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Penzu logoRecently, Tina introduced us to Springnote, a great Wiki-like application for taking notes, sharing them and collaborating. However, many of us still like to keep our personal lives documented and there are very few places on the net which allow you to do this as you would in real life. Let me introduce Penzu, a great solution if you want to keep an online diary. Springnote is geared toward collaboration, but in theory it can be used to make notes for yourself. Penzu is the exact opposite, it is specifically tuned to individual needs, but some sharing is available.

The basics behind Penzu is that it aims to merge all the goodness of a real life diary, and all the usefulness an online format can offer. The first thing you’ll notice for example is that you are writing on “real paper”, a ruled, margined notepad, which resembles a real notebook, so you have the feel of writing in real life. At first I thought this would be a bit obtrusive, but I felt right at home after the first line and it looks quite cool too.

Writing with Penzu

Right now Penzu doesn’t offer all that much in customization and settings, but it’s on the way. In the settings section you will be able to change the font, the size and so on. It would be nice if you could even change paper type in the future, since the application’s main visual feature is this. I’m guessing it may be implemented soon.

The writing experience the application offers however is very rewarding, creating your first online diary page is just like doing it in real life. Of course you don’t have the freedom you would on a real piece of paper, but the ability to add images spices things up a bit. These images are inserted in thumbnail format on the margin and when you hover over them with the mouse you can see the large image and the caption. Again, this takes away from the freedom, but is a very unique approach and one that fits the format very nicely I think. It allows you to create highly organized pages.


Sharing is again implemented very well and goes very well with the notebook theme. Rather than inviting people to view your page or pages, you can send them the page via email. This means that the recipient gets a link to a page on Penzu’s site where they can view that page and that page only, without any connection to your other pages. I think this seems a bad move in today’s sharing web 2.0 world, but is a great solution for an application like Penzu. If you want to show someone a page in your diary you either show it personally or photocopy the page, you don’t send them your whole diary and tell them the page they should look at do you?

Managing your pages

Penzu Search

You can manage all your pages by going to the ‘my entries’ tab. There are basic options available for renaming, selecting and deleting, but the main feature here is the search option. It is a ‘search as you type’ box, so as you type something your results will pop up automatically. This is a great way to search through all your pages, especially if you actively use Penzu, which means 365 pages a year if you follow strict “diary guidelines”.

These basic features suffice, the only thing I would add is tags and categories. This is a feature which helps you categorize and group pages, it would be nice to be able to list pages where your mood was sad, or happy, or neutral, where you talk about books, movies or your love life.

Should you use Penzu?

My overall impression of it was very good. The application is obviously at its early stages of development so I wouldn’t necessarily say that lack of features is a huge problem. For the target audience the already implemented features are 70% enough I would say. The only things I would need badly are tags, categories and some design change options. I am confident these will happen, since the framework is actually very good. There is an option to save a note, but they are saved about every 10 seconds seamlessly as you type. The search function is awesome too and the site design is just as it should be, a great job in all respects.

There are limitations however, as this application is not meant (and never will be) for people to share their stuff widely. If you need a personal diary application though you will find Penzu very helpful and easy to use, but if you need collaborative power and awesome arrays of advanced features you should look elsewhere. I have only seen a few other diary applications so if you know a different cool one please let us know and I’ll take a look at them.

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  1. Brian
    July 9, 2008 at 12:01 am

    Nice review! What's interesting about this is that this site is trying to make a notebook application for private use.. which isn't really following the current trend of web 2.0 standards in emphasizing and encouraging the sharing of UCC. I think that when people go on the web and create something, they want to have it shared... giving other people insight, receiving feedback, etc.

    In comparison to Springnote (, Springnote gives users the options to share and collaborate with others. Although the purpose of actual usage should be decided ultimately by the user, options to categorize entries with tags along with sharing more than one single page should also be available. This is something that Springnote offers where Penzu fails.

  2. Daniel Pataki
    July 7, 2008 at 5:42 pm

    Hi JBB!

    I've said before on my own blog that I don't get these privacy concern things. Am I the only person around the web who doesn't have anything to hide? Don't take it personally, I would guess that many people share your concerns and rightly so, but I for one don't really have anything to hide.

    • JBB
      August 3, 2008 at 4:57 am

      Really! Great! What's your bank account number and pin? :)

      It isn't just a matter of "nothing to hide," it's a matter of privacy. If I'm going to write out the deepest maunderings of my heart, particularly when I'm considering some deep trouble or working out some problem, it may not be something I want to "hide" and still be something I'd rather not wave around in front of others. And the trouble with online information is that there are all sorts of ways for it to become public, later if not now. I'd like to be confident that I can scribble out my soul-searching without dealing with the fear that someone else may see it and use it to ridicule me or use it against me somehow.

      You have locks on your house, don't you? Why should it surprise you that I want locks on my thoughts?

  3. JBB
    July 7, 2008 at 10:21 am

    An issue I have with applications like this is that of serious privacy. I don't know how the entries are stored, I don't really know how securely they are stored. Even if they added on-site encryption, I'd worry about someone sniffing the encryption key (legally or not).

    I'd like an in-browser encrypted log/diary. I want the encryption done locally, so there's no remotely stored or transmitted unencrypted version. Yet I want the portability of doing it from whatever computer I'm sitting at.

    But in this day and age of privacy concerns, identity theft and Big Brother, I'm not putting personal information on someone else's computer without serious guarantees. :/