Ask LH: How Can I Keep A Private Journal Online?

Ask LH: How Can I Keep A Private Journal Online?

Dear Lifehacker, You’ve talked about keeping a work diary and an awesomeness journal, and I’m sold. One question: How can I set up my journal so I can edit and update it online on my phone or laptop without the world seeing it? I want a diary, not a blog! Sincerely, Keeping It To Myself

Title image by Neyro (Shutterstock) and ecco (Shutterstock).

Dear Keeping It To Yourself,

You’re right — there are mental, creative and emotional benefits to writing, even if you never let anyone see what you’ve written. We’ve discussed how even jotting down a few positive things every day can make a huge impact in your life. You specifically said you wanted an online journal, so here are some ways you can get the flexibility to write and update when and where you want to without worrying that prying eyes will read it.

Use Apps Designed for Private Journalling

Keeping a private journal used to mean writing in a notebook with a physical lock on it. Now there are plenty of apps and web services that offer privacy and portability.

  • Penzu started off as a simple, password-protected online journal, but the service is much more than that now. In addition to a password-protected journal that only you can read, you can also share specific posts with individuals if you want them to see them, or you can leave everything private and locked down. You can search past entries, add photos, and customise the look of your journal. Everything is locked down by default, so you can write what you want, when you want, wherever you want to, without worrying someone might stumble onto it. If you’re willing to spend $US20 a year, you can get a Penzu Pro account, which offers iPhone, iPad and Android apps, so you can update on the go, full encryption for your journal, multiple journals and the ability to search all of them at once, reminders to write and much more.
  • Day One is a simple, elegant journalling app for Mac and iOS that encourages you to write every day. It’s specifically designed to help you keep a journal, and it comes packed with tools that make it easy to update your journal whenever the mood strikes. From a menubar drop-down that lets you start writing instantly to a fully featured editor for the iPad, Day One will help you start and stick to regular writing. It will cost you $10.49 for the Mac App and $5.49 for the universal iPhone/iPad app, but it’s worth it if you use it every day.

These are just the tip of the iceberg: there are plenty of services that offer free journalling apps, but the kicker is whether they’re available for your preferred platform or your mobile device. If you can’t find any that work for you, it might be time to take your thoughts to the web, but just make sure they’re locked down.

Start A Private Blog


If you really want the ultimate in flexibility, publishing apps, web-accessibility and other authoring tools, you might want to start a blog. That doesn’t mean your blog has to be public. Most popular blogging platforms including WordPress, Livejournal, Squarespace and even Tumblr allow you to create completely private entries or entire blogs that only you can see. That way you can leverage the free web app and any mobile apps available (and there are lots for the major platforms) to update when you’re at your computer or on the go.

Alternatively, if you don’t want to trust a free, hosted blogging service, you can always download blogging software such as WordPress, Habari, Joomla or Drupal and host it yourself, either on your own server at home or with a compatible web hosting company. Then you can control your own content, make it as public or as private as you choose and access your journal anywhere. As long as you keep it locked down, you get all the features of a free blogging platform or an expensive journalling tool.

Encrypt Text Files Stored in the Cloud


If fancy journalling apps and blogging platforms turn you off, there’s an easier option: just write in your favourite text editor or word processor and keep the your journal entries on Dropbox.

Dropbox is password-protected, and there are clients for every operating system and every mobile platform available. If you keep your journal in a format that you can edit on any device, like a simple text file or rich text document, you can open it and update it on virtually anything, whenever the mood strikes. For ultimate privacy, go a step further and encrypt your journal with TrueCrypt. Doing so trades some portability, since you’ll have to decrypt it before you can update or edit it, but it definitely keeps it secure.

Another benefit is that you can use third-party writing tools to keep your journal updated and to boost your creativity. For example, OmmWriter is available for Windows, Mac and iPad, and it has long been one of our favourite distraction-free writing tools. Its flexibility also extends to daily journalling, and while it’s not designed specifically to be a diary, it does give you a writing environment that is designed to help you relax, get your thoughts out and be creative. The app even has audio tracks and custom keystroke sounds to help you focus, and you can save your thoughts as text files in Dropbox. This method may be the simplest and the most flexible.

Hopefully these methods give you a way to start your journal and start reaping the benefits of regular writing. You can go all out with a supported solution, or you can use a web-hosted platform to get your thoughts out, or you could just fire up a text editor and start writing. The important thing is that you get started and make writing a habit. You don’t need all the right tools, the perfect apps, or air and light and time and space to start writing — just start writing. Good luck!

Cheers Lifehacker

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  • More than slightly off-topic, but I just read about the Red October malware and then read this heading. Given that Red October has been running rampant over most of the world’s Countries for the last 5 years and it was undetected, I’d suggest that keeping anything sensitive online is questionable.
    FWIW, Kaspersky seems to be the one that continually uncovers these things…

    • I use Evernote too… for everything and anything I need to store. It’s fantastic.

      But I do it with the understanding that the data and information, pics, documents, thoughts and ideas that I store there are NOT encrypted, and NOT private. The transfer of data to-and-from Evernote is done over https: but once it hits the Evernote servers, your data, and my data, and everyone else’s, is stored in “plain-text” ie: not encrypted with keys unique to your account.

      This is how you can access your stuff via the web and other devices. And how Evernote indexes and does smart-search and suggestions etc. Because they (or their software) crawls your data to index it.

      Simlilary Dropbox (which I also use and love) is absolutely NOT a secure service. Sure it has a password to login to your account, and transfer of data is over https: but once it’s in your Dropbox, employees at Dropbox have access to your data. It’s even in their ToS that Dropbox will, when requested to, hand over your data to law-enforcement. I haven’t checked but I presume Evernote has a similar clause buried in their ToS also.

      I love Evernote and use it many many times a day. And will continue to do so. And in reality the likelihood of anyone other than me accessing my data is low. But there doesn’t have to be malicious behaviour for my data, and your data to be left wide open to the world. Careless, or even careful programming can (and DOES) lead to silly errors that results in data loss, data leakage, and data theft. Google it yourself and see how often it happens.

      To have truly secure, private online storage of a journal, the encryption/decryption MUST be done client-side, on your computer/device, before storing the encrypted data blob onto the cloud providers servers. Use something like JungleDisk, or Arq or CloudBerry (I use JD and Arq). You are the only one who can EVER access this data. Just don’t lose the encryption keys or your stuff is GONE also.

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