Blog logoMatthew Lang


A 13 post collection

Transforming Journalong

 •  Filed under Dev Life, Products, Github, Journalong, By Me

Journalong has been limping along for a few months now. With almost no interest from myself in rolling out anymore features and a lack of activity from those users that have accounts there, I made the decision a few weeks ago that I would kill the Journalong service off completely and transform it into something else. There were two main factors that influenced this:

  1. Lack of Interest & Activity - Journalong started off well with and managed to accumulate over 100 users in the first couple of months. The next few months weren't so great. A couple of users signed up to the service every month since then but in the last few months there has only been two sign ups. From those people that signed up, just a few accounts used Journalong on a monthly basis. Not exactly a busy service you could say.
  2. Being Free - In the beginning Journalong was free, then it was paid, then it became free again. If anything from this, I've learned that products and services like this should be paid right from the start. Yes, it can be a hassle coding the payment processing for a web site, but even just a basic monthly subscription should be there if you want the product to become a sustainable business. Once something has been free, it's almost impossible to convince all users of the product or service that they should pay for it.

So that's the reasons for killing Journalong as a service so what next for Journalong? Well I did want to remove myself from managing a dead service, but I think there's still value to having a Markdown journal for your Dropbox. So, over the last couple of days I took the source code for Journalong apart and repackaged it as an open source Sinatra application that you can run on your own computer.

The great thing about this is that I can keep Journalong going at my own pace. Being open source I can make any changes I need or others need in my own time and accept changes from others.

Building and marketing products isn't for me. I prefer to be neck deep in code rather than marketing tools.

Bad Press

 •  Filed under By Me, Journalong, Products

With anything we create we take a risk of getting a bad review of comment. Dealing with this is just about facing a simple truth. There's no pleasing everyone.

If you're in the industry of creating content, products or services for people then chances are you've been faced with the dread that is a negative review. As creators we want to our little ideas grow and flourish and eventually make the world a better place for people. It doesn't always happen that way and along the road to success you will encounter bad reviews and negative comments.

If you're under the illusion that there's no way you could have created something that anyone is going to think ill of then you're wrong. With the billions of people on the planet now being more connected than ever before, we've created a soap box where anyone can join in. Unfortunately that means that anyone can share their views and opinions on anything, including your little bud of creation.

I recently had the unfortunate experience of reading about some negative comments about Journalong. I only happened to stumble on them after doing some research for other online markdown journals. The author of the comments was entitled to share his views on Journalong and unfortunately for me, he found Journalong not to his liking.

It was hard to read the comments. My little journaling application has been a side project for two years now, and while it hasn't been a success financially, it has been an experience for me and I'll continue working on it for as long as I keep journaling with it. Journalong hasn't been high on the priority list for the last few months due to freelancing being a priority, but I know that it is far from perfect and there are definitely places where it could be improved. It's a labour of love and it will continue to be.

Comments like this can be a confidence knock and it was for a few hours. That is until I realised that pleasing everyone wasn't the goal of my creation. It was to create something for me to use. It was something that I wanted to use. I don't have paying customers or a market to please and I think that's why I let the comments slide. If Journalong was a product that generated revenue then yes, I would have paid more attention to the comments and perhaps even scheduled in immediate development time to rectify those issues.

With anything that we create, we take a risk of creating something that not everyone is going to find favourable. Even if we have tested the idea with a select group of people, it's still nothing compared to the number of people that will see our idea across the world when it comes to releasing it into the wild. There's definitely no pleasing everyone.

Exploring Alternative User Interfaces for Journalong

 •  Filed under By Me, Journalong

I'm exploring alternative user interfaces to the standard web form for Journalong. In the quest for something simple, there's an obvious answer.

The simplest user interface is no user interface was a common theme in web design about a year ago. It's misleading right away because without any user interface how are we supposed to interact with our product? There's a problem with this statement because there's always a user interface, it can just take many forms. In building Journalong I've tried to keep to a simple user interface but what would be even simpler than this is a user interface that already exists elsewhere.

One of the most popular user interfaces has to be email. Lots of products and services provide interaction through email and it can be effective. All devices provide some form of email client and it's easy to regardless of your experience with technology. When using to interact with other products and services you just need to know what information goes where in your email. With just a subject and a body this can be easy to remember.

This simpler interface is something I'm keen to explore using Journalong. Being able to write journal entries should be easy for anyone to do but the web user interface for it is something I find distracting. I've built a few forms around different ideas but nothing so far has offered the simplest method of using an alternative user interface like email.

Maybe I'm wrong and the best user interface to use isn't email. There's only way to find out and that's trying it out for a few weeks with some users. The option to use a form will still be available, but I'm keen to see how people will choose between using email or the form. Either way, I'm off to brew some coffee and crack open my text editor. I've got some code to write.

Journalong Update

 •  Filed under Posts, Journalong, Products

A few weeks ago I mentioned that I would be rewriting the Journalong application complete with a new front end that would be more simplistic. I was hoping to do away with the current look of the journal entry page by trying to re-design it. After a few of getting nowhere I've decided to throw in the towel in on the facelift to Journalong. It's given me too many things to think about regarding the user interface. Basically, I'm over complicating a simple thing.

I'm hoping in the next couple of weeks to push the rewritten version of Journalong to Heroku without the facelift. There will be no change to the functionality of the site, there will however be one immediate change that will be visible on the site.

I'm going to do away with the blog for the website. As a replacement for communicating with Journalong users I'm going to create a newsletter. Not only will it be used for notifying users of updates to Journalong but there will be tips and stories from users of Journalong.

The problem with the blog. It's almost impossible to determine which of your customers are reading your blog. Other than subscribing to Feedburner, or a similar service, there's no way to determine how many people are actively subscribed to your blog and interested in using Journalong.

With a newsletter I'll have more of an idea about who's interested in Journalong. I can monitor the number of people who are subscribed and determine how many are actually Journalong customers and how many aren't.

Once this is done, I'll be working on a number of new features that will make Journalong even easier to use. I hope you can all bear with me for the next few weeks. Good things are coming, I promise.

Planned Features for Journalong

 •  Filed under Journalong, Projects, Posts

With Journalong still fresh in my head I thought I would list a few of the features that I am planning to add to Journalong over the next three months. Development on Journalong has been slow over the last year and for that I apologise. It's no way to keep a product or service going and more importantly, making it useful for you. So if you're a user of Journalong, here's a few new goodies that you might like to see introduced to Journalong.

Viewing of journal files

This has been sitting in my list of planned features for months now. The reason for this is that I always said that I wouldn't display a substantial portion of journal entries through the interface. The reason for this was simply down to privacy. The idea was to allow the user to click on the month they wished to view in the sidebar and just display it, or display the current month's journal after you write a journal entry.

However, I have in the past thought this would be a particularly nice feature to have, especially when your journal can be easily converted to HTML to support formatting, links and images.

This feature will be optional and you will have to turn on the appropriate setting for this when it is released. If you don't fancy having your journal being displayed through Journalong, then leave the setting off. I would much rather customers opted in on their own accord than having them to opt out something they don't want or need.

Journal counts for each month

This just came to me last month. It's only a minor thing, but I envisioned a list of the last 12 months of journal entries, grouped by month, showing the number of journal entries per month in the sidebar.

In order to do this Journalong will scan your journal for the number of entries. Again, your journal is your and yours alone. I won't be scanning or retaining any information from your journal while doing this.

Journal from Draft

Draft is awesome, I love writing in Draft. All my blog posts start off in Draft. It has become my go to place to start all my writing. Why not journal from here too then?

I'll be honest, I'm no designer. The user interface to Journalong is simply what I have been able to do on my own with the help of a CSS framework and some JavaScript. I've tried to make it as pleasing an interface to use for people writing to their journals, but others might want to journal from other places.

These other places that I hope to include will start with Draft. The plan is to use Draft's WebHook URL setting so that you can write your journal entries in Draft and automatically save them to your journal.