Inspiration

The original concept was developed by the Company's founder, Nick Jones, while looking for a better way to journal. From his own experience, and from countless interviews with highly successful people, Nick understood the many benefits of keeping a personal record of one's daily life and experiences.

Unfortunately, after testing every well-known journaling product available, Nick struggled to find a platform that fit his needs. Specifically, he wanted a solution that was:

  • Portable (available for both Web and mobile)
  • Easy to use
  • Easy to manage
  • Flexible (supporting multiple platforms, email integrations, etc.)
  • Designed to handle both public and private journal types
  • Built with features to simplify collaboration and sharing of public entries
  • Capable of exporting content or publishing to a hardbound book

What is JRNL?

At JRNL, we believe that Life is Worth Recording, and that by keeping and reflecting upon past experiences, we can better address future challenges.

JRNL was built to record life’s memorable moments as they happen. With solutions available for both Web and mobile, and an easy to use input interface, JRNL lets users record their thoughts, upload content, and reflect on past entries and experiences no matter the time or the place. In addition to private journaling, users can share content and collaborate with others to create a more complete record of events, history, projects and interests.

JRNL goes well beyond basic journal creation and documentation, providing helpful prompts and reminders to motivate users to document key events, milestones and historic moments. In addition, the platform provides for the organization and production of any journal into a personalized, beautifully crafted hardbound book.

Why Journal?

Journaling is a valuable self improvement tool, which helps to enhance one's outlook and approach to relationships, spirituality, career and family. Whether it be a private journal used for personal self-reflection, or a public or semi-public journal shared with others, JRNL makes it easy to record, review and manage your history.

Popular Journal Topics & Areas of Interest Include:

  • Personal Diaries (Daily Log)
  • Self Improvement Journals (Fitness, Diet, Health, Addiction)
  • Career Journals (Job Notes, Training)
  • Faith Journals (Spirituality, Testimony Building and Confirmation)
  • Lifestyle Journals (Travel, Cooking, Entertaining, Food)
  • Event Journals (Reunions, Milestones, Holidays)
  • Family Journals (History, Genealogy, Record Keeping)

Why choose JRNL?

With JRNL, you have complete control of your journaling experience. Your entries are secure, private and can be accessed at any time across all your devices. You can even e-mail entries to your journal so you never miss a beat. In addition, JRNL incorporates a variety of features and inspirational prompts to help our users overcome writer's block and to achieve their journaling goals.

We also offer a complete publishing interface, allowing users to organize entries, images and content into books. Through this unique set of tools, our users’ most cherished and valued memories can be brought to life and forever preserved in the form of beautiful hardbound books.

History & Team

JRNL launched a Beta offering in October of 2015. To date, it has registered just over 65,000 users who, in turn, have created over one million unique posts. It's important to note that the product is "in the wild" and we are iterating and making improvements based upon user feedback.

The platform is supported by an experienced team of developers and operators, with multiple successful ventures, numerous industry awards (over 40 combined), and well over $4 Billion in value created.

Key members include:

Nick Jones - Founder, Lead Visionary

  • 16+ Years Management, Marketing & Operations Experience
  • Brand Consultant to Wrangler, Special Olympics & Mandalay Resorts

Steve Reed - Co-Founder, Lead Designer

  • 13+ Years Branding and Graphic / Web Design Experience
  • Past work recognized by Wired and MSNBC

Jay Goodwin - Chief Architect

  • 16+ Years Senior Software Development Experience
  • Previous teams have won dozens of industry awards

Glenn Argenbright - Advisor & Board Member

  • 19+ Years Executive Experience
  • Six High Value Exits as Founder or CEO – 3 IPOs / 3 Acquisitions

How it was built

Our product team consists of seven designers and developers working out of two distinct locations, separated by a two hour time differential. Fortunately, the team was broken into two groups, each with a unique set of skills and responsibilities. One team focused on backend processes and all Web application development, while the other team focused on Mobile development and front-end UI design. This allowed us to minimize the impact of working with two remote development teams. The remote nature of the team also impacted certain design decisions.

Realizing that we wanted multi-platform compatibility and a consistent user experience, we decided to go with a microservices based architecture. The Web platform was originally built as a single page application, using the React Javascript Framework. The app communicates with the Web Server via http and https calls, to a Django based backend. For mobile, we originally used Xamarin Forms, communicating via http and https to the same backend as our Web application. We will likely move away from Xamarin in the future.

For data storage, we use a mix of three technologies. Specifically, MariaDB, Elasticsearch, and Redis. We opted to use a cloud based hosting provider, so that we could rapidly scale resources as needed, and to reduce ongoing operational overhead.

Challenges We Encountered

Team: Operating remote teams presents numerous challenges. We’ve had to work hard to avoid or minimize communication breakdowns, scheduling misunderstandings (due to time zones), unclear design requirements, poor prioritization, faulty expectations, focus drift, feature creep, and overall clarity of the product vision. Additionally, team members varied significantly in terms of both overall experience and technical knowledge, which was only amplified by the remote nature of our work environments. This necessitated additional time for training and education, as well as a more structured communication methodology.

Tech: On the Web app side, the choice of React was a risk due to its relative lack of maturity as a platform, combined with our own learning curve and an associated lack of available documentation, best practices, and other materials relating to the platform. As an example, we initially chose to use the React Flux framework provided by Facebook, combined with datastore and API abstraction libraries with which we were already familiar. This proved challenging, because the tools lacked maturity, and because we were attempting to use old methodologies (depending on old libraries), rather than leveraging the various benefits inherent in React. After a few false starts, we settled on Redux as a full replacement for all existing datastores, which proved prescient given that the React community has now, for the most part, settled on Redux as a best practices approach.

Product: Initially, we designed the product as a single-user private journaling tool but, as the product progressed, we recognized a real need for private, semi-public and public journals, offering the ability to share content and collaborate with others, in order to create a more complete record. However, through this process, we soon learned that sharing and collaboration, at least in terms of journaling, is not nearly as simple and obvious as initially thought.

One obvious challenge revolves around content ownership. In a private journal, it is quite obvious who owns the content, but that understanding breaks down as soon as you share the content with others and allow them to contribute to the journal.

As an example, if I invite Sally to collaborate on a specific event or entry, who then owns the content - both of us, neither, me, or Sally? Taking this even further, if I invite her to collaborate on my journal, can she then invite others to collaborate as well?

When we first started talking about sharing, we found that each person looked at it differently, depending on their experience. Some focused on social sharing (Facebook and other social networks), some focused on permission-based sharing (Dropbox), and still others focused on email or other legacy-based sharing options (forums, listservs, etc.). In fact, it’s become clear to us that journaling presents its own challenges with respect to both sharing and collaboration, and we had to create rules and functionality to account for each of the three paradigms mentioned above, while at the same time making sure that our users understand the implications of such actions with regards to their content.

Accomplishments We're Proud Of

There are many things that we’re proud of as a team. For the most part, such items can be broken out into two categories - inward facing, “operational” issues, and outward facing, “product” issues.

Operational items include:

  • The successful management of remote development teams
  • The ability to attract “top tier” talent on a limited budget
  • The ability to address and account for complex sharing issues far beyond other offerings
  • That we’ve remained true to our core principals. We always respect user privacy, even when looking at concepts such as sharing and collaboration. This is very different from Facebook and other well-known social platforms

Product items include:

  • The knowledge that we’ve helped many families capture their history and produce books creating a generational link for the future
  • The creation of unique habit building tools, and their impact on journaling (as evidenced by the total volume of posts created)
  • The many ways we’ve simplified and made journaling more accessible

What We Learned

Most of what we’ve learned thus far is the direct result of user feedback. Through research, surveys, and unsolicited user comments, we know there is a great demand for reminders, prompts and other tools to maximize the journaling experience. In fact, habit creation tools and other prompts to battle writer’s block, and to encourage daily activity, are among the most often requested items from our users.

We’ve also learned that this is a complex problem. This explains why existing solutions continue to struggle when it comes to addressing key areas of concern. This fact is further complicated by the reality that any associated product must be easy to use - otherwise, users won’t journal on a regular basis. However, as one might expect, building simple solutions for complex problems is no small task. We believe that current rates of user adoption (65k+ beta users) and high levels of daily engagement (1M+ posts), show that we’re on the right path.

What's Next For JRNL?

As noted above, we are currently expanding our sharing and collaboration toolsets. In addition, we plan to greatly expand our current “habit building tools,” offering specialized categories and subcategories so that users can customize the prompts they are likely to see. This work will also tie in to customized journaling types and templates (camping, cooking, travel, fitness, diet, etc.). We are also looking at ways that people might contribute to journals through voice / text transcription through the mobile app (or via a microphone). We also plan to add various legacy components in 2016, allowing users to send individual messages (or complete journals) to friends and family members at some predetermined date in the future (or upon the completion of certain triggering events).

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