What is Flat? And how's it different from similar apps?
Flat’s not a wiki, a chat app, an all-in-one app, or a project management app. Here’s how Flat compares with several popular kinds of collaboration tools.
Feb 22, 2023
Flat is a new kind of teamwork app that anyone can figure out in just a few minutes. It’s a friendly home base where your team can write down everything that needs to get done, see what’s happening with it, and have focused conversations about it, all without chaos or distraction.
Yet Flat is also deeply familiar because it builds on popular solutions like taskboards, docs, and threads. Because Flat feels so familiar, people often ask how it compares to other products in the collaboration and productivity space. If you’re wondering the same thing, read on!
Is Flat a chat app like Slack or Teams? Does it replace those?
Nope! Flat is a hybrid tool that combines static content with conversations. Like a chat app, Flat lets your team have discussions in a way that’s super fast and easy. But it also collects and organizes the context, status, and related assets of the work itself, which chat apps don’t do.
And unlike the noisy and easy-to-miss messages in chat apps, Flat's approach to discussion protects your team's focus by being async and non-interruptive, and prevents balls from being dropped by keeping track of open threads for you. You can read more about the key differences here.
Chat apps are great for some things: for quickly asking somebody to hop on a call; for group convos like teamwide announcements or deciding where to get lunch; for dealing with an urgent problem together. But when you need to ask a question, make a request, raise an issue, or record a decision about a particular piece of work, and you don’t need an immediate, live response (which is most of the time!), Flat’s tracked async threads are probably the better option.
Bottom line: chat apps fill a different role in your teamwork toolkit from Flat, so you’ll probably want to keep yours around, although you can expect to be using it a lot less!
How is Flat different from Notion?
Notion is a powerful, flexible wiki system. It’s great for creating knowledge bases of living documents, which Notion calls pages.
Besides wikis, Notion can also be used for work tracking by using pages to represent tasks or projects. You can stamp pages with a status like To do or In progress, and then view them in a board view. But because Notion is fundamentally still a wiki, it can get confusing and misaligned when used for work tracking. For example, to view your pages as a board, you first need to create a “database”, possibly connect it to a “data source”, and set a bunch of configuration options, among other things.
In Flat, to view your work as a board, you just have to, well, open Flat. Workflows are in Flat’s DNA.
Bottom line: Notion and other wikis are a great tool to manage your team’s official documentation, like procedures, policies, and specifications. It often makes sense to keep using Notion for that purpose and Flat for work tracking and collaboration.
How is Flat different from Google Docs?
At first glance, Flat’s topics feel a lot like Google Docs. They both have a large central document editor with comments in the right margins. But Flat and Google Docs have very different aims, and consequently very different capabilities, despite this superficial similarity.
Google Docs is fundamentally a powerful collaborative word processor. It’s an outstanding tool for working together to craft polished content like memos, articles, scripts, and myriad other examples. By contrast, Flat is fundamentally a home base for your team; the place where all your team’s work lives, and where you have focused conversations about it. Flat’s documents are intended mainly for capturing context like a project’s objectives and constraints, helpful background, etc.
The major difference between the two tools comes down to status and organization. Google Docs are organized spatially, in folders, with no concept of status or time or lifecycle. That doesn’t line up well with how most people think about their work, which tends to be status-based e.g. “What’s on my plate right now? What’s behind schedule? What’s coming up next week?”. Flat’s topics include essential status information like owners and due dates, and they’re organized temporally, with simple lifecycles and an archive to keep past work from cluttering up the present’s focus.
Bottom line: Flat and Google Docs are built for different purposes and are best thought of as complements to each other, not replacements.
How is Flat different from Trello?
Trello is a simple and flexible tool for managing “lists of lists” that many teams use as a lightweight project management solution. It’s designed around a metaphor where every piece of work is a “card”, inspired by people who use sticky notes or index cards to track their work.
Flat is similar to Trello in key aspects: it’s easy to get up and running in just a few minutes, and it’s simple, flexible, and fast. But Flat isn’t constrained by a card metaphor like Trello. That means Flat can offer a more comfortable document editor, and a sleeker experience overall. And while Trello supports comments on cards, they’re rudimentary, best suited for recording updates to a card’s status. By contrast, Flat’s topic threads can be assigned and resolved, so it’s easy to ask a question, make a request, or raise an issue without risk of balls being dropped. We think they’re the best place for your team to have async conversations about work in flight.
Bottom line: Flat is a direct replacement for Trello in your teamwork toolkit.
How is Flat different from Asana or Monday?
Asana and Monday are powerful task tracking and project management tools that many teams use to stay on top of their workflows and manage large projects to completion. However, that power comes at the cost of more complexity than many teams need or want to deal with.
By comparison, Flat is extremely uncluttered and lightweight. It prioritizes simplicity, clarity, and friendliness over bells and whistles you don’t need.
Bottom line: Flat is a direct replacement for Asana and Monday in your teamwork toolkit if you don’t require the more complex functionality they provide.
Is Flat an all-in-one app like ClickUp?
Definitely not! Though Flat combines several different aspects of collaboration into a single product, it does so in a very different way from ClickUp.
ClickUp presents itself as “one app to replace them all” – building in the functionality of tasks, docs, chat, whiteboarding, and more to offer your team a buffet of productivity tools. Flat, by contrast, is dedicated purely to providing your team with a home base where everyone can stay on top of what’s going on and have discussions in context.
We believe that the heavy lifting of knowledge work – be it writing, designing, coding, video editing, financial planning, or anything else – is best served by dedicated tools, not an all-in-one monolith. The resulting work products can be easily captured in Flat topics as links or attachments, providing a long-lived index into all of the work done by your team.
Bottom line: Flat is potentially a substitute for ClickUp in your teamwork toolkit, depending on which parts of it you’re using.
A new kind of teamwork app
The fact that Flat’s features overlap with lots of tools in the collaboration space isn’t surprising, because Flat is intentionally a composite of several different kinds of tools. But Flat isn’t identical to any of them because its aims are different. It’s not a wiki, or a list of lists, or a chat app, or a heavy-duty project management system, or an all-in-one collaboration suite. It’s just a clean, friendly home base, where everything your team works on has its own place to live, connecting context, status, and discussions. It’s new, yet familiar, and that’s one of the reasons users love it.
Seth Purcell is the co-founder and CEO of Flat. His career has ranged over genomics, finance, and for the past decade, leadership roles in web technology startups.