I want to remember myself.
January 26, 2009 9:36 AM   Subscribe

I would like to start keeping a personal diary.. Electronically, to be sure, online if possible.

So, for years and years I've wanted to this. I want to keep a personal diary/journal/whathaveyou where I can write down my thoughts and feelings as they exist today and look back on them sometime in the future.

I know I can emulate this by just creating an email account and writing to myself over and over, and if that's the best suggestion, then I'll go with it. Was just wondering if anyone had any better suggestions.

Regarding the timeframe.. I would ideally like to do this for decades, and I realize that nobody can predict who will be around to continue hosting such a thing in the future, but suggestions would be welcome.

Thanks for any help!
posted by eas98 to Computers & Internet (20 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
You can use livejournal, wordpress, blogger, xanga as a personal diary...and those are the ones I can list off of the top of my head.

In my opinion, I think that livejournal would be more of a personal diary, and maybe wordpress if you customize it a bit.
posted by QueenHawkeye at 9:45 AM on January 26, 2009

It sounds like what you want is a private blog. To address the longevity issue, I'd suggest that data export is a feature you want to look for in whatever platform you choose. You want to be able to pull your stuff out and put it someplace else at will - just make sure that you can do this with a minimum of hassle.

There are also services that will pull down your blog contents and publish it in a book form, which might be a good thing to do every so often for archival purposes.
posted by jquinby at 9:45 AM on January 26, 2009

Livejournal is pretty good for this. I've been on there for 6 years or so. They have an easy method for exporting the contents of your journal if they should ever decide to stop service. Also easy to set the default posting setting to be completely private if you'd like. And since they have an open source base, there are a bunch of clone services out there that could fit the bill in case they go poof.
posted by cmgonzalez at 9:45 AM on January 26, 2009

Go to Blogger.com and create a blog. You can make it totally private, your eyes only (with the option to invite specific people to read it). Totally free and easy to set up. No ads. Since Blogger is run by Google, I'm counting on it to stay around for the long haul.

By making it private, I'm pretty sure it won't get indexed by search engines. At the very least, Blogger has an option in the preferences to prevent the blog from being indexed -- make sure that box is unchecked.

There's also Wordpress, which I believe lets you do the same thing. But I've never seen an answer to this question: does a Wordpress blog stay around forever? Even if you've stopped paying for hosting? This question alone has been enough to make me use Blogger rather than Wordpress. There are all these people paying for hosting for their blogs, but what happens if they stop paying?
posted by Jaltcoh at 9:47 AM on January 26, 2009

To those who have suggested LiveJournal: the OP is specifically concerned about having a service that's likely to stay around for decades. Is LJ the best choice? Signs point to no.
posted by Jaltcoh at 9:49 AM on January 26, 2009

I don't think there's any way to know who's going to be around for decades in that space.

Livejournal is a good choice because there are free tools (LJArchive) that allow you to backup your entire journal to a format that is easily browsed and easily exported to XML (thus facilitating importing to another provider).

An email account is not a bad alternative, so long as you are saving the messages locally (Outlook, Thunderbird, etc.)

I've been using LiveJournal for seven years, and in context with LJArchive for backups, it's just about perfect for me.
posted by DWRoelands at 9:53 AM on January 26, 2009

I'd use Wordpress, make regular backups of the database and (self link) make it private.

There is currently no way to access the database on Blogger. Therefore, they could pull the service at any time, and you'd be dead in the water. With access to the database, you can pull all the necessary info and still be fine. If you use Wordpress, there's even a plugin that will email you the backup, so you can get a local copy very easily.

I now have to have a major failure at my host, email provider and my home PC before 4 years worth of data is lost. Any data I do make is private, with the above controls in place. The only person other than me who could possibly see it is my hosting provider, and I think I trust NFS.N not to snoop on my data - I can't say that for Blogger, owned as it is by Google.

Using a 3rd party service like Blogger is free, but if something goes wrong, it's way more difficult to recover from it.

MeMail me if you need any help setting Wordpress up, should you go down that route.
posted by Solomon at 10:25 AM on January 26, 2009

Yeah, I'm a livejournal user for 8 years now and I would recommend it for what you're looking for. You can set the default security level for your entries to private so that they are just for you. It is easy to use too, and it allows you to tag entries so that you can go back and read all your entries about different topics or whatever, I feature I find especially useful. As other users have said you can use LJBook to backup the journal from time to time if you want.

As for its longevity, I doubt thoroughly whether this year's doomsaying holds any more water than every other year's message of doom. Seriously, it seems like every single year there is a Nostradomus-like prophecy of LJ's doom. The laid off some workers and are going to be more focus on their Russian clientele because they are wildly popular there (for whatever reason). That doesn't mean that all us north american users are going to be fed to the wolves.
posted by gwenlister at 10:36 AM on January 26, 2009

There's also the route of simplicity - a new text file for each entry.

(And if you decide you need a web interface later, there's always Blosxom.)
posted by dmd at 10:37 AM on January 26, 2009

I don't think it matters what service you use, as long as you back up frequently.

There's no guarantee that any service won't eventually go down. I've been online journaling/blogging for, geeze, eight years now, first on opendiary, then on diaryland, then on LJ, and (most recently) on my own website via blogger. While I have back-ups of most of my own journals, I've rarely looked at them. Former versions of yourself can be a bit cringe-worthy--and I'm saying this as a fairly nostalgic and self-absorbed person. Over nearly a decade of doing this, I've come to view changing providers (whether due to problems with the service, which was the case with opendiary, or waning popularity, which is what happened at diaryland, or just feeling like I was in desperate need of a fresh start) to be the equivalent of filling up a paper notebook and moving to a new one. It's actually not a horrible thing to start anew every once in awhile.

So, if you want to journal online, just pick a service and dive in, backing up frequently. But you say you've wanted to do this for years and years? What are you waiting for? Honestly, it sounds to me like your concerns are just an excuse to procrastinate, not unlike saying that you can't write in a paper journal because the paper's not perfect.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:54 AM on January 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

But you say you've wanted to do this for years and years?

No, they said they want to do it for years and years, not that they've wanted to.
posted by Solomon at 11:07 AM on January 26, 2009

There is no reason to believe that any currently-existing blogging websites (or online email accounts) will be around in 2029. How about 2049? Impossible. Also, if you don't have a plan in place for making and keeping backups, you will almost surely not have any of your data from today in those future decades either.

But, the flip side is that many many people have decades-old electronic data. The way they have that is by taking responsibility for keeping it backed up and moving it to modern media/formats as times change. Even if it's on a website somewhere, you must do this yourself - above, there is some good information about how some of them allow you to do so.

Some have given advice about keeping the diary private, but I'm only half-sure that's part of your question. If it was, consider that if you want data to be private, the last thing you should do is send it off for someone else to handle for you. "Web 2.0" works by big websites using content given to them (for free) in order to entice people to view advertising. Hosting private data for people is contrary to that goal.

On preview: dmd is right. Simplest is best for the long-term.
posted by fritley at 11:18 AM on January 26, 2009

Solomon, these were the OP's exact words: "So, for years and years I've wanted to this."
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:04 PM on January 26, 2009

I should have added that, as PhoBWanKenobi notes, you should regularly back up your work no matter what method you choose. There are lots of sites out there that will back up your blog. I haven't checked out any of those, so I can't recommend one; in the meantime, I do makeshift backups by copying-and-pasting the whole text of my blog (one month at a time) into a word-processor document. As I said, I feel most comfortable with the long-term stability of Blogger (including the likelihood that they'd be responsible in giving the users plenty of advance notice if they ever did cancel the service), but yes, there's always some chance any given website will go under.

Some have given advice about keeping the diary private, but I'm only half-sure that's part of your question. If it was, consider that if you want data to be private, the last thing you should do is send it off for someone else to handle for you. "Web 2.0" works by big websites using content given to them (for free) in order to entice people to view advertising. Hosting private data for people is contrary to that goal.

That's a valid point. That would also be true of emailing messages to yourself. And if you kept a diary just in a word processor, your computer could get stolen or hacked. And if you just wrote them down in a paper notebook, someone could steal or find it and read it. There's no way to guarantee your private stuff will never be read.
posted by Jaltcoh at 12:14 PM on January 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

I use Microsoft Word. Simple but effective. It still works whenever my internet goes down, and can easily be copied and exported elsewhere. I start a new document at the beginning of each month, and save them all to a folder called 'Diary' with the titles 'Dec 2008', 'Jan 2009' etc. It works very well for me. There's no privacy issue with putting stuff on the net. I find it easier to type into a word file because it is second nature, unlike Blogger and its HTML stuff. If I am away from my computer, I email myself a diary entry and copy and paste it in later. I back up my computer regularly so I don't lose what's on it. Obviously there is still a risk it will be read, as Jaltco says, but it's not like I am writing my credit card number into it.
posted by marmaduke_yaverland at 12:43 PM on January 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

Consider TiddlyWiki or variant. Particularly TiddlyWiki on a Stick (yeah, on a USB drive) for these reasons mentioned by the OP:

1. Electronic
2. Online if you want it to be (you arrange the hosting, so you're in control)
3. Will be around for years because it's all basically a big text file.
4. With you and available whenever you want if you carry it on flash drive
5. Free.
6. Cross-platform
7. Searchable, taggable, etc-able....
posted by webhund at 12:49 PM on January 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

Nthing LJ. You can make it so no one else can read the entries if you want, or only people that you friend. You can separately set it so that people can leave comments or not leave comments. You can tag things, have a list of "memories" for important posts, and so forth. It has a calendar view. Etc.
posted by Nattie at 1:51 PM on January 26, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for all the great answers, everyone! I appreciate the different ideas. I suspect I'll start with one and perhaps migrate to others over time as needed.
posted by eas98 at 1:57 PM on January 26, 2009

If you're considering an offline version, I've been keeping a daily journal on and off for years, using Advanced Diary, from

I keep an install of it on a tiny flash drive attached to my keyring. I can run it from the USB drive, type my thoughts, paste photos and other documents into it and keep multiple diaries in the one file. (I imported four older diaries into it!).

I also make a point of backing up the flash drive regularly, but the file is password protected so it's unlikely to be readable by anybody finding it.
posted by tomble at 8:17 PM on January 26, 2009

Build your own database and populate it religiously. Keep it up to date for as long as you can and put it in as many locations as you can find. Also, have a legacy plan in place, so when you do kick the bucket the database has an owner (or multiple owners) who can either keep it going or archive it for future generations.

I built mine in Filemaker, every field in this database is exportable to a variety of solutions should this be needed. Filemaker will take you about a day to learn and then factor in another day to research the information you want to record. Keep in mind there is a lot more to you than just what you did that day. I record everything from news headlines to what I ate that day, plus I have a field for video. The sky is the limit as you can add fields as you begin to take in interest in tracking other aspects of you life.

I have added fields for my predictions of the future, which I use often to see what I was thinking and why. There are other fields that deal with music, diet, handy quotes, advice to the future, sexual relations, movies I have seen, the state of my health, current events and the weather- each and every day for the last 35 years... yes 35 of them. It took awhile to port them from medium to medium as technology changed but it has had a huge positive impact in my daily life.

The database has been the best solution to date.

The plan for the future is to hand this database off to my two children to carry on the effort. It will be up to them, and their off-spring, to decide where it goes from there, but the history will be there for anyone who cares to see it.
posted by bkeene12 at 8:25 PM on January 26, 2009 [2 favorites]

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