The value of collecting your thoughts in a private online journal

In this era of multiple channels of communication, collecting your personal thoughts and ideas in one place is increasingly useful
Written by Oliver Marks, Contributor

Whether you are catching up with old friends and online acquaintances activities through your many social network options or contributing within the (hopefully) more formal environment of your work collaboration infrastructure, western society is arguably socially expected to share and communicate more than ever before.

For the less outgoing amongst us, any type of public communication can be a challenge; for those who enjoying wearing their heart on their sleeve there has never been a better time. The internet is groaning with commentaries and office chair quarterbacks offering advice about social media, but the realities are pretty prosaic. When orchestrating groups of people to interact well together professionally a basic challenge is to encourage the shy and those lacking communication confidence, whilst tactfully managing the more verbose.

In our individual personal lives the ability to publish our thoughts run from creating long form books, shorter form essays and blogging ...and the short form snippets of Twitter and Facebook. These basic options for communication have variable degrees of value depending on who is actually listening and interacting...but if you want to guarantee a thoughtful audience for yourself nothing beats keeping a private journal or diary.

Publishing your thoughts online has always been highly fashionable in our internet era and was accelerated by the advent of the Read/Write Web 2.0, which in many ways was the enabler for the vast - and mostly superficial - networked Facebook generation.

Being clear about your personal intellectual property value has become increasingly blurred in an era which has encouraged sharing at many levels, and some people may have forgotten the importance of maintaining their own journal of private thoughts and life experiences amongst the online social life interaction noise.

There's a value in thinking out loud for public or selected acquaintance consumption around many topics - and a great personal value in differentiating your ideas and intellectual property in your own private space. There are various options for keeping a daily diary, from paper to the cloud, to log records and thoughts.

For as long as I can remember I've been using Evernote for most of my jotted down notes and to compose blog posts, but that format doesn't lend itself to journaling. After various experiments I settled on Penzu to record my private personal thoughts. Penzu is a free cloud journal with the usual upgrade freemium model and has the now expected accessibility via all your devices - web, mobile and the ability to email content into it.

The pro version has the option of military grade encryption and all versions focus on your privacy by default: this is very much a password protected personal space. I spoke with Penzu CEO Alexander Mimran last week who told me if you lose your military encrypted 'pro' password they can't retrieve it, and that their distributed security process is extremely secure. I was assured in the event of legal discovery requests only you would be able to grant permission to access your materials at the military encryption grade level.

Penzu is a bootstrapped company with over four hundred thousand users and isn't in danger of reaching the end of any funded take off runway: the company is well established and already been through the breathless new product buzz cycle a couple of years ago. I've been finding it very easy to use both in the free format and after upgrading to the pro version. The weakest user interface experience has been on an Android slate (Motorola Xoom) where I found it hard to navigate between my three online Penzu journals  without logging out. The web and all other mobile experiences have been responsive and very easy and pleasant to use, allowing you to add and display images and to share individual entries with others if you desire - and to lock specific sensitive pages with passwords.

Autosave kicks in every few seconds so it's easy to quickly jot down your thoughts throughout your day in your relevant online 'book' - which may be a client record, a hobby log or whatever. A primary use uptake requirement for any cloud application is satisfied: you can download all your materials in a meaningful and reusable format - or print it from the application - at any time should you chose to go elsewhere with your journalling.

There are other online diary and journal alternatives out there but for me Penzu is one of those useful 'live withable' tools that's easy to record thoughts and notes in within the context of your day. It might be useful to have a built in calendar but on the other hand might confuse your main appointments calendar. There's currently no offline access, interopeability or plug in architecture - this is intended to be a very secure application - but what Penzu does, it does very well.

I'm waiting for a review copy of Susan Cain's upcoming book 'Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking', a book which focuses on the one third of us "who innovate and create but dislike self-promotion; who favor working on their own over brainstorming in teams". Cain's book sounds as though it may be useful to get some balance back in the increasingly overcooked socially networked online world.

There's a time and place for sharing your ideas and information with chosen others and another to privately record your own thoughts and chronological progress on projects.  Organizing your thoughts into private or public access can greatly help you to protect ideas which may be valuable to you whether you realize it or not in the moment. Many of us have given away lots of intellectual policy during online conversations, in some cases to an audience eager to flip the value. Being a little more thoughtful and circumspect in what you chose to reveal is possible with a little personal organization, and collecting your thoughts in one place in a private online journal seems like an activity whose time has once again come.

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