Home » Tools of the Trade » The Best Electronic Journaling Tools: Online
Online journaling can be a great tool for capturing your thoughts. Here are some of the best options for electronic journaling on the internet.

The Best Electronic Journaling Tools: Online

I received an email this week from Robin, a reader who asked a question about electronic journaling. I thought the answer might be helpful to others, so I decided to share my thoughts on the topic with this series about electronic journaling tools. Be sure to check out the Best Electronic Journaling Tools: Offline as well.

(If you have a question you’d like answered, don’t be shy – send it along! If I use it in my podcast, I’ll even send you exciting treats.)

Digital or Paper?

The real nuts and bolts of my journaling happens with an old-fashioned hand-written paper journal. But I also rely frequently on my electronic journal.

Electronic journaling for me is about convenience. I’ve written in depth about the benefits of electronic journaling. Since I’m sitting at my desk in front of a computer all day, it’s easy to bang out an entry. I tend to update my digital journal throughout the day, jotting down bits and pieces as they occur to me. I use The Journal 5 desktop software and I love it.

When it comes to electronic journaling, you’ve got options aplenty. I’ve listed the pros and cons for each below. You need to be perpetually wired to use these online tools. Tomorrow we’ll have a look at desktop and handheld journaling options that don’t require an internet connection.

Web-based Journaling Services

Online journaling services can be relatively easy to use and offer all the options you’ll likely need. You’ll want to go with a service that gets you up and running quickly and doesn’t tempt you to spend a lot of time futzing with the appearance of your journal. We want to get you writing, not perpetually changing the look of your desktop.

  • Fast and easy set-up
  • Free to use
  • Access your journal from anywhere – you don’t need your own computer or media storage device
  • Synching is not a concern like it can be with removable media storage (like thumb drives)
  • Even with good encryption and a password, security is always a concern online
  • Depending on how tech-savvy you are, the learning curve may be a little steep
  • Penzu screen shotPenzu bills itself as the “Anti-blog” for people who don’t want to share their thoughts with the world. Their military-grade 256-bit AES encryption is about as secure as it gets online. Penzu also has a great search feature and plays nice with Flickr so you can add photos to your journal. I love that Penzu offers a paid “Pro” version that lets you eliminate ads for next to nothing (currently $19 a year). Penzu is in Beta mode which means they’re still working out all the kinks.
  • livejournal screenshotLivejournal is one of the oldest and most-widely used online journal services. The format is simple and basic and it enables fun little add-ons like mood stamping with a variety of emoticons and a “now listening to…” feature. One thing that drives me nuts about Livejournal these days is the ads, which totally interrupt your experience by requiring you to watch a commercial before accessing parts of the site. I think there are better ways to fund a service without being so obtrusive (like, for example, charging $19 a year).

Private Blogs

Public blogging is not the same thing as journaling, which I’ll go into in a later post. But private blogging can be a great way to journal if you choose a blogging platform that enables password-protected entries and encryption. Some blogging platforms allow posting by email. You’re assigned an email address for your blog, and when you send an email to that address, the contents appears on your blog as a post.

  • Free to set up and use
  • Easy to export entries if you decide to change journaling methods (most blogging applications can export all entries into a single text file)
  • If you decide to go public with your journal, all you need to do is remove the password
  • Access your journal from anywhere – you don’t need your own computer or media storage device
  • Synching is not a concern like it can be with removable media storage (like thumb drives)
  • Even with good encryption and a password, security is always a concern online
  • You may be tempted to waste a lot of time playing with themes and making your blog pretty
  • Depending on how tech-savvy you are, the learning curve may be a little steep and you may need to learn the lingo
  • While knowledge of HTML and CSS is not required, it helps
  • Blogger screenshotBlogger is a simple entry-level blogging site that integrates with all things Google. I’m not a big fan of the interface, but millions of people use it so maybe I’m being too hard on poor Blogger. Hey – the price is right, that’s for sure.
  • Wordpress screenshotWordPress is a little more complex than Blogger. I love WordPress, and Journaling Saves runs on a self-hosted version of WordPress. But if you’ve never set up a blog before, you may find the options overwhelming. The good news is there’s plenty of free online tutorials if you decide to go the WordPress route.

Email Journal

Of all the online options, this is my favorite. Maybe because I’m such a Gmail freak. Email journaling entails setting up a free email account and using it to journal by sending emails to yourself at that address. You can then use the built-in features, like folders and categories, to catalog the entries. Storage is plentiful and the search function can’t be beat. Entries are automatically time-stamped, archived, and backed-up.

  • Free, fast set-up
  • Easy to use if you already know how to send an email
  • Strong search function
  • Automatically time-stamped and backed-up
  • You can attach files and documents
  • Handy archiving with labels and folders
  • Fun themes that are a cinch to activate (no tinkering required!)
  • Security, as usual
  • Might be cumbersome to export all the entries if you decide to change formats
  • With the address auto-fill enabled, you could potentially email your deepest secrets to the person you’re writing about. Oops.
  • Gmail is awesome and allows lots of customization to the interface, including creative themes. Right now, I’m running the Tea House theme (below), featuring a little anime fox who gardens and does yoga. Gmail allows a preview of your entries without opening them, called “snippets.” It also has extensive options for labeling, categorizing, and storing in folders.

  • Tea House theme for Gmail
    Fun with my foxy little friend - the Tea House theme for my Gmail inbox
  • Hotmail screenshotYahoo! and Hotmail are other big-name free email options, though I don’t like either of them. I hate being barraged with blinking ads, and I never got so much spam in my life as when I was using Yahoo. Plus Yahoo’s liberal use of Flash animated ads wreaks havoc with my firewall at work so I can’t even log in. But as Momma always says, “To each his own.” The Page uses Hotmail but I don’t hold it against him. Anymore.

Do you have experience with any online journaling services? Leave your review in the comments below so we can check out your recommendations. Oh and whatever you use, don’t forget to change that password occasionally!

One comment

  1. You forgot or may not know about Penzu. It’s the opposite of a blog.
    It’s private, with the option of making entries public. It’s free, but if you want to journal portoale, via your phone, or ipad etc, you’ll need to upgrade to pro.
    Otherwise it’s completely free.
    Check it out here: