manually navigate through a document structure than to search for what you are looking for.

The new search function is about 50% faster and will show recently viewed pages more often at the top of the search results. The search engine also compares terms with a similar language, e.g. results for ‘suggest’ if the search term is ‘suggested’, and supports the use of quotation marks to get an exact match. Meanwhile, a new filtering feature allows users to narrow down searches by date, author, page or Teamspace.

Muthukumar acknowledges the earlier criticism of Notion’s search feature and says he’s heard it both on social media and in conversations with customers. While the overhaul will help individual users, it will mainly benefit larger companies that have huge document collections to browse.

“We have a responsibility,” Muthukumar says. “If people think our search is slow, it’s bad for us. It also means they want to put a lot of content into Notion, and probably won’t if we don’t improve it.”

Workspaces within workspaces

Notion doesn’t just expect businesses to use the search feature to find what they’re looking for. It also tries to make browsing notes less cumbersome with a feature called ‘Teamspaces’.

Teamspaces are essentially miniature workspaces within Notion, each with their own sets of editing roles and access controls. Team members can then choose which Teamspaces they want to see, giving them a more customizable view of a company’s documents.

In a way, it’s an attempt to address an important difference between Notion and traditional document editors (along with other modern rivals, such as Coda): instead of having a list of individual documents that users can jump to individually, adds Notion all together in one big workspace, visible through the sidebar menu.

While that’s not really an issue for individuals or smaller teams, it can get overwhelming for larger companies. Muthukumar notes that this has caused some companies to have multiple Notion accounts. The hope is that Teamspaces will encourage more companies to centralize around one account, using the new features to control who sees what.

“If it’s six or seven people, you can probably keep it pretty well organized. Once you reach 6,000 people, the product has to do something else to help,” Muthukumar says.

Still a place for personal use

While the new features are clearly built with larger organizations in mind, Muthukumar says Notion doesn’t emphasize personal use. For starters, the improvements to search will also be useful to individuals, and some small groups can also benefit from setting up Teamspaces.

But Muthukumar also says that appealing to individuals gives Notion more credibility within companies. Those users are often the ones who create ambitious templates for task management and project planning, and they are also the ones who can easily switch to another product at any time.

“I think serving the personal user is a privilege we have,” he says. “We understand that they are the most demanding customer.”

If those individual users eventually become addicted to Notion, they probably want to put it to work. For example, Notion originally gained traction with smaller teams and is now trickling down to larger companies. The new features are an attempt to keep pace as the companies using Notion grow larger.

“Now that we’re in a business, the questions really are, ‘Can I use this for work? Can I use this with groups? Can I use this at scale?” says Muthukumar. “And that’s different from someone using it for personal use, but it doesn’t change its fundamental value.”

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