Journal App Upgrade Goes Too Far

This week there is a big splash as the Journaling App “Day One” (“Day One is a simple way to journal.”) releases it’s totally rewritten “Day One 2”. This app is supposed to help you keep a regular journal of your life and ideas, using your iPhone (iOS only – tsk!)

The original “Day One” has been fairy successful because it offers a very simple approach: press a button to create a (digital) journal item, automatically populated with time and space. This entry invites you to jot your thoughts right there, to add to your journal. Make it as easy as possible is the idea.

The new version adds a bunch of features, including, inevitably, cloud stuff. Back to that in a moment.

I confess that my first reaction to this product was “this is not the right way to do journallng”. This reaction comes, I’m sure, from my own journaling habits, which involve handwritten notes. Part of the joy, and part of the effectiveness of my paper note book is that it is analog (and sensual), and I break away from the connected digital world to write a few words. It feels good, and it is a very tangible tool to get into that particular moment, and off the net.

I stand by my own practices, but I thought again about Day One’s concept, and I realize that it has a good idea at its core. In fact, it is an idea that I’ve been thinking about for quite a while, along with other smart people. E.g., see the writings of Sensei Jim Myers on “reintegrating the research record” [2] or Sensei Carol Goble on “myExperiemnt” [1]. The key idea, I think, is the automatic collection of metadata to create a rich record, freeing the person to focus on the essential work of recording his or her own. “Day One” has the right idea, and, it seems has been successful because of this.

The new version of “Day One” may, I fear, be a bridge too far. For one thing, it is obviously influenced by the Selfie Epidemic and the “Self Quantification” craze. The metadata collection is a more expansive attempt to capture “context”, including not just a time and space stamp, but also, temperature and weather, activity (motion and steps), and what music is playing. It also falls into the “Sharing Epidemic”, with features to broadcast items over twitter, foursquare, etc. Sigh. Is this journaling or attention seeking?

Finally, they have added rather irritating capabilities to provide inspirational quotes and questions.


OK, here’s why I say “ick”.

If journaling is good for you, it is because it is an exercise in personal thought, individual and private. In my view, it is not a public medium, it is not to be shared. It is about self expression and self examination, not self presentation.

I’m also annoyed by the implicit definition of what I’m supposed to care about represented by Day One’s notion of my “context” and their offer to push generic “inspiration” to me, these are annoying and distracting. They do not understand what I am interested in, and it is not at all helpful to have that stuff foisted on me. I don’t want to have to spend time stripping out spam such as my step count from my journal.

I note that for my paper journal I favor a blank book. No cute sayings. No printed dates. No pictures. Just soft space inviting me to write something.

I think I want similar bare bones in a digital journaling system, if I use one at all.


  1. Carole Anne Goble and D. De Roure, myExperiment: social networking for workflow-using e-scientists, in Proceedings of the 2nd workshop on Workflows in support of large-scale science. 2007, ACM: Monterey, California, USA.
  2. James D. Myers, Alan R. Chappell, Matthew Elder, Al Geist, and Jens Schwidder, Re-Integrating The Research Record. Computing in Science and Engineering, 5 (3):44-50, May/June 2003.

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