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

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personal and private, which makes it the virtual opposite of blogging. Writing for yourself, Gupta points out, doesn’t require as much thought or caution as writing in full public view. “I wouldn’t put any of my entries out in public,” he says. “Not out of embarrassment or shame—it’s just that everyone else would find them so mundane.”

Word about OhLife has spread entirely by word of mouth. “I think people really like the design, which has gone a long way for us,” says Gupta. “We’re putting a lot of effort into simplifying how it works.” The fact that entries are secret means OhLife’s content is, in a sense, anti-viral—so the startup isn’t benefiting from the usual social media boost that it might get if, say, the whole service were a Facebook app with entries visible to friends. But “people are constantly tweeting about it” nonetheless, Gupta says.

For now, Child and Gupta aren’t anxious to monetize OhLife; expenses are low, consisting mainly of storage and bandwidth. Premium subscriptions providing extra storage space for photos or even video diary entries could be one possible revenue stream. Targeted ads inserted into the daily e-mail prompts are another idea. “We have permission to e-mail our users every single day,” Gupta points out. “You could put an ad into that, and people probably won’t mind. Having that 25 percent ‘love’ goes in our favor a bit.”

The startup is working to raise a round of seed funding, but since “the core feature set is pretty solid,” in Gupta’s words, much of the money will probably go to marketing and distribution rather than product development. “The more money you raise, the more you can pay to acquire users through ads,” he says.

Through OhLife, Child and Gupta have been getting validation of the kind that escaped them with Expensr, ididwork.com, and MeetingMix. “We’ve been getting quite a few e-mails from people who never thought they would journal, but it’s so easy now that they have no reason not to,” says Child.

Even engineers from OhLife’s fellow Y Combinator startups are using OhLife, Gupta says. And perhaps most gratifying of all, the service seems to have a therapeutic benefit for some users. Says Gupta: “We’ve had people e-mail in who said they were depressed, and just the act of using OhLife and trying to write each day about something good that happened improved their spirits tremendously.” That’s the kind of pain point more startups should be trying to address.

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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:


    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:

    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!