A Private Web: Digital Journal with Penzu

Remember when people used to keep journals and diaries? Okay, maybe some of you still do—but mass sharing has taken over in recent years with platforms like WordPress, Tumblr and Twitter. Every day millions of people share their immediate thoughts and moments of life—to millions of strangers; what happened to privacy?

Penzu brings the classic diary and journal into the internet age, providing a platform for private (sharing optional) blogging with a digital paper-like interface. In this review I’ll take a look at Penzu and the quality web app they’ve created to make something old, new again.

Overview

A quick feature overview of Penzu; it’s free, it’s focused on privacy with optional sharing, it’s upgradable to Pro if you want more features and is supposedly good for your health. Okay, Penzu isn’t necessarily good for your health directly but the expressive writing you’ll use it for is.

Penzu Home

Penzu Home

Pricing

Penzu is free, with the option to upgrade to Pro. Upgrading only costs $19 per year, the price of a couple coffees, and gives you many additional options such as larger image sizes, military-grade encryption, custom pad style and background and many more.

Package Comparison

Package Comparison

In comparison to other free blogging apps, Penzu should probably include some of the Pro features in the free version of their app. That being said, if you try out Penzu and like what you see, then $19 per year is completely reasonable. I mean, that’s $1.58 per month! You’re also not being hassled by intrusive advertising and other annoying things you get with free-only apps.

You can even gift Penzu, sending a Pro account via eCard.

Sign Up

I love sign up forms that are well designed, simple and don’t require some sort of activation via email or something. Penzu does a great job here, making it fast and easy to get in and get going.

Sign Up

Sign Up

The Interface and Setup

Penzu’s app interface is clean and minimalistic, designed like a digitally enhanced journal or diary should be—including the paper. Buttons and navigation elements are neatly organized but kept out of the way so you can write, distraction free.

Penzu Interface

Penzu Interface

Settings

Before I get started using web apps, I always prefer checking and adjusting settings as necessary. Penzu doesn’t have many settings to change but more are coming as they add new features.

Settings

Settings

One thing I want to point out here is that many of the elements in Penzu’s app are enhanced by JavaScript, reducing the necessary page reloads when changing basic settings like time zone, profile picture, etc. These are small and subtle enhancements but it’s the small details that separate the good from the great.

I’ve signed up for the Pro account, so I’ll customize the background and pad design before I get started.

Customize Pad and Background

Customize Pad and Background

Unfortunately they don’t allow custom background uploads at this point, but hopefully that will be an option soon. The current selection of backgrounds are limited (18 at the time of writing) but better than a basic solid background color. The selection of pad designs are also relatively limited (12 at the time of writing) but there are only so many pad designs the majority of people would use.

What I’d really like to see here, is the option to upload custom backgrounds and pad designs along with the ability to choose the background color (if a solid background color is chosen).

Entries

Creating new entries is simple and straight forward, likely a familiar transition for those of you using Tumblr. The basic text editing tools are available, although I did notice text line-height couldn’t be adjusted.

Entry Text

Entry Text

Uploading images is also straight forward, using a popup dialogue enhanced with JavaScript. Jpeg, Png an Gif are the supported image formats, limited to 5MB—which is plenty large enough for this kind of use. Images can be uploaded from your local system or pulled from Flickr. It would be nice to see more options here for services like Picasa and Facebook.

Uploading Images

Uploading Images

Image Popup

Image Popup

Once your images are uploaded, they’re not immediately inserted into your entry but are manually inserted when you’re ready. Once inserted, they appear to the left or your entry.

Hovering over an inserted image pops up an overlay with options to remove, add caption or view the larger version. If you view the larger version a download link is also included.

Entries are auto-saved as you enter content, with the last save time shown in the top left of the pad.

Once you’re finished with your entry, you can save, print, share and lock it. When sharing, you’re able to email the entry or get a public link to share elsewhere. Locking the entry secures it with either no encryption or 256-bit AES encryption based on your password. Penzu takes your privacy very seriously, learn more here.

Entry Lock

Entry Lock

Clicking the binder icon on the right of the pad will take you to an overview of all your entries. From here you can manage all your posts, just like you would in Tumblr or WordPress. Something I really like about this, is it’s all enhanced with JavaScript requiring fewer page reloads in order to do basic tasks like deleting, renaming, tagging, etc.

Entries

Entries

Final Thoughts

I love the idea behind Penzu and I think they have a fantastic start. However, I do think they have a ways to go in maturing their app. Of course, this is to be expected considering they are quite new (and still in beta). Something WordPress, Tumblr and Twitter has shown us, is users want to be able to customize their stuff. The ability to upload custom backgrounds or even custom pad designs will be a must with Penzu and additional integration options for uploading pictures from services like Picasa and Facebook will help Penzu attract more users.

Although the Penzu’s concept is privacy, integration with social media like Twitter would likely be a big incentive for people. Penzu already offers sharing options such as emailing and private links, but more options for Tweeting or Facbooking your entry will do a lot to gain Penzu users.

Overall, Penzu’s app is clean, minimal and well designed. It functions really well from what I gathered during testing and is enhanced with newer web technologies where appropriate to create a more streamlined user interface and limit unnecessary page refreshes.

I’m giving Penzu a 8/10 because they have a lot of potential and are off to a fantastic start. However, there are improvements that need to be made along with features and options that need to be implemented before the app will compete well in this competitive market. I’ll definitely be watching Penzu as it develops and matures.

I’m very curious to hear your thoughts on Penzu and if you would use it, along with your why or why not. Thanks!


Summary

Penzu is a free online diary and personal journal with a focus on privacy. Securely record your thouhts and ideas with the ease of writing on a pad of paper.

  • Penzu  | 
  • Free / $19 per year  | 
  • Penzu Inc.
8
  • Spreng

    Just the other day I was surprised why I haven’t seen a web app with digital ruled paper to simulate a real notebook journal before. Penzu looks like the perfect web app for that, I’ll have to give it a try. Thanks for the review!

  • http://usarzewicz.org Nathan

    Fascinating idea – I totally back it up, although I wouldn’t use the app, hence I don’t run personal journals. But it’s cool someone came up with the idea.

  • http://twitter.com/dpencilpusher Dapo Olaopa

    Nice! Thanks for the review, I had a glimpse of Penzu earlier today and was wondering what it was like. guess it’s another alternative to Tumblr. also check out http://soup.io

  • http://tradingcrowd.com Shibi Kannan

    penzu is really cool.
    I like appstorm blog very much. I wish envato will come up with similar site for android apps like android.appstrom.net

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  • http://www.daileez.com Springer

    I must say, Penzu is really great, BUT! I don’t have so much time to spend every day writing a journal and when I finally get to it, I will find myself staring at the blank page with an uncomfortable feeling of “what now?” But I’ve read a review about some Daileez.com, which probably solved problems with everyone who ever wanted to keep a diary but never were able to make more than a few posts and than put it into the shelf.

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  • http://hostingz.org desbest

    What if I want a public blog? This is why I’ll always prefer Blogger for my online diary.

  • Tjerk

    I use OhLife.com, the great thing about it is that you get an e-mail every day (or week, you can adjust it) and you write your entries simply by responding to those e-mails. Couldn’t be easier.

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