OhLife’s Daily E-Mails Motivate a New Wave of Online Diarists

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the Business 2.0 article, but quickly shut it down, assigning Gupta and Child to spin up a related product called moneyStrands (which is still around today). The pair left Strands after about six months.

Their next startup idea, and the one that got them into Y Combinator the first time, was ididwork.com. It was a bid to fix annual performance reviews—a ritual despised by both supervisors and supervisees. “The idea was, people on a team would keep a work log, and when they did something they’d just log that,” says Gupta. “The manager would periodically review the log and give you continuous feedback, rather than waiting a full year.”

After about nine months of work, Child and Gupta found that they were having trouble selling their system, mainly because annual reviews are, well, annual—meaning the pain they cause is more acute than chronic. “It’s such a seldom-faced problem; the second it’s over, you say ‘Thank God, it’s another year until I have to think about that again,'” says Gupta.

But the pair observed something interesting: customers who bought ididwork.com weren’t using it in the way it had been designed, as a substitute for annual reviews. Instead, they were using it as a way to keep their colleagues up to date, as a substitute for meetings of all sorts.

That led to a classic startup pivot. “The product shifted completely and we launched something new called MeetingMix,” says Gupta. “The premise was that we’d give you a wiki page for all of your meetings. You could send a link to this page to every attendee so they could suggest agenda topics and add action items, all on one page, and then document the meeting and all the key decisions.”

But MeetingMix, too, got into a fix, with little uptake from users. “There was adisconnect,” says Gupta. “Everyone would say ‘If meetings actually did that, it would be awesome.’ The problem is that creating an agenda takes extra work, which offsets any benefits accrued.” MeetingMix is still online today (as is ididwork.com), but most of its remaining users are “diehard people” with a specific interest in the art of running productive meetings.

So Child and Gupta set off in search of a new problem to solve. At this point, they’d been through a lot—three product launches in less than four years. “A lot of stuff has happened, and I’m afraid I’m not going to remember all of it,” says Child. But he wasn’t much good at writing it down. “I have a stack of Moleskines in my closet where literally, the first 10 pages have stuff, and then it dies out.” Gupta, too, says he’s tried to keep a regular journal, but that he was always more of a “serial attempter” than a serious diarist.

From their previous ventures, Child and Gupta had learned how difficult it can be to get users to adopt new behaviors. But everyone already uses e-mail, and the pair eventually hit on the idea of using it to help would-be journalers jumpstart their daily writing practice. “This notion of applying it through e-mail made the whole idea of keeping a journal make sense,” says Child. “There are no new habits or anything like that.”

OhLife debuted in August, and by the time I first met with Child and Gupta in early September, the service was already home to over 100,000 entries. They think the fast early adoption is partly the result of the fact that OhLife entries are meant to be … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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5 responses to “OhLife’s Daily E-Mails Motivate a New Wave of Online Diarists”

  1. Tim says:

    I’m not sure how I feel about this idea. There’s only been one time in my life where I have kept a journal sacredly – when I studied abroad during my college years in Spain. I wrote in a journal every single day without fail and I’m so happy I did.

    Some concerns I have with this electronic journaling concept:

    1) Journals elicit nostalgia. Over the course of the years as time goes by, the pages yellow, the ink smears a bit, but it’s REAL. It’s physical. You can hold it. I brought that journal all the way to Spain, wrote in it in my little apartment, and it traveled back with me. It accompanied me on all my trips and adventures in Europe. There’s a lot of sentiment in that.

    2) People sit in front of computers all day. I’d be surprised if people don’t find more typing to be a chore or laborious.

    3) What’s OhLife doing to address privacy? Journals are intensely personal, and much of the information is sensitive. Who wants to write a journal, look back on it, and read “I had 3 cups of coffee today, work was long, etc.” It’s about relationships, interactions, personal thoughts – how things made you feel. Could these entries ever be hacked? Does OhLife has access or can they read people’s entries?

    I want to hold my journals and feel a connection to them. Sending my deepest thoughts/feelings out to some “cloud” feels….just not right.

  2. Wade RoushWade Roush says:

    @Tim,

    Good points. Shawn and Reman spoke to me about having their own Moleskine notebooks, so I think they understand the appeal of that kind of journaling as well, and they aren’t necessarily promoting OhLife as a replacement. But if you’re on e-mail all day already, it might often be easier to shoot off a note to your OhLife account than to find your journal, find a pen, and find a quiet place to sit down and write. (But one thing that’s missing from OhLife is a way to doodle, draw, paste in found items, etc. — that’s still one advantage of paper journals.)

    Regarding security, I didn’t put this into the piece but I did ask Shawn and Reman about it, and they’re doing all the standard things. The site is secured by SSL; all of their server software is up to date; they close down the usual server ports that hackers go after, et cetera. As long as you protect your password, your entries should be pretty secure. To provide extra assurance, they said they’re thinking about offering encryption of entries as a premium service.

  3. Julie says:

    Tim,
    I’ve been using OhLife since August, and honestly, most of my entries DO consist of “I had a long day at work, now reading a book/watching a movie.” On weekends, I have more exciting days.

    But sometimes I look back, and I see the title of a book I really enjoyed, or see that my boyfriend picked me up from work one day, and it’s nice to read those things.

    I’ve been keeping journals for the last 10 years or so (since I was 13, probably even earlier). I’ve had physical journals, as well as electronic. Both were very short lived. Granted, my life was more melodramatic when I was 13 (omg, new high school! omg, new boyfriend!) so I had much longer entries and more actual thoughts in it. And sometimes I do go back to my livejournal and see those entries–including one about losing my virginity and rekindling a friendship with my best friend from elementary school. It was an interesting period of my life to document. I also didn’t write entries every day–I only wrote them when I really had something to say. Most of them were about fights I had with people–my mother, my boyfriend. a friend. I don’t really have that anymore, so naturally, my entries are more boring.

    I’m still looking forward to reading them in a few years, though. I’ve always been the type of person who likes to keep records of all the little mundane things.

  4. Erika says:

    I’m with Tim… I guess I’m “old” enough that I just wouldn’t feel comfortable storing private thoughts on a server without their being encrypted before they ever hit the other end of the e-journey.

  5. Thierry says:

    I am using ohlife to remind me that every day I have to do something extraordinary. Otherwise my day is lost!