Returning to TheBrain as my primary PKM

Stephen Zeoli
3 min readAug 26, 2022

After a two- or three-year hiatus, I am back to using TheBrain.

I once used the app regularly, but as it evolved — I think going from version 8 to version 9 — it lost the ability to accept emails from Outlook through simple drag and drop. This severely hampered the app for the work I was doing with it at the time. And the advent of a host of new PKM applications also drew me away from TheBrain. I’ve toyed with it now and then, especially when they announce a new version. It is evolving nicely (though it still hasn’t restored the email drag and drop). But each of those brief retests had not drawn me back into using TheBrain extensively. However, this new flirtation might stick. For one thing, I haven’t found a satisfactory replacement. And for another, TheBrain does things no other app can, as well as providing an almost total solution for information management.

I actually resubscribed to TheBrain in July, because I wanted it for a specific aspect of my job. But now I feel it might serve for a good portion of my knowledge management needs.

So, just what makes TheBrain appealing for me?

I realize that I like to keep the information related to a project or an area of responsibility grouped together. Notion does this quite well, except that for me a Notion page quickly becomes overwhelming. That’s not the case with TheBrain, which works in a sort of perpetual hoist mode, centering the topic I’m focusing on, with related topics orbiting around it. This is a fantastic approach when you have a ton of material. I don’t have to poke around in the library on the left. I either follow the links to the appropriate topic (called a “thought” in TheBrain jargon), use the quick and very helpful search function or — if it is a topic I work on frequently, I can pin it to the top of the plex for instant access.

Another important feature of TheBrain for me is that it is available with native versions for Windows and MacOS. There is also an iPad version, which I don’t use often. Additionally, I can access my brains (brains are what each database is called in TheBrain jargon) via a browser. The browser version is a bit stripped down, but is perfectly adequate when necessary.

Also important to me is that my data lives on my computers, so I am not leashed to an internet connection. The internet is used for syncing between my computers, but isn’t necessary for working on a brain.

This gives me great piece of mind.

TheBrain has been around for about a quarter of a century, so I don’t think it is going anywhere. It isn’t cheap. There is a hefty initial expense of $300. That’s if you want to use TheBrain on multiple computers and sync the data. After the first year, the annual subscription is $159. Roam Research costs about that much, so it isn’t as outlandish a fee as it once seemed. There are some other options, including a free edition that is remarkably fully featured.

I am not using TheBrain exclusively for my knowledge management needs. I use Legend as my digital bullet journal and task manager. In fact the way I have Legend setup for this somewhat mimics how I once used TheBrain for that purpose. I also use Craft for longer-form writing. However, I feel confident TheBrain could handle both those tasks fairly well, but I like keeping some of my work in separate application silos.

I will be writing more about TheBrain in future installments. In the meantime, you can refer to some older articles that appeared on my blog WelcometoSherwood: