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Summary:

In a world in which everything is made public it can be difficult to imagine the role that a restricted-access online journal might serve. Yet Penzu is exactly that: an online journal tool that, by default, saves your entries securely.

In a world in which everything is made public — from our wildest dreams to our breakfast plans — it can be difficult to imagine the role that a restricted-access online journal might serve. Yet Penzu is exactly that: an online journal tool that, by default, saves your entries securely, away from the prying eyes of the web. Are the makers of Penzu crazy? Or does this service mark a shift  in social networking?

Penzu: Just Like a Paper Journal

Penzu seems to have been devised around the idea of a paper-based journal — the kind you write your most personal thoughts in. As we know, the web is hardly a place to publish all of our most personal thoughts, yet there are times when we might want to share a particular idea or story with others.

The public nature of traditional blogs has seen them evolve to the point where most bloggers take care to vet closely the content we publish on them. Penzu saw an opportunity to provide a completely secure journal tool that would allow users to create content in total privacy online, and share pieces of that information with a selection of contacts only as and when they saw fit.

Penzu has really stuck closely to the paper journal model. The page display is ruled, as a journal might be, and users type directly onto the lines. The free version of the service allows you to add images to your entries, lock them, share them, print them and receive comments on them, so there’s plenty of flexibility.

The paid version — Penzu Pro — allows “military-grade encryption” (the same 256-bit AES encryption algorithm used by the U.S. government), rich text formatting, content export and import in a range of formats, tagging, page and profile customizations, and more. It costs just $19 per year, so it’s certainly affordable.

Paper vs. Electronic Journals

Yes, you could keep a paper journal to record your personal thoughts, but as Penzu points out, it can so easily be lost or stolen. Also, since Penzu’s an online service, your journal will be accessible any time, anywhere, so long as you have web access. You don’t need to carry the journal with you, and your Penzu journal will contain your on-the-spot thoughts, rather than a summary of key points at the end of the day.

The other benefit of an online journal is, of course, that it facilitates sharing. Write an entry in a paper journal and it’ll be difficult to share it with contacts down the street, let alone those on the other side of the world. Travel and work journals contain information you may not want to publish to a blog, but which you’d conceivably want to share with a specific group of people. This is where Penzu comes into its own.

Penzu: The New You?

The ethos of Penzu seems to be that keeping a journal is primarily a personal experience. Its security features, and the fact that there’s not a stable URL that users can visit to access your content (they’re simply mailed URLs to each journal entry you want to share) ensure that your journal is private, unless you send entries to your contacts.

In this way, Penzu will appeal to those who prefer not to publicize every aspect of their lives. In a professional sense, I can see Penzu being handy in a range of situations, from mentoring and collaborative exchanges, to restricted-access blogging. Users may well choose to share every post, but with a selected few contacts, and that’s the real benefit here: no one sees the content you don’t want them to see.

A staff member might keep a Penzu journal about a trade show they’re attending on behalf of their employer, and share it as a resource with team members. A small business owner might keep a daily activities diary so they can track productivity, ideas and reminders, and perhaps share the relevant pieces of that content with associates or mentors. A creative might keep a journal of their process to share with like-minded peers, so they can obtain input and feedback on their approach, execution, and work. An entrepreneur could use Penzu to record and develop business ideas, and to share the formulated concepts with others when the time comes. The scope really is endless.

Can you see a place for restricted-access online journals in your work or life?

Photo by stock.xchng user typofi.

Related GigaOM Pro content (sub. req.): Can Enterprise Privacy Survive Social Networking?

  1. Penzu sound pretty cool. I am interested in the security aspects; as a CISSP, I take security claims with a grain of salt.

    The encryption described, either 128-bit for the standard service or 256-bit for the paid, is fine if a few other considerations are taken into account:

    1) Cloud services are only as secure as the physical and procedural security of the cloud provider.

    2) All this doesn’t matter if your computer that you use to access Penzu isn’t secure itself, i.e., missing OS patches, outdated anti-virus, firewall not in use, intrusion detection system not in use, etc.,

    The operating system really doesn’t matter anymore. Yes, there are more Windows viruses, worms and rootkits, but these also exist for Macs and Linux. Cybercrime is profit-driven; as the market share for non-Windows systems increases, so will the criminal focus.

    So, the lesson here is, if you’re going to use Penzu, first make sure your own system is fully patched:

    Windows – use Windows Update http://www.update.microsoft.com/microsoftupdate/v6/default.aspx?ln=en-us

    Apple – http://support.apple.com/kb/HT1338

    Linux – use the Update Manager for your package, e.g., Ubuntu, Red Hat, Debian, etc.,

    Make sure all your applications are also fully updated, especially Adobe Acrobat, Flash & Java. See ‘Help, Check for Updates’.

    Make sure your anti-virus is current and your firewall is turned-on. If you’re using Windows XP, turn on Data Execution Prevention for all programs (Start, Control Panel, System, Advanced, Data Execution Prevention). Run a monthly free anti-virus scan from a different vendor, e.g., Trend Micro;s HouseCall service – http://housecall.trendmicro.com/
    Why? Different AV signatures help to catch more malware.

    Also run anti-spyware utilities like Ad-Aware, Spybot Search & Destroy, etc.,

    If you’re connecting using Wi-Fi, make sure you’re using WPA or WPA2 with a strong SSID passphrase of at least 8 characters, mixed alphanumeric.

    Yes, it’s a pain to do all this, but if you’re going to write something you want to be secure, you must make sure your system that you connect to Penzu is secure first, or its all moot.

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    1. Hi Bill!

      All very good points and thanks for adding this here. Penzu does rely on your system to be secure, just as much as our end needs to be as well. And this applies not only to our site, but online banking, paypal, emails, google docs, etc.

      There are risks of writing in the cloud, but the benefits, in my mind, out-weigh the drawbacks. Never lost (like leaving your journal on a plane), never stolen, and accessible from anywhere.

      Cheers!

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