Today I am launching a project I have been working on for over a year. That project is Caneta (https://caneta.co). Caneta is an online personal journal that is designed to help you actually write in your journal.
Here’s how it works. When you sign up for Caneta, you can connect to your other online accounts, like Facebook, Instagram, Strava, and Google Photos. Then, if you post to Facebook or Instagram, or record a run or bike ride on Strava, or take any photos that are backed up to Google Photos, you can add your posts, bike rides, and photos to your journal. It’s also really easy to just write in your journal.
Although Caneta is an online journal and it connects to other online services like Instagram and Google Photos, Caneta is really all about your real life. I’ll explain, but first a bit of backstory.
I started journal writing when I was in my childhood, probably 8 or 9 years old. My parents gave me a green journal for my birthday. For a long time, I wrote in it every day. The habit dropped off in my teens, and I had largely stopped by the time I went to college. I remember some of the things I wrote, and I’m glad I can’t find those journals anymore. Still, it was a positive and cathartic experience for me.
As I was preparing to graduate and start my career, I discovered an online journaling service called Oh Life. Every day, Oh Life would send me an email, and I could reply to that email with my daily journal entry. It was simple, and I loved it. In the summer of 2010, I started keeping a journal again. After a month, the email Oh Life sent me had my journal entry from the previous month. I think this was the first time I actually read my own journal. I suddenly loved Oh Life even more.
Oh Life offered paid subscriptions, which I considered buying, but the free version had everything I wanted and needed, so I decided to be frugal. Apparently, most of Oh Life’s other users felt the same way, and Oh Life went out of business in September 2014. I panicked. Then, I got to work.
My First Attempt
Fortunately for me, I am a software engineer. I spent the week after Oh Life shut down rebuilding the features that I really needed. I spent all of my energy on reverse engineering the email-to-journal system, and had nothing left when it came time to give my project a name, so I called it “My Life”. I shared it with my family and a few friends. I made a total of 14 commits (code updates) over 13 months. It was good enough, but it was not good.
When I would write in my journal at the end of the day, I realized that I was opening a bunch of other apps to try to help me remember the important things I had done that day. In some cases, I was copying things I had written in those other apps and pasting them into my journal-email. Somehow it took me over a year of doing this (and several more years doing the same thing with Oh Life), before I thought about connecting my journal directly to these other apps.
My Second attempt
I decided to build a connected journal for myself, and I decided to start from scratch. As I mentioned, “My Life” was working, but it was not good. I wanted my new journal to be really good, and I’m finally to the point where I feel that it is actually good enough to share. The reason I feel this way is that Caneta is at a point where it gets out of the way and lets you live your real life, while still making it easy to record the important parts.
Caneta is Different
In many ways, Caneta will be familiar as soon as you use it, but it is different in some very important ways. Caneta’s main page is a list of your journal entries that looks a lot like a feed. But you are the only one who posts to this feed, and you will never see an ad (or a “sponsored” journal entry). Your personal journal is not the place for intrusive advertising. Or any kind of advertising.
You also won’t be pestered to ask your friends to sign up for Caneta. Much of the value on a social networking application is the size and activity of the network. Facebook with only 5 people would not be very interesting or useful, but a Facebook that virtually everyone uses is much more useful. However, Caneta is not a social networking application, and the value does not increase as more people sign up. That doesn’t mean I don’t hope lots of people will sign up; I just don’t have to be aggressive, deceptive, or dishonest about it.
Finally, Caneta is different because there is no free version. If you read the last two paragraphs carefully, this should not come as a surprise. Though we consider many of the apps we use to be “free”, the companies running these applications need money to come from somewhere. If the users aren’t paying for the app, the money has to come from somewhere else, and that usually means advertisers and investors (and “freemium” subscriptions). Caneta will never have ads, and without aggressive, rapid user growth, Caneta will probably never have investors (I prefer it that way). Oh Life had inverstors and tried the freemium model, and that didn’t work out too well; the free account was good enough that (nearly) no one would pay. The company will serve the interests of the source of its money. If the money comes from advertisers, then the app will be optimized for advertisers, often at the expense of the free users. If the money comes from investors, the company focuses aggressively on growth, often to the detriment of current users. If the money comes from the app’s users, the app will be optimized for the best user experience.
But the final reason that Caneta has no free version is that you value what you pay for. If Caneta were free, you might sign up, try writing an entry, then forget about it forever. Since there is a 30 day trial period, you might do that anyway. Caneta is fun, but writing a journal can still be hard, no matter how easy I’ve tried to make it. But, if you are really committed to writing a journal, enough that you’re willing to pay, you’re much more likely to have success in writing that journal. That’s what I really care about. No free version means that the money comes from real users of Caneta, which means I can do what’s best by real users of Caneta without worrying about backlash from advertisers or investors. And, by paying real dollars (though not very many—just $3/month), your experience with Caneta will actually be better because you will be committed.
The Future of Caneta
I mentioned that I’ve been working on Caneta for about 2 years. I’ve been using Caneta as my personal, daily journal for almost as long. I could have launched a long time ago, but I wanted to make journal writing easy, and that has taken some time. I have plans for what will come next, but I’m most interested to hear what Caneta’s users think and want from Caneta. If you have suggestions, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.