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Show HN: Write a private diary using good old email (diaryemail.com)
515 points by kossnocorp on Jan 14, 2020 | hide | past | favorite | 284 comments

Yesterday Paul Graham asked for an email diary service (https://twitter.com/paulg/status/1216714155731890176):

> Is there an easy way to build, or a startup that offers, something that will email you once a day asking "What's happening?" and then accumulate the replies?

I did just that! Let me know what you think.

He also wrote

> Unfortunately, though, in this one case I can't promise that if you build it, I'll use it. Unless I know you, I can't trust that you won't read my emails. (I trusted the previous startup that did it because we'd funded them.)

How do you solve the "won't read my emails" problem ?

I've seen the statement in your website:

> Your data stored and transferred securely. No one will ever read or process your notes even the staff. Your data belongs to you and can be easily exported in preferable format by request.

But once the data leaves the browser there is no way to know, wouldn't you consider to partner with Gmail(or others) and appear as an addon to an already trusted company in order to start off the business ?

> How do you solve the "won't read my emails" problem ?

99% of the people who tell you they wouldn’t use the product unless it can’t read your email wouldn’t actually use it regardless, and are just asking for things they don’t really have any intention of using.

edit: I just wanted to add I think it's kind of a dick move on pg's part to ask someone to build this when there are like four different versions that already exist. If you like those products then you should promote them, and if you don't like them then you should email the creators with feedback. Asking folks to build additional competing products without doing that first is poor form, as is asking people to build stuff that you don't actually care enough about to Google to see if it already exists. I don't mean to pick on pg specifically, I just see this kind of behavior on Twitter (and HN) all the time, often from startup investors, and I think it deserves to be called out.

Working for a manufacturing company this is of my biggest pet peeves. Our Salesforce (and customers) insist that they _would/could_ sell (or buy) our product if only it had feature x. In my experience, most of those people aren’t really interested to sell (or buy) the product regardless of feature set.

Contingent Purchase Order : You put in a purchase order and we'll build feature x.

Separate the wheat from the chaff.

I think this is how a lot of enterprise software is sold. Potential customer says "it's missing x", sales person says "we'll build x in two weeks", product is sold, devs have to figure out how to build x in two weeks.

That probably doesn't work for physical products.

Are you going to build it instantly?

If not, what happens if someone else releases a superior product in the interim? Or my business needs change?

Both excellent questions. Oddly the tire kicker never says "If you build X then I'll buy it .. unless my needs change or someone else releases a superior product". Requesting a purchase order casts the situation in the cold light of day.

> If not, what happens if someone else releases a superior product in the interim?

They'll get your business.

> Or my business needs change?

I didn't waste my time building you a feature you won't pay for.

How do you know pg didn't do that already?

what are the four versions that already exist?

My site https://Ahhlife.com is one of them

> How do you solve the "won't read my emails" problem?

Have the user generate a device-local SMIME certificate for <diary@wherever.com>, register their certificate's public key with the server, have the server generate a mobileconfig that enforces SMIME when emailing anyone, and then in Mail.app change the From: address to <diary@wherever.com> when emailing the diary address. iOS will remember that From change and use SMIME to encrypt all diary messages to the public key in your keychain (which the server can't decrypt), the server can reroute the incoming mail back to you using your private key, and your device-local key is the only one capable of decrypting.

Since you're using SMIME, you'll need to use IMAP for your data store, which provides perfect compatibility to any platform that can do SMIME key generation. I'm very curious if SMIME-encrypted emails can be used as encrypted Notes on iOS, now that Notes supports IMAP accounts :)

Hey! S/MIME is broken (see eFAIL) and I don’t believe there exist any mitigation’s to the attacks that have been published.

tl;dr: there exist ways to read your emails without knowing the private keys.

eFAIL documents a series of client implementation errors in a 2018 paper that allow attackers to exfiltrate plaintext by emailing you your own encrypted messages with an attacker payload.

Diary site implementations will need to carefully evaluate whether this is relevant to them or to their users, who may well have been fine emailing plaintext to begin with (if you want an encrypted diary, you probably aren’t going to use email to write in it), before they assume that it’s a concern and begin testing email clients.

IIRC this is true for PGP but not for S/MIME which was broken at the protocol level.

According to PG's Tweet, it seems quite simple - just fund them.

Haha, clever way to get PGs funding...

Almost like VC extracts rent from their investments while minimizing any risk they are exposed to.

Do you do anything different in your own 401k?

I addressed it in a comment: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=22045670

> But once the data leaves the browser there is no way to know, wouldn't you consider to partner with Gmail(or others) and appear as an addon to an already trusted company in order to start off the business ?

Also, I understand the concern and that Paul most likely will not trust their secrets to anyone. The problem is that's not a business, but a beautiful hobby project that I honestly love, so it's unlikely that I will ever spend time rewriting it and then paying Google $15K (https://www.gmass.co/blog/google-oauth-verification-security...) so they could vet me.

An idea would be to open source it and make it simple to run an instance.


I respect if it's not what you're looking for but you may be able leverage yourself into a good position (with the community and with PG) as a result of the publicity + traction combo.

Great work getting that ball rolling so quickly!

> I addressed it in a comment: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=22045670

As I read that, users must trust you. There's nothing that would actually prevent you from accessing the data.

So it's arguably misleading to call it a "private diary".

I disagree. I believe that it’s more common for “private” to mean “between you and the company”. Eg. Private accounts on other services, or private information associated with your account.

You certainly have a point about "private". As you say, with a service provider. Or with family, friends and associates.

But none of that is relevant for "private diary". There, it's privacy between you and your diary.

Plenty of people had “private” LiveJournal accounts back in the day with no expectation that it was a zero-knowledge system. Just that they weren’t sharing it. I may not be a good indication of “most people”, but I just don’t think that most people think of privacy in the way that we (folks who know details of encryption and metadata leaks) do.

Fair enough.

But that's the problem, isn't it? I mean, many people do (sort of magically) think that their online stuff is private. And then they get pwned in one way or another.

This service could run just fine on one or two VPS’ on DigialOcean, etc. Zero knowledge encryption could help secure the content too, it there is ultimately trust needed.

thanks for sharing that article about the verification process, I wasn't aware of that situation.

You're welcome. Yeah, things got ugly.

I've written an open-source version you can host yourself on Heroku:


I too scripted a Google Script to run daily, with sending me a reminder or question; & Gmail tags that outgoing mail as a specific label; script pulls that labeled mail every day, archives it, appends the contents to a Google Doc.

Thank you.

Once for making this.

Second time for making it genuinely easy to use and setup myself.

very nice @maccaw

unlike "Diary Email" your readme makes it very clear where the emails go, and since I'd host it I know no-one would read it.

err.. You know that emails transit un clear text, right?

Not if the server admins of both sides are even remotely competent. A good "email server" will at least allow, if not enforce encryption client<->server and (if supported by the other party) server<->recipients_server.

I've enforced TLS when sending email for about a year now with few problems

> How do you solve the "won't read my emails" problem ?

Encrypt it before sending.

How do your friends read it then?

How do your friends read it then?

Isn't the point of a diary that nobody can read it but you? That's why they have locks on them.

If you want a diary that other people can read, that's called a blog.

This has been solved for a very long time already. It's called PGP.

PGP and friends are, in practice, mutually exclusive.

if you want to let friends know what is going on you just simply send email/IM/SMS

To paraphrase jwz: "Some people, when confronted with a problem, think 'I know, I'll use PGP.' Now they have two problems."

More seriously, PGP is really hard. I think it has some potential for signing emails from your bank, Amazon, etc. but other than that ... it's just a pain. I'm not a crypto expert but a reasonably skilled IT professional, and even I struggle with it.

Yes, the message is encrypted with a key, you only get access to this key by decrypting it with your private key. Everyone on the email has the key for the message encrypted with their public key. Hence the privacy is not perfect but pretty good.

Good luck convincing non technical users.

Encrypt it with a symmetric key, and then encrypt the symmetric key separately with each of your friends' public keys.

But then if just one of your friend's private key is stolen, you lose control of everything you wrote, past or present.

Well, yeah. That's what sharing the things you've written with them is.

Well, there are algorithms that support perfect forward security.... but nah

This is a good argument for not rolling your own.

By giving them the key?

Right. Have you tried doing that?

Remember KISS. He wants a Gmail add-on? Keep it even simpler.

Create a filter that applies a "Journal" label to emails from your own address. Then create a filter to have it skip your inbox. Whenever you want to view your journal, just search for archived mail with that label.


Yeah nothing like a VC stating the only way he would/could trust and use a product is if they were an investor in the product.

> How do you solve the "won't read my emails" problem ?

Nobody but a handful of very vocal HN posters care about this. In the marketplace this isn’t a problem.

At the end of the day, you have to trust your data in somebody else’s hands. Unless your print your own circuit boards, make your own CPUs and write your own operating system, you cannot escape trusting a third party.

It's not a completely unreasonable concern though; all of the big tech companies have had problems with employees misusing their access to private communications to snoop on people.

When my mother worked at the local government she (illegally, and unethically) accessed the file of a friend, and learned that a friend lied about the reason she's in a wheelchair, the real reason being somewhat embarrassing. She told all mutual friends about it too and caused big drama (she's a toxic person). This was over 20 years ago btw, privacy problems aren't new (just the scale of it has changed).

In the Netherlands we have a municipal database with data for all citizens. Civil servants legitimately access it in the course of their duties, but names for famous Dutch people have many more hits than regular ones. I think especially for high-profile(ish) people like Paul, it might be more of a concern than you or me.

I'm not paranoid about it, but I do think there's room for improvement.

Since when is Google a "trusted company" when it comes to user-generated content? Their business model is literally to gather as much data as possible from their users in order to manipulate their collective behavior to Google's financial benefit.

There’s several ways to encrypt he content for the owner, including zero knowledge. Complications and risks as a result.

> How do you solve the "won't read my emails" problem ?

true end-to-end encryption is the only way?

> How do you solve the "won't read my emails" problem ?

Just encrypt locally before sending.

How about just open source and allow self hosting...

Maybe someday, but it's a lot of work and not much of a return.

Put the servers in Europe so the company gets to comply with the GDPR.

My company is actually in Europe, so I do comply with the GDPR.

I love that someone followed through and got it done. I bet a lot of people thought about it. I bet that there's even someone seeing this right now pissed off that they didn't finish first.

Great design. Where'd you get your little illustrations?

Thank you a lot, I got the illustrations on https://craftwork.design

I have never heard of that service (looks pretty interesting actually), but at the bottom it says trust by Uber, Pinterest, Google, etc.

Does this mean these companies are outsourcing their graphics, mock ups, etc.?

I don't know that, but I would assume that just someone with @google.com or @uber.com signed up at the service ;-)

Usually it has to be a little bit more than that (but not much) and part of a contract. If you just start adding corporate logos to your site you'll end up talking to lawyers eventually - at least if you have any sort of traction.

On the other hand "Used by X" can mean anything from "X uses us as a core part of their workflows" and "A small team at X uses this sometimes". So don't give it much weight.

An intern at Google used it in a slideshow once... Used by Google!

It (maybe) means someone with one of those email addresses signed up once, or might have used an asset on an internal blog or something. It can mean more but that’s typical for SaaS bragging.

It's common for companies to outsource work that's more of a one-off "project" with a discrete deliverable than a continuously developed "product", whether that work is coding, graphics, or anything else.

For example, even though Salesforce obviously has a lot of talented programmers on the payroll, I wouldn't be at all surprised if the Dreamforce conference website is built by a separate firm.

Likely not. All these companies have dedicated design teams. I believe it means that they use the asset library within their projects.

that is what i thought also.

Yes. When building an internal mock-up, it's often not the best use of FTE designer time, but internal work benefits from professional polish as well. Outsourcing solves this problem.

alternatively https://undraw.co/illustrations for free

I confess that I look at the first illustration and see a woman frantically trying to dodge a variety of missiles being thrown at her; and she has evidently failed, because her head has blown up and a cloud of smoke is emanating forth in its place.


It looks classy as hell and I think the verbiage on the front page is very strong. There is a back button issue on iOS that needs to be resolved. When you visit the Open Diary link, you can’t get out using the back button. It might be just me. My iPad has been acting wonky lately.

Thanks! I'll take care of the back button. It must be my buggy router code!

Yeah, this thing feels right on so many levels. Use your email client which is optimized for writing. Sign up by sending an email.

I was thinking -- this morning -- about this type of proactive system that asks questions to stakeholders in a project; especially about their expectations. This is a killer feature that I have never seen in my 18 years as a PM. PM tools still pose high barriers for adoption, in general, since you have to login, navigate, find elements you are related to, analyze them and then feedback. That's a long path if you are not fully allocated into the project. I think there is a lot of room for "feedback automation" via email in Pm tools.

I've spent 3 years iterating on this idea and it was inspired by the product PG mentioned in his tweet.

Any feedback is appreciated!


This is it! Thank you! =)

Sounds similar to monday.

It's very polished. I was expecting something much more rougher looking.

You built this in a day? That's very impressive.

Sorry to disappoint you, but I did not. I was just quick to react and reply ;-)

I just email myself ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

e: Also, I used to use https://750words.com which is quite similar.

I use the Gmail "+" hack to mail myself on different topics.

name+ideas@ for app ideas

name+notes@ for random notes

name+writing@ for article ideas

(edit: formatting)

This is also a fun way to use an email-based coupon multiple times...I have yet to find an instance where this fails validation.

Isn’t that just an email hack?

No, not every email server supports it. For example, I know that Office 365 Exchange doesn't support it as I tried it yesterday.

that just means Office 365 has a bug in it, not that using that feature is an "email hack"

the plus syntax is part of the email address specification. any server that doesn't support it is by definition buggy because some mail won't work as expected or designed.

I don't believe that "a@" and "a+tag@" being treated as the same address is part of any specification, but I could be mistaken about this.

Many mail servers have a setting to configure which character to use; some default (or used to default?) to "-" instead of "+".

I think you're talking about just allowing the symbol. The plus sign is an allowed character in the local part in the spec. But mailservers are not required to treat it specially and apparently Exchange doesn't. That seems to be the thrust of the comment you answered to.

Tangentially, what's impossible to solve is all the developers out there who build input forms that will not accept an address with a "+" in it and flag it as invalid. They just use a regex that looks for alphabets, numbers, underscores, dots and one @ sign (I've also seen forms that won't accept any TLD other than .com).

The @ is a regular email character that Google happens to treat specially. Same with them disregarding the period character.

No, it's a gmail-specific "feature". Other mail services may also implement it, I guess.

Yeah, seems there is enough other services that a RFC (under "Subaddress Extension") has been proposed https://tools.ietf.org/html/rfc5233 Maybe it'll get enough steam.

Edit: doesn't mean everyone will use it though! But guess the plus sign in addresses would be more "email" than just email.

It’s nice that they’re trying to standardize it but it’s an impossible standard since you can’t assume that any particular domain adheres to to it so you end up with a whitelist either way.

I guess you're seeing it from the service owners point of view, and in that case it doesn't really matter no? AFAIK, it's for the owners of the email to use the subaddressing, not for others to magically come up and use subaddressing.

So as long as you, the user and owner of an address, know that your domain supports/not supports it, you can use it.

I don't understand who would have to add any allow/blocklists?

It is supported by most mail servers, I guess, and at some time nerds all over the world were heavily promoting this scheme.

I know someone who constantly complained that web site X or company Y are stupid, because they don't follow the RFCs, don't know the syntax of mail addresses, because mail validation in web forms often rejected anything with a plus sign.

The correct answer would have been "don't do it then" or maybe "how about configuring your Exim so that instead of '+' you're using '-' as a separator, but I suppose the complaining was a big part of the fun.

Companies don't follow RFCs, as a rule, bc the only mechanism or means of doing so is if the engineering team implementing the product is aware of the relevant RFCs, and can make a case for following them to the product team. (I.M.Exp.)

There's also a generational memory issue here, and I'm not aware of any C.S./C.E. programs that cover RFCs as part of the core curriculum.


(viz. not a gmail-specific feature)

I didn't see where the + had any special significance in RFC822 beyond being part of an atom. foo+a and foo+b could be two different recipients if the server desired.

fair enough

I was using this well before gmail even existed; support is not universal, but it's certainly not a "gmail feature".

>>> I just email myself

Sometimes I don't even press "Send". Just keep pages of daily notes in the "Draft" folder ;)

This is how I use Sublime Text 3. I use it as my infinite clipboard / pastebin. After months of not using them I clear them out.

Funny I use sublime the same way. It's my go-to tool for when I need to manipulate text (ctrl+d is a godsend) for copying and pasting.

It's super powerful, but uses few resources compared to vscode/intellij. Not to mention it can handle massive text files like a champ.

Yeah, I can open my notes up in an instant which is why I use it. I dont use it to dev all the time, but I do enjoy ST. If ST4 becomes a major improvement (LSP?) I may reconsider.

I tried to develop with it (We use primarily python and typescript) but intellij is just so darn good. It's kinda clunkly for one-off files and text editing though, which is why I prefer sublime for a lot of that stuff.

Yeah I have a JetBrains subscription too, the editors powerful and I'm accustomed to it.

I used to do this once, then I’ve lost a couple of days to IMAP. Now I keep a bunch of text files.

It works well too! Too bad is not easy to fetch history.

The app is cool man good work! old school boy here made an vi alias to my journal.txt file and have been using it for 5+ years. alias opens the file in edit mode on a newline at the bottom. VI search lets me find whatever i need quickly all from the keyboard!

This whole 'email yourself as diary' seems like overkill to me when you could just write something yourself. Unless you are cool with sharing your diary with 3rd party services. Anyways it's still a cool little thing, just throwin my two cents.

In Gmail you can search by dates. And for convenience I've a filter for from me to me with journal title.

Stats wouldn't be possible (of the top of my head) but I don't care about that much.

I use `nano YYYYMMDD.md`.

This used to exist, it was called OhLife. They would email you every day and say "What's happening in your life" and "Hey do you remember this?" with one random email from your history included. I always liked this service and was sad when they shut down. Pretty sure I started using it due to a post right here on HN.

I wrote WhoaLife ( https://github.com/vonnieda/WhoaLife ) when OhLife shut down. It's self hosted for privacy and designed for Heroku Free Tier. Takes about 15 minutes and no code to deploy.

I've been using it since OhLife shut down and it completely fills the gap for me.

I recently modernized the code a bit, ported it from Mongo to Postgres and improved the selection of the random entry that is sent to you, but I haven't pushed those changes yet. They'll go out in the next week or so.

I did the same thing, and even called it by the same name...woahlife :-)

That's such a strange coincidence! Do you still use it?

your readme still mentions needing a mongo for scheduling if not on heroku. not sure if that's something that didn't get changed or still true.

Also, for those of us who never used OhLife the readme doesn't really tell me what it does.

It still uses Mongo on Heroku for now - the Postgres changes haven't been pushed yet.

And yes, good point on the README not explaining what it does. Thank you. I'll fix that.

I also used to use Oh Life and loved it. When it shut down I started using DailyDiary [0] which launched an Oh Life importer on Oct 8th, 2014. That's _before_ Oh Life even shut down on Oct 15th, 2014.

I've been continuing to use DailyDiary since.

I have an apps script that automatically adds a draft response to these prompts, which still starts with an "Oh Life, ...." salutation. The script also adds the day's weather report to the bottom of the draft. My todo list has an item to add top and random tracks from my scrobbled music listening for the day.

In the evening I fill in the body of the response with reflections from the day and off it goes.

[0] https://www.dailydiary.com/

I have a feature in the fast track queue that sounds like the "draft response" you're inserting with script. Ping me - I'd love to get your input on that. lance at dailydiary.com.

The OhLife replacement I wrote is called AhhLife and I have maintained it as a personal side project for many years now. https://ahhlife.com

Ahhlife seems pretty capable except it doesn’t seem to handle photo attachments or logins only via gmail.

Any google mail works. I'm thinking maybe replacing the whole login system with email-only authentication like DailyDiary uses.

Sorry, typo - I meant to say email logins weren't possible which you picked up.

Email only authentication would presumably outlive any provider.

I bought into the MyOpenID SSO excitement once, it worked pretty well until it went away. After that, back to email accounts, identity providers like Google/MS/Twitter don't end to know everytime you're logging into your app.

The shutdown of OhLife caused the "hole in [his] life" that spurred PG's request.

I exported OhLife l and imported entries to Day One. https://github.com/BooneJS/OhLife2DayOne

>Private and Secure

It’s as private as your email...which probably means not private.

Like most people, I depend on an advertising company to host my emails. But I wouldn’t share my private diary with them.

Solution: use one of the hundreds of alternatives to Gmail.

like Protonmail

Which has its own problems but that's another story.

What are Protonmail's problems?

I'll cite one aspect of its design and implementation as a problem – it doesn't support standard protocols like IMAP unless you choose a paid plan. Even then, you have to use a "bridge application". On mobile, only the official app can access the mailbox. To sum it up, if you're on a free plan on ProtonMail, you cannot export your mails out (unless you do it by "printing" mails one by one). To contrast this, even "free" platforms like Gmail and Yahoo provide IMAP access to all accounts.

But that's the point of ProtonMail. All your data is invisible to them. If you could use IMAP without a bridge app, which encrypts and decrypts all your mail data locally, guys at Proton could read your mails. Not necessarily because they would want to. That's just how email works.

I would wager any email provider would suffice for a simply diary, if thats how you want to keep it.

I'm assuming you're speaking to higher-level issues, such as privacy or security?

Right, I didn't think of users' email servers spying on people. But to be fair, there're privacy-focused services, so it's possible.

Gmail has an autocomplete function which means it’s inherently reading everyone’s email (for training).

Feature suggestions:


You can encrypt those emails with PGP, the best encryption there is.

A good email client can also learn to automatically encrypt when you send to a specific email, so you can send to a specific alias (with a plus or subdomain aliasing scheme).

But then will your diary service work right with it? Honestly, you should use a mail server that isn't from an ad company. And then if you also want to layer encryption on top, feel free.

(Also, calling PGP "the best encryption there is" might be a bit of hyperbole.)

I don't use a mail server from an ad company.

And the company's business model is absolutely irrelevant actually. You still need end to end encryption.

> "But then will your diary service work right with it?"

Yes, it's called an email archive. It's searchable too. All you need is an email client that supports PGP. I personally use Mailmate.

And I've got email going back to 2004, while I no longer use any apps or online services from 2004 (most died).

"The best encryption there is"?

I love that you took the programmer equivalent of a writing cue and ran with it. And I think this is a really cool idea to explore.

I know it's largely a one person experiment and not a real business, but some feedback

> I won't sell your data and will be very personal with you.

This isn't good enough anymore. You need to promise that my data won't ever _ever_ be sold. Especially since you're asking me to share my diary with you. I'm not sure if this kind of promise can be made though. Maybe we need some legal apparatus you can declare that gives me peace of mind that no future owner of your company can change their mind.

No "promise" will make me share my diary with a stranger, not even a legally enforceable one, unless I self-censor my diary. Honestly not sure why anyone would entrust their diary to some web service, unless they take a nothing-to-hide approach with their diaries.

Although, a web service to share notes with friends is probably okay.

"Diary" usually means personal and private. But it can mean a lot of things. I can imagine cases where people are okay with that. I've managed a personal "diary" that's on Github publically. It's really just a reference of tech stuff I've learned.

> I've managed a personal "diary" that's on Github publically.

Well that's more of a journal. But yeah, a "diary" service can be used for less private stuff too.

Fair. I've always considered the two to be synonyms.

I was referring to a non-diary journal (in the general logbook sense), but the difference is murky at best.

Thank you for your feedback and I understand your concern, but I'm not sure how to pull it off. I don't have a fancy lawyer that could customize such thing to me, nor I have a budget for it.

Here're some facts that could help you to find peace of mind. First of all, I operate in the EU, so I can't simply sell your data. Also, it costs me virtually $0 to maintain the service (thanks to Firebase and Mailgun), so I won't be forced to sell out to keep it afloat. At last but not least I use it myself with my close friends so we're in the same boat.

Selling the company should count as selling the data unless the data gets scrubbed on company sale.

Hey HN I have exactly this and have maintained it for years as a replacement for OhLife: https://ahhlife.com

Thousands of active users. Very (very) slowly enhancing and monetizing with additional features, but it's far down on my priority list.

Have you replied to PG's original tweet? This looks like exactly what he was looking for.

just did, thanks. kicking myself that I didn't think to email him about it sooner.

Please don't break the back button. I like my back button.

Yes! For reference, when clicking "Open Diary" linking to https://diaryemail.com/diary and redirecting when not authenticated breaks my back button.

Why doesn't the guy just write a python script to mail himself that prompt everyday? Sometimes I think if Paul Graham tripped he would start wondering if there was a start-up aiming to put an end to uneven ground.

Exactly my thought. But further I love when some well off VC (Fred Wilson does this type of thing often) will ask the community for something they could simply pay someone to write that fills 100% the need they have and is tailored toward them specifically with features that they want. Or just hack it together themselves. Much easier generally (for this type of thing) than having to trust and use a product with bells and whistles that may not matter to you.

I mean I get the trying to push a startup in a direction (so they can invest potentially) but somehow I don't think that is what is going on.

PG writing a script to email himself every day doesn't create value for anyone but himself, someone deciding to build a company out of it does.

It could be released as free & open source software. That would be valuable.

The very humble Notes app on macOS/iOS fulfills this for me. I just start typing, the minimalistic interface gets out of the way. Timestamping is on last modification instead of creation date but I add one manually. That's about my only drawback. Some features I find compelling:

- I can start a train of thought on the mac, continue it on the phone and complete it on my mac.

- It's not mined by some advertising company, no subject to the viability of some business.

- Being so simple, the contents can be exported to some other format very easily.

- Works offline (only background sync requires connection).

- And search is near instant since everything is stored locally.

My first thought when reading this was “how do you automate it?” as that was part of the spec.

But you can actually do that with Shortcuts, which is build into the system.

1. Make a note with a title like “journal” or “daily log”

2. Open shortcuts, go to automations. Make a new one with a time of day trigger. (Or an alternate if you prefer)

3. Actions: “find all notes where” —> filter for notes name. “ask for input” —-> ask the question you want + put “current date” as default entry. “Append to note” —> use magic variables. Select ask for input as the text to append, and note as the note to append to. (Specifically, the note your filter found)

4. Duplicate this for as many times of day as you want to be asked

5. At the appropriate time, click the notification and enter text to log it. Also add a trailing newline for note formatting. If anyone knows how to automate this on shortcuts, let me know: newlines seem tricky and I haven’t figured it out.

This automates the asking, and also the timestamp. Thanks for posting your idea, it prompted me to setup alerts for 11:00 and 5:00 pm.

Edit: this doesn’t transfer bullets to notes. If anyone knows how to append bulleted text via shortcut, let me know.

Thats a nice little hack. Shortcuts is really powerful for little workflows like this.

I've done similar for reminders of things that I want to take measurement of in a simple way throughout a day. Like taking a childs temperature when they're sick and running a fever.

How do I make this list be a list without double spacing or making it a code block....there must be a way?

Double spacing is your only option. Don't make it a code block, as that is unreadable on mobile.

Thanks for confirming! Thought I was missing a method for years. Oh well.

    Line 1
    (leave blank line)
    Line 2 

Renders as:

Line 1

Line 2

Hacker News markup does not include lists. To my knowledge, there is not. https://news.ycombinator.com/formatdoc

Since macOS Catalina, you can also sort notes by creation date. So the information is there, even though it's kept hidden.

On the Mac, if you click the date, it will flip between creation/updated dates.

I have gotten really into using it on my Mac (writing) and my iPhone (reading/updating) but unfortunately it is insanely buggy on iPad when using a keyboard, or at least when using the Magic Keyboard.

Buggy enough that I have to use something else for taking notes with iPad+Keyboard. I've found Bear[0] to be pretty good but not better for my use-case than a less-buggy Notes would be.

Since "ubiquity" and "simplicity" are the two main selling points for standard Notes, this is proving to be pretty annoying: I sometimes write in Bear then copy-paste back into Notes.

[0]: https://bear.app

It's good to hear I'm not the only one having frustrations with the Magic Keyboard and Notes.

Otherwise, I'm also a fan of how perfectly minimal and focused Notes is for journaling.

i've never used bear.app, but i do a lot of writing in Ulysses[0] and selectively copy/paste back into Notes if needed.

[0]: https://ulysses.app

I tried out Ulysses and felt like I'd probably use it if I were writing a lot and doing it more seriously. Might give it another try, thanks for reminding me.

tbh i got it on a whim, thinking that i'd revive my love of writing fiction, stage plays and poetry. sort of a "recapture the heady days of my youth" thing lol. since then i've found that any editor with a minimal interface and markdown support makes me feel better about writing, in general.

Agreed that this works well for some workflows. That said, part of pg's "design brief" was the workflow: receive an email and reply to it, his reason for replying being "to get it out of my inbox".

If a phone or ipad notification would be acceptable, I figured out that part in a comment here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=22046379

I built a little app for myself just because I wanted timestamps and geostamps: https://apps.apple.com/us/app/chronible/id1397942944

Can you say more about "Being so simple, the contents can be exported to some other format very easily"? That has been a sticking point for me, only having the export of individual notes to PDF as a built-in option.

If you copy-paste from the notes app, it tends to do a reasonable job transforming it’s formatting into a plain-text representation.(Or rich-text, if you paste into an app that supports it, like Pages or Mail.)

There are a few apps around that can do this in bulk. I have one called Notes Exporter. Apparently Note2Txt is also good: https://www.macsparky.com/blog/2016/5/exporting-apple-notes-...

I am a little worried that some day these tools will disappear, but iirc the notes are just kept in an sqlite database so it shouldn’t be too hard to hack your data out manually, either.

The email workflow is slightly different.

It prompts you in email not having to change applications. This is good for people who like inbox zero and are in their emails all day anyways.

An alternative is the voice recording app. It doesn't have search but you can use the recording titles for tags.

I agree - after trying many notes and lists apps, I settled on the simplicity of Notes. It's also very fast.

The service that Paul Graham mentioned is probably this one:


Shutdown announcement:


I used it and loved it. It was cool while it lasted. Unfortunately it's just one more example for why I don't trust startups.

Also you probably don't need a service, personally I can just send email to yourself, PGP encrypted. The only bit that's missing is a periodic reminder, to which you can reply. But I can probably set that up as a cron job.

There are a few other similar sites that are still running:




And an open source self-hostable one that was started right around the time ohlife shut down: https://github.com/einaregilsson/MyLife

Funnily enough, I also used and loved it, and it was the inspiration to build Diary Email.

> But I can probably set that up as a cron job

Almost every app could be replaced with email, a cron job or a spreadsheet ;-)

I'm glad to see someone retry building something similar, but the problem is that OhLife is a service launched 10 years ago [1].

Many of us were not aware of privacy issues then, plus we were naive enough to think that the services we adopted would survive if cool enough.

I loved OhLife, but now 10 years later I wouldn't subscribe to a clone. Fool me once etc.

I wish you succeed though. It's a cool project and your landing page looks good.

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1613137

Non-technical users could just use something like Zapier or Automate.io to email them reminders that they can reply to.

A friend and I had the same need for an email diary service in 1998. DailyDiary [0] has been online ever since :)

[0] https://dailydiary.com

I uses good old terminal and vim, with a single command to enter current diary:


Writing diary has been so much easier! (though probably will be hard to extend to people who don't know/like terminal editors, or command line itself)

I use a service named Penzu for keeping a journal. It's primarily web-based, but you can make it email-based if you wish to. Basically, you'd set up a daily reminder at a specific time, and you can reply directly to that email to make a new entry.

I should point out that Penzu is not a completely free service. There is a basic free tier, and then there are paid plans with additional features.

Why does this need to be a "service?"

Why not just write the e-mail in your current e-mail client and then store the draft in its own folder?

People have been doing that for centuries. They'd write a letter to themselves and then store it in a box somewhere instead of sending it.

Some people took it a step farther and would write the letter, and then burn it if they were angry. Very cathartic.

This was my first response, too. Just email yourself with subject "diary", then the next day, reply to that email, etc. You can even have multi-user versions by sending it to someone(s) else and everyone just replies all. If you self-host your email then it's fairly secure, and has all of the advantages but none of the disadvantages.

This is a real "Dropbox is just rsync" sort of comment, but I personally use a small CLI util for this[1]. It automatically creates a new text file for each day that I use it and stores it in a dated folder/file. I can look at notes by day, or grep around in that directory fairly easily. And it syncs to wherever, so I can also just search within my file storage service.

I use this for both regular "diary" sort of journaling as well as notes around what I was doing on a particular day. It's wildly useful keeping daily notes on things, for questions like "Hey, do you remember that bug we dealt with last year...?"

[1] https://gist.github.com/josephwegner/677ce82556fcbde6ae626a8...

I 100% read "Dairy Email" until the page loaded. I thought you figured out how to email me milk.

Haha, I actually figured it out. You just ship plant-based milk lol.

For some reason, when I read it aloud too many times, it begins to sound like something less desirable to be mailed.

On seeing this tweet I wondered who would be the first to do it, and how long it would take.

Congratulations, from a fellow hacker - what's it been, 2 days? That's really impressive speed, especially considering it's nice looking.

A lot of people would confidently assume they could knock this out in a couple of days no problem, but it'd actually take them a few weeks at minimum. I had a post on the front page a few weeks ago on the topic [0], perhaps you saw it - I could learn a lot from you :-)

[0] https://boxci.dev/blog/why-it-took-12-weeks-to-ship-an-mvp-I...

OP mentioned in a comment that this tool existed before the tweet: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=22045528

Ah, good spot.

Well, I'm still pretty excited for the OP at the right place right time nature of this. I mean, imagine browsing twitter and noticing that Paul Graham asks for someone to build the very product you're sitting on fully formed :-)

Kind of a perfect case study of the adage that you need to work really hard to prepare in order to be lucky!

I use an App called Daylio [https://daylio.webflow.io/] as a personal diary and mood tracker.

It has a single notification per day which is directly actionable (Asks for your mood for the day).

Data is stored locally on the phone and can be backed up to your iCloud/Google Drive.

I have found this app to be more habit forming in terms of creating a micro-diary, rather than sitting down and jotting thoughts.

If anyone wants to give a multi-year journal (5-year Journals are popular in print form) chrome extension a try: https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/goal-board-vision-...

Thank you for the suggestion. Played around with it a bit an it looks interesting. Curious as I am not familiar with Chrome Extensions - where is the actual data stored?

That's a great idea, can write on any device!

In the early 2000s, I had a setup where I could blog by either email or SMS. By default emails would become new posts. SMS would append to the latest entry, or I could create a new one with a keyword (NEWPOST title, I think).

This was a nice way to create and update travel journals before mobile internet and smartphones were widespread.

honestly, this feels like a great feature for today, especially with the prevalence of smartphones and the mobile web! now we have devices that are mostly easier to type/compose messages on and the fierce rush to build an app for everything has imo reduced the "cool factor" of a bespoke native app. i hate installing a new app to use a service if the app is buggy and the workflow could be done some other way (even responsive webapp). personally, i really enjoy sms based UX.

A few days ago a weekly letter I wrote myself called Dear Nick that I BCC a few close friends. I love doing it now

Please steal the idea if you like!


I loved the Dear Nick idea, the weekly script, and sharing the most intimate notes with your closest friends. Good work.

Alternatively, jrnl.sh. It's tiny, allows you write using your favorite editor, and can be backed up or replicated with simple git. It's even encrypted.

Maybe I'm not the target demographic for services like these but I would never trust my personal thoughts with a service like this.

I recently converted to jrnl.sh a few months ago and I am loving it. I used to run my own private wordpress, and it was nothing but headaches, and fear of dataloss.

I use jrnl.sh on mac, and I can easily have it in my documents folder and sync it up to iCloud. I also back it up to a few other places, and since it's encrypted, I don't worry too much about people being able to peek.

The format being very simple has made it easy to hack up python scripts which allowed me to bring all my old livejournal entries, medium entries, and wordpress entries together into one diary.

It is a popular conceit to assume that anyone cares about your thoughts or that they carry some significant, intrinsic value. This happens to me all the time. It takes reflection to realize that most of the crap that people generate is just that, crap. Sure, it may be crap that can incriminate you in a court proceeding or crap that could be developed into patented intellectual property, but it is crap none-the-less. Its that tendency people have to assume things like "I got super stoned in the late 90's and sketched out designs for Photovoltaic Solar Roofing systems, that Musk guy stole my idea". No, odds are that Musk guy didn't steal shit from you. Your diary wasn't hacked, your sketches were not secretly photographed and your phone isn't bugged. Your idea was in some way obvious. In the PV example it was obvious and requires money and influence to develop, two things that if you had them you wouldn't be making claims that "so and so stole this idea" or "I invented that first".

No one gives a crap about your nude body. Still, you probably don’t shower in the open.

For a different thought of how to do it, I self-host a Wordpress site that is essentially a diary. However, right now the scope is to keep track of recipes that I have made, if I liked them, and where I found them.

While I could have made a notes app, this allows my fiancée to look at it, comments on it, or make her own posts to give her thoughts too (though she hasn't used it).

I have thought about expanding it into a more general blog (technical or otherwise), I haven't gotten to that step yet.

Thinking about it, I could make a cron service on it to ask me "what's going on" with a link to make a new post as well, and make it optionally private (so only I or who I choose can see it).

Great job. Here is what I propose to make it more secure and prevent you from being able to read anyone diary...

I propose that each day a link/token is sent to your email. The link then ask for a password that is handled only with client side javascript and does the encryption of the data before sending it do the server. Look at what Blockhain.info or myetherwallet is doing for client side encryption. Maybe also propose provide all the front end as opensource and provide a way for people to host their own front (a few HTML, JS files where you input the link or token sent to you by email...)

Thank you!

My goal wasn't to create a 100% secure diary. If you need that, you probably should not store your data in the cloud. That's unlikely that I will ever try to make it happen. But even if I would, there're so many ways to screw it over anyway, so I won't ever try to make this promise.

However, I will consider open-sourcing it.

Also see my comment where I addressed the privacy issue: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=22045670

Open sourcing it (and allowing to self-host it for personal and private use) would be awesome!

I stumbled on a "lets call it a bug". If i register with a plus sign using my gmail something+diaryemail@gmail.com

i cannot send emails from that email address and so it wont work for me.

Right! But I'm afraid I can't fix that. When I receive an email, I associate it with the address that GMail reports to me,, and when you sign in as something+something@gmail.com, the email address differs (as you might already guess). I know that I can safely remove +something but I can't be sure that it will work the same for every email service and ensure security. Please use something@gmail.com, I won't send you anything unless you explicitly ask for it.

I've been doing this for myself for a couple years now with a little service I wrote that just sends me an email each day that I reply to. It's archived in my email history and in a simple, searchable web UI. It's been super useful for figuring out when I did something a few years ago, medical notes, etc.

Congrats. This is cool. Quick question. Did you pull this off in one day (after PG's tweet)? If yes, that is mighty impressive.

Sorry to disappoint you, but I did not. I built it some time ago, but I was quick to reply, so there's a chance that Paul tried the service. I'm such a fanboy, haha.

Looks like they built it at least 8+ months ago, it was posted HN around that time.

Was wondering the same thing. Either way, a clean and well-designed landing page and service. Well done OP.

This. Pretty well done OP, congrats and good luck.

It's pointless to say the least to claim "Private and secure" without at least having client-side AEAD of some sort.

PG is a smart mind with a long track record of achievements. Still people shouldn't follow him in a cult-like manner or turn him into a voodoo-kind role model, 'PG tweeted he needs a pink phone, I made him one'.

While the initial email idea is tempting, it's nonsense from a security perspective especially with this use case.

I used http://ohlife.com/ until they shut down. After that I just switched to using a Google Doc. The service mostly just provided me a daily reminder, but after you get into the habit it isn't hard to keep it up without that.

I wrote and maintain AhhLife as a replacement for OhLife. Been going for many years now. Thousands of active users.

I also did. The memory of it inspired me to build Diary Email.

Honestly, I love it!

A very related project, that focuses on being a "social network" through email: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21853667

Edit: I'm getting errors with the login functionality. Please check it out.

Thanks! What browser do you use?

Got the issue too, it was not related to my browser but more likely to my email client that replaced more & with &amp; than needed and broke the link. Edited the link manually and it worked.

Ouch! Firebase generates links for me but I'll take a look at what I can do.

My personal solution to this is using http://itty.bitty.site

You can write a lot on one page. And I wrote some bash functions to store the links when you close your browser, and then give you the option of opening one based on the title.

This thread makes me miss the old Posterous service. I used to enjoy emailing shot blog posts, and only having a few friends of mine knowing what my blog address was. It was a form of journalling that I enjoyed until they inexplicably shut the service down.

I really like the layout of the page and your manner of speaking. Both are web design ideals I strive for. I also want people to write more :)

Little nitpick - try out your signup page on Firefox mobile and you will see a one character width input field for the email input box :)

Out of curiosity, how are you preventing spoofed email spam? It looks like you're accepting everything to one generic email address, and posting via the senders address?

What’s the difference between this and using...your email? I’m genuinely confused.

The codeless way of doing it: Set up a daily recurring event on Google Calendar, with an email reminder saying "Wazzaaaap?" then you reply to it. To accumulate, use Gmails search functionality.

Funny when I came to post my diary app, I saw this haha


I do this with my own mail account using a filter that drops messages with an @NoteToSelf tag in the body into a particular folder. I hate to be that guy, I think Paul thought too hard about this one.

Great job, very fast. One more person delivered this on Twitter thread...https://nom.blue/

Looks great. I've gone through the comments but might missed it - Could you share a bit on what you used to develop this? language? frameworks? thanks!

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