Tools for thought: Journler then and now

A Business Begins with a Need

Journler was born in the spring of 2005 as the snows around Innsbruck, Austria melted and the alpine wildflowers began to blossom.  I was an English teaching assistant in the primary school system, and I had just broken up with a girlfriend.

One evening I wrote about our relationship on my blog. The ex was not pleased. From her perspective I was sharing private matters in a public forum. The ensuing social commotion left me confused and wanting to write even more. What I needed was a personal journal.

I kept Moleskine journals throughout college but hadn’t continued afterwards. I did, however, have one of those grubby, white Core 2 Duo MacBooks, and I had started to program again.

Although I studied Letters in college, the humanities, I had programmed in one form or another ever since a friend introduced me to Basic when I was ten. HyperCard! Pascal! CodeWarrior! Those were days of digital adventure.

I loved programming, and I wanted to get back into it. Pairing that with a need to keep a private journal, I decided to create a digital diary. I would call it Journler, eliding the “a” sound as the Austrians do with most vowels. I had no idea that I was making such a life changing decision.

Journler Takes Shape

Journler began as a simple diary with a calendar, a list of posts for a given date, and the text for a given post. Development proceeded rapidly. The energy of a focused twenty-three year old seems boundless. It also helped that my job as a teaching assistant required only twelve hours a week. I was almost fully dedicated to the project.

By summer I was already breaking out of the diary model and had included a separate section for entries not tied to any date. The editor supported rich text and you could embed pictures alongside your writing. I was taking tentative steps towards what Journler would eventually become: a tool for thought.

I spent that summer in Austria. I was unemployed and had all the time in the world. Twelve and sixteen hour days passed as I worked on Journler. In the evenings I would take walks near The Goldenes Dachl, where café goers drank coffee and wine to a backdrop of alpine mountains as twilight stretched towards midnight.

The summer of 2005 was a memorable one and one of the most productive periods of my life.

The Goldenes Dachl.

Information Management

When the summer ended I began my second year as a teaching assistant. I was now in Imst, an Alpine village nestled half an hour to the west of Innsbruck.

One again my job was easy and it paid well, leading ultimately to a fatal decision. Because I was already making good money, I resolved to never charge for the program. Instead I adopted a “donationware” model. Use the software without restriction for as long as you like, and donate if you wish. This was more than a decision. I believed in free software.

Never mind money, anyway! I was just excited that people were using Journler. And people were using Journler! I listed the program with Apple, which at the time kept a free catalogue of third party Macintosh software. People were finding Journler, using it, making suggestions, and then telling their friends about it.

And it turned out that people were using Journler for much more than keeping a diary. Academics, lawyers, scientists, and businessmen and -women were relying on Journler to organize their work and wanted more.

“People” isn’t a fair description of the early adopters who pushed Journler well beyond its original intent. A genuine community of users was growing around the program. I will never forget the enthusiasm and support of Reiner and Reinard, Terry, Annaliese, Adam and others who moderated Journler’s help forums, gave tips to new users, wrote AppleScripts and helped with translations. They saw Journler’s potential long before I did and believed in me without even knowing me.

I adopted dozens of user suggestions during that time, including folders for organizing entries, better support for media attachments, built-in blogging, encryption, and AppleScript integration. Journler was no longer just for writing. It was becoming some kind of information manager, but what that meant I wasn’t exactly sure.

The Vision

After my teaching assistantship ended I overstayed my visa and moved to Graz, Austria’s second largest city in the rolling, vineyard hills of Steiermark. I had no job, but I had a growing community of users and was earning enough from donations to pay the rent and buy groceries.

Plus a little more. I remember my first windfall after releasing an important update. Euros in hand I bought Dolce and Gabbana prescription eyeglasses, the finest pair of glasses I have ever owned. It was the first time I thought I might actually be able to make a living at this.

Journler continued to develop in the direction of an information manager. I added “smart” folders that automatically collected entries depending on their content and built out more advanced searching. I was even using Journler to manage its own development. I stored bug reports and crash reports in it, kept to do lists, emails, and chat transcripts, and linked to web pages and pdf documents, in addition to keeping my journal.

A vision for the long term future of the program came together. As I added content to Journler and Journler organized it for me, I realized that the program was revealing relationships in my writing and my work that were always there but which I couldn’t normally see. I’d revisit an entry and Journler would show me related entries, often from previous years. I could explore trains of thought and see how ideas changed over time.

What I saw was a mesh of related ideas each informing the other and contributing to its meaning. Any particular entry made sense in the light of earlier or later related entries and others with similar but slightly different subject matter.

It reminded me of an idea I had studied in semiotics and phenomenology, that a word’s meaning or a thing’s meaning consists of its relationships with other words and other things, all wrapped up in the practical needs and activities of human beings. I thought, technology can reveal these relationships, Journler can reveal these relationships, and in so doing help us think.

Sublime San Francisco. Attribution unknown.

Success and Failure

In 2007 I moved to San Francisco, California, a city of bay breezes and purple haze sunsets that shimmer behind the Golden Gate Bridge. I came with a mission. I was going to develop the most powerful information manager for the Mac desktop. Full time. I settled near Washington Square park with a view of the bay and declared myself an indie software developer.

I lived in the Bay Area for three years, moving from San Francisco to Berkeley and finally Oakland. During that time Journler’s user base grew from hundreds to thousands and then tens of thousands. I experienced the fabled hockey stick growth entrepreneurs dream of.

But I didn’t consider myself an entrepreneur. Few did. Facebook was active, Twitter had recently been founded, and YouTube had just been acquired by Google, but there was not the startup frenzy the area is experiencing now. I was not connected to a network of mentors, founders and venture capitalists. Had I been I wouldn’t have known what to do with it. No, I was a self-taught software developer, a mediocre one at that, learning on the spot and on my own how to run a business.

And I was failing.

Journler’s user base grew, but the donations did not keep pace. At the same time I was not prepared for the expense of living in San Francisco, and I was totally floored by the cost of taxes. I would make it to the end of the year barely in the black only to discover that I owed more in taxes than I had available. I began every year three years straight trying to catch up.

For all the aspiring freelancer, indie developer, founder and creative consultants out there: you are not prepared for the cost of doing business.

After struggling financially for a year and a half I reluctantly decided to start charging for Journler. It took months to make the decision. I was reversing a promise to a community I loved and was betraying an ideal. The decision affected me deeply and was the start of a depression.

In the end I never did charge for Journler. I never got there. Rightly or wrongly I felt that in order to implement a new payment policy I needed to release a significant update. But I was overwhelmed with managerial, logistical and customer support work.

I needed help. I needed to hire help. In order to hire help, I needed money. I would only have money after I started charging for Journler. Which required the update. And for that I needed to hire help. It was a brutal, vicious circle. My depression worsened, and I fell further behind financially and in all aspects of my work on Journler.

On September 23, 2009, almost five years after those first lines of code, I announced to the community that work on Journler was ending. I had failed.

The Tradition

For the past six years I have not stopped thinking about Journler. This was a project I wanted to succeed. More than once I tried and failed to restart it. I tried variations on it, Lex and Per Se. But more than that, Journler was an idea I wanted to understand. What was Journler? And why can’t I make sense of my own relationship to this project?

As human beings we find meaning in communities of practice and of traditions. Some of these communities belong to cultures that carry and transform meaning over millennia. Others are newer but are still foundational. They ground who we are. We recognize ourselves in them, in their ideals and their values, their mythologies and their dreams, and we exclaim “That! That’s what I’m talking about!” Mutual understanding is profound.

Journler belongs to a tradition in the history of computer science called “intelligence augmentation”. Vannevar Bush, J.C.R. Licklider and Douglas Engelbart are its founders. In the 40s, 50s and 60s they recognized that computers, then ungainly machines largely found in research centers, could become personal and interpersonal tools that amplified our ability to think, communicate, discover and work.

It was a revelation when I learned about these men. They were pioneers who wanted tools for thought, wanted computers that would remove the mundane from our intellectual activity so that we could focus on the creative, that would organize and then help us call upon the media that matters to us, that would aid us in the development and communication of our ideas.

In their writings and in their projects I recognized Journler. I had found a home for my own ideas. This! This is what I’m talking about! Journler and all those sixteen hour days and the thousands of emails and the financial turmoil and the success and the failure and the countless hours of reflection finally made sense to me. Journler belonged to a vision half a century old, and one, I’m pleased to say, that is still just getting started.

Journler’s Predecessor, the Darpa Memex. Attribution unknown.


A modern human being largely inhabits a manmade environment. An engineered environment. Almost everything in that environment is a tool, an implement for accomplishing human goals. Although we may not think of them as such, cars, roads, electricity, office buildings, desks and desktops, mobile phones, and of course hammers and nails and screwdrivers are all tools. We inhabit a world of tools.

This instrumental world makes up the cognitive environment in which and through which we think, and it makes up the practical environment in which and through which we act. Our tools, both digital and physical, determine our possibilities for thinking and acting, for being who we are.

Put another way, our instrumental habitat doesn’t just amplify or augment intelligence. It makes cognition possible in the first place. Tools are not something independent of us which we make use of and discard as we need. They constitute us as thinking, acting beings.

This idea goes by the name “embodiment” in contemporary philosophy and science. It encompasses more than the artifacts we produce. It speaks to our bodies, yes, but also to the tightly integrated and worldly perception-cognition-action loops that make up our behaviors. It includes language as probably the most fundamental tool, and it describes the communities of practice to which we belong, with their ways of doing things which we adopt.

Intelligence augmentation is possible because we already think and act through our tools, because we are embodied. In a very real way we always already are augmented.

Why Tools for Thought Matter

What all this means is that when we engineer our world we engineer ourselves. People didn’t just use Journler or express themselves with it. They became who they were because of Journler, as they do with all their tools. Being, moreover, a tool for intellectual activity, Journler shaped those individuals in what might be the last domain of the humanist tradition: their thoughts.

To a software developer who creates a tool for thought or a product manager or MBA who directs a team working on one, or for a VC who funds the companies creating tools for thought and the CEO envisioning them, this is an exiting, disturbing idea. You are changing the world. You are changing us.

Are you remaking humankind for the better?

The pioneers who recognized the role computers had to play in intelligence augmentation certainly thought so. Computers were going to release us from the mundane and free our creative potential. In some ways computers were even going to free us from the need to pay attention to them. The technology would assist us without making demands on us.

This is not exactly the cognitive environment we inhabit today. Our computational tools make and are increasingly made to make demands upon our attention. It feels like everywhere our attention is under siege by the very same tools that have become essential to our intellectual activity.

And we know it, we know we’re losing control of our attention. Top search terms for attention include “attention deficit disorder”, and “attention span”. Top links include “The Art of Staying Focused in a Distracting World” in The Atlantic and “Overloaded Circuits: Why Smart People Underperform” in the Harvard Business Review.

We fight back. We install ad blockers, we disable notifications, we filter spam and marketing email, we read listicles on increasing productivity and try and fail not to multitask. We may even disable access for extended periods of time to the tools we use to think.

Attention and self-identity are intimately linked. Attention is the gateway to our thoughts and behaviors. It is the sine qua non of introspection and extended intellectual activity, of the ability to deeply assess our circumstances and make good decisions. What we attend to shapes who we become.

On our desktops and in our pockets, our tools for thought seem to be unmaking the very thing they were first envisioned to augment. They are unraveling our ability to attend, changing how and what we think about, and so changing who we are.

Natural Bridges State Park. Wikipedia
Natural Bridges State Park. Wikipedia

Hotel California

Since ending my work on Journler I have been in Norman, Oklahoma, with a transitional stint on a farm in northern California. I work with clients on mobile, desktop and web applications. I mentor business students in technology entrepreneurship at the University of Oklahoma and teach application development to computer science students for a software business accelerator. Most recently I co-founded Oklahoma’s first developer bootcamp, OK Coders.

But I have the itch to set off once again and work on my own ideas. This time I am better prepared, both financially and professionally. In January I intend to make my way back to California, where I will begin a professional sabbatical. Meaning I’ll be unemployed. No clients, no teaching, no mentoring. I’d like to be near the Bay Area but not in it, and I’d like to be near a world class college campus. Santa Cruz seems the likely destination.

I am reminded of my summer in Innsbruck, that most productive period of my life. I hope to recreate the experience. I am, however, in my 30s now and wonder if I still have the boundless energy of a twenty-three year old. I also don’t have a project I’m already working on, at least not a particular software product.

I believe cognitive tools can do good. I know they can, I’ve experienced it. But I am not naïve enough to believe that tools are value free and that in the end it only matters “what you do with them.” Embodiment says otherwise, and some tools, especially computational tools, seem to develop according to their own inner logic, suggesting we are not entirely in control of their use.

Although I do not have a particular product in mind, I still have a vision that began with Journler and which has matured as I’ve found Journler’s place in the history of computer science. That history introduced me to the more foundational vision of what a good cognitive tool can look like. And it has led me to the intersection of augmentation, embodiment and attention.

I may not have any particular thing I’m working on now, but I imagine it won’t be long before I do. And it will be because of Journler.

The title of this post, Tools for Thought, comes from a book of the same title which, along with What the Dormouse Said, introduced me to the history of personal computing and the vision of its early creators.

Tools for Thought: The History and Future of Mind-expanding Technology, Howard Rheingold. MIT Press, 1985.

What the Dormouse Said: How the Sixties Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry, John Markoff. Penguin Books, 2005.


38 Replies to “Tools for thought: Journler then and now”

  1. I first started using Journaler a long time ago and I still install it on every machine I use (especially work machines for my dev log and other notes). Thank you so much for making an awesome app. This article is awesome too, very good read.

  2. Un article émouvant et plein de vérité.
    Il y a encore des gens biens sur terre!
    J’utilise toujours JOURNLER avec autant de plaisir, en craignant qu’une nouvelle version de l’OS me le vole…

  3. Philip, thank you for writing this beautiful reflection on Journler and on your life, and thank you for bringing Journler into the world. Whether your summer of 2005 in Innsbruck will continue to be the “most productive period” of your life remains to be seen. What is certain is that Journler will always be a landmark in the history of software. It is not at all grandiose to put Journler in the tradition of such giants as Vannevar Bush, J.C.R. Licklider and Douglas Engelbart.

    Journler (in conjunction with a good calendar app) is the revolutionary app that has helped me organize and make sense of my life. I keep trying other apps and I keep coming back to Journler because nothing I have found comes close as a very flexible integration of journaling and project management functionality. It has been a cornerstone of my evolving creative ecosystem. As I wrote elsewhere: “It was obviously built by a person who understands how creative people work.” I imagine that I still have not yet discovered its full potential as a tool for thought.

    Unfortunately, I discovered Journler in mid-2010, after its development had ended, so the new features I would like to see in Journler will not happen unless I learn to program and implement the features myself. I fantasize about being able to contribute to Journler’s development, but at present my limited skills consign me to being a user and not a programmer. Your accomplishment as the creator of Journler cannot be overstated.

  4. Hello Philip. I started using Journler in 2009. I happily paid for it, and am still using it, hoping it will make it through each Mac OS update. I periodically google it to see if anything new is happening, and that’s how I found your blog post. A couple of years ago one of those searches brought me to the site of a man who had updated it for a recent OS incarnation, so I downloaded that version. Fearing that I will have to change to something else when the OS outpaces Journler, I tried MacJournal, but found it very clunky and not at all intuitive. Really didn’t like the interface. So, all of this is to say that I suspect there are many of us out here, and if you could see your way clear to keeping Journler going, whether by you or by someone you find, we would all be so grateful. If everyone is like me, they will happily pay for the update.

    1. It’s tough. There’s the challenge of keeping it running on the latest versions of the OS, and there’s the challenge of overhauling the code so that development is at all sustainable. The code base is huge, and becoming familiar with the code again so that I could just start to undertake that effort would require time. Once it’s done Journler may not look or work like it used to.

      Another difficulty is sustaining a market for the product. MacJournal is the obvious desktop counterpart, but the bigger competitor is Evernote, and that’s a tough one to compete against.

      1. I understand. I’ll have to adjust to MacJournal, but please keep my email address in case anything changes. I use Evernote, but can’t imagine using it for actual writing, whether journal entries or blog posts. I think of it as the equivalent of a metal filing cabinet — clunky and hard to maneuver, but useful to put stuff in. Journler is unusually intuitive and elegant. I don’t have to work around it, it works with me.

        It will be hard not to wake up to its lovely face every morning!

        All the best.

      2. Let me point toward a man who is an expert at keeping his apps running on the latest versions of the OS: Keith Blount, creator of that other revolutionary app, Scrivener. I use Scrivener for some long-form writing projects, while I use Journler for my everyday journaling and project management. I would put these two apps in the same class of originality/uniqueness and great attunement to how people (like me) actually do creative work. Keith’s story is similar to Philip’s story: he started developing Scrivener out of his own need for a tool (in Keith’s case, a tool for writing a novel; in Philip’s case, a tool for writing a journal), and he had no prior notable experience in software development; the tool was so versatile that he ended up using it to manage the tool’s development (again, like Philip’s use of Journler to manage Journler’s development); and the tool was so powerful that people started using it for myriad purposes (again, like Journler).

        I have no idea how he does it, but Keith has somehow managed the miraculous feat of maintaining support for earlier OS versions while continuing to support the latest OS versions. Version 2.5 of Scrivener runs on OS X 10.4 to 10.5 (Tiger and Leopard) and is nearly at feature parity with the current version 2.6, which runs on OS X 10.6 and newer (Snow Leopard and beyond). This means that I can run Scrivener 2.5 on my iBook G4 running Tiger (which is the same machine I still use to run Journler) and I can run Scrivener 2.6 on my Mac mini i7 running Mavericks, and I can use the same Scrivener files between the two machines. (Amazingly, Keith also found someone to develop a Windows version of Scrivener.) This broad range of compatibility with multiple versions of operating systems is extremely rare, in my experience; my point is not to imply that Philip should be more like Keith, but merely to point to one of the rare persons who knows how to do this. I imagine that Keith would be an excellent mentor for any aspiring software developer who wants to know how it is done. Of course, it would help to start with a product idea as amazing as Journler and Scrivener.

        Philip, I think you are right that Journler could not compete today against established journaling software such as Evernote (398K followers on Twitter) or newer journaling software such as Day One (21K followers on Twitter). Those of us who use Journler know that it is nothing like those other apps; Journler is much more powerful and versatile for wiki-like intelligence augmentation. But I find it hard to see how Journler’s uniqueness could translate into a sustainable commercial market niche today.

        Philip’s decision to release Journler’s code as open source was a noble move, but the most successful Mac-only open-source projects that I can think of are managed by a small circle of dedicated developers, typically including the same persons who started the projects. (BibDesk and Skim are two such open-source apps that I use every day, with BibDesk being an especially powerful tool for thought.) It doesn’t appear that anything like a small circle of dedicated developers exists for Journler. If there were, I would be happy to help contribute to any aspect of Journler that doesn’t involve writing Objective-C, which is gibberish to me.

  5. I’ve never heard of Journler before until I happened to click on a link that led me to this website. As I’m an Austrian, finding an image of Innsbruck certainly helped to make me curious to start reading and … wow … thank you for your efforts and this highly inspiring reflection on Journler! I’m deeply moved and impressed by your relationship to technology and sincerly look forward to your next project.

  6. Hello Philip,

    Don’t know exactly why I was thinking about Journler just know. I think because I saw an other developer getting back on his old project. I have read some post of your journler blog in the past. After I heard development stopped I was looking for something else, but I appreciate writing down all your ideas and experience to share with the world. Very inspiring and glad to see everything goes well.

  7. Hey Phil, I just happened upon this site. I was researching DayOne and on a whim searched Journler. I loved the Journler app and donated a few times. Thanks for the back story about your journey from Innsbruck to San Fran to Norman. I read your comment about MacJournal and Evernote. I don’t know anything about MacJournal, but Evernote sucks. I tried Evernote several times and gave up each time. It does some things well, but has a terrible UI. Their subscription model pushed me away for good. My personal opinion is that a quality app with iOS companion with DropBox or iCloud syncing blows Evernote away. I’d love to hear what project you come up with next.

    1. Hi Lawrence,

      You might like the application, but it sounds like you won’t like the business model. I am prototyping another Journler like project right now, effectively markdown Journler. I’ve developed a set of guiding principles and one of them is cross-platform compatibility. Same data, very nearly the same user interface, for Mac, Windows, Linux, Web, iOS and Android applications. That’s the vision anyway. Which means no iCloud or any other platform proprietary technology.

      I haven’t publicly discussed the business model I’m considering yet, but I’m eying two products. The first is a single license for a standalone desktop application, any and all platforms. It’s the same kind of license Sublime uses: buy one license, use any of the desktop applications.

      The second is in fact a subscription service that syncs between devices. If you want to use the product only on the desktop, no subscription is necessary. But if you want to sync and access application content on a mobile device or the web, then there is a subscription.

      One off application purchases when a major upgrade comes along every now and then is not a business model I’m interested in. A sustainable business larger than a single developer needs stable, monthly income. A subscription model provides that.

      The compromise is that your data remains accessible to you in its entirety at all times, and the subscription is optional and required only if mobile access (and so syncing) are desired.

      Maybe the whole model is bunk and I’ll have to do something else, but some mix of subscription and one off purchase is what I’m initially considering.

      1. Hi Phil, I think either model (or combo) can work. I would be willing to pay for an awesome desktop and mobile app coupled with a reliable sync service (bonus for web access as well). I probably unfairly bashed Evernote in my comment. My beef with them is their apps and UI.

        The Sublime model is interesting. If possible, it would be cool to set it up where desktop app can be paired with third party mobile app like Drafts and a sync service. I would gladly pay for a great app with that kind of flexibility.

      2. Hi Phil,

        I too was a happy Journler user and was really sad to see it go. As a fellow developer, I totally understand your reasoning and have indeed been in similar situations with some of the apps I’ve built.

        I do slightly disagree though with the statement that “one off application purchases” are not a viable business model. Look at 1Password, Sketch etc. Subscription services are better for reliable cashflow planning, but with a bit of experience I think you can make a decent living out of “sold” software. In the end, you’re just amortising a monthly payment into a bi-yearly update payment, but you have less costs from “freeloaders” who will never convert to a paid account anyway.

        It seems to me that the free+subscription system is really only attractive if growth is high, like in the case of Evernote. But even there it remains to be seen if this approach is truly more economically viable long-term.

        In any case, I wish you all the success with your new ventures, and remain excited to see what you’ll come up with!

        1. Good point about Sketch and 1Password.

          I think if the goal were to build exclusively for Apple the one-off model might be right and I’d try to plan as you suggest. Right now the vision is to build something that is multi-platform with a server side component for db and file syncing, which involves ongoing monthly expenses, so monthly revenue is appealing. Even in that case you could amortize, but if you miss deadlines on updates or have ongoing monthly users who do not upgrade, the financial model could overestimate revenue.

          I’m getting close to releasing a prototype. If development continues I think I would like to take on Evernote directly but aiming initially at a niche segment of researchers. I do have a preference for keeping user growth slow initially.

          The code is available in its entirety on GitHub. Updates occur regularly unless I’m out camping. I might could smooth out the initial build process. I’ll be undertaking a major re-architecting for plugin support after the v0.1 release, so perhaps then.

  8. Journler is one of the best pieces of software I’ve used. I keep attempting to migrate from OSX to Linux, but the lack of something equivalent to Journler has been a huge impediment. I’m still clunking with MacJournal with my to-dos, science research, programming, et al. notes. As far as I’ve explored (hours and hours) there is no equivalency on any OS I’ve found (EverNote does not remotely compare, even with security issues aside). I don’t know about the rest of the community but I would donate/pledge funding for any further open cross-platform journler work. Whatever happens, thanks for the awesome conscientiously-developed app and hope all is well!

    1. I am working on a Mac only prototype right now, primarily because I work more quickly inside Apple’s development environment.

      The plan is to get the Mac prototype to a stable, functional point in order to see if there is demand for the product and then develop a cross platform application and syncing.

      Initially it’ll be a ways away from Journler but the nascent vision and ultimate goal will be unmistakable.

  9. +1 for: Journler is one of the best pieces of software I’ve used.

    I’am a former java developer. And i’ve seen quite some software. But Journler is such a great software to organize and reorganize (over and over) thoughts/info/etc. As others said it fits into your activities instead of the other way around.

    Since i’ve had brain injury some 10 years ago I’am using Journler every day for organizing almost everything i do and things i need to remember. Since my memory was failing me a lot Journler is also my extended memory. To do lists, reminders, summaries, lots of info on all kinds of subjects, linking to documents and pics, etc. etc. Over 2000 entries. Using nested smart folders i could (re)categorize and (re)sort everything in every which way i like. And always being able to find the info i needed in just a few clicks.

    But since a couple of months Journler is crashing a lot. And it now even won’t start anymore (mac os x 10.8.5). Now i’am feeling handicapped again. I’ve tried some other apps off course. But i could not find an app that comes even close to what journler does.

    Or do you have a suggestion for me?

    As you can image i’am glad to pay for Journler!

    1. Erik, you could try DEVONthink as a replacement for Journler. I am starting to experiment now with DEVONthink as a replacement for Journler and it looks very promising; it even has a feature that I had always wanted to see in Journler: automatic listing of tags in the sidebar. You can export all your entries to an external folder from Journler and then import them into DEVONthink. I remember testing DEVONthink around the time that I first tried Journler (in 2010) and I preferred Journler, but DEVONthink has added many features in the intervening years.

    1. Hi Erik, I’m AFK right now just checking in. I don’t remember if there’s a 2.6b5 available, but I’ll check when I get back this weekend. I know some people have taken the Journler source code, which is publicly available, and made modifications to it, so it’s possible someone else released a version to ensure ongoing compatibility with OS updates.

  10. What a brilliant post!
    “Our tools, both digital and physical, determine our possibilities for thinking and acting, for being who we are.” That part reminds me a lot of “The medium is the massage” by Marshall McLuhan. I guess you know it, but if not check it out. It takes a similar lane.

  11. Philip, I love Journler and still use it on the latest OS. However, looking at your history, I have doubts that this new project will materialize, as much as I want it too.

    1. I think that’s a legitimate doubt. I’m confident there will be a couple of early versions for testing, v0.1, v0.2 and so on. Whether they materialize into a fully fledged product remains to be seen. In fact the first question I want to answer is whether there’s any demand at all, and if there is not then I don’t intend to continue development anyway.

      If there is interest, then what would make this product different is that I have no intention of pursuing it alone. That was a major mistake with Journler. I should not have been the only person working on it. If there is interest I intend to try to raise some money and put together a small team. If I’m unable to do that then I won’t be continuing development on it.

      So now I just need to get to a v0.1. I missed an anticipated March deadline and April is coming to an end. On the other hand the application is usable. It just doesn’t import, which I think is essential for a first release and to test interest. In any case the source code is available for those intrepid enough to want to compile it:

  12. First, thanks and don’t give up. Information management increases in need as information types and quantity explodes. Let me add two cents.

    I always need what Journler provided. The daily journal coupled with other files that can contain information, instruction, and links. There is nothing that accomplishes what I envision as an obvious product. I used Journler as a gateway: daily journal (very important to professionals,) link to procedural files, references, client files, and time/billing apps.

    It seems other writers and, perhaps, yourself, are looking at the large market of relatively unsophisticated users who come and go as they seek fun apps.. Some may actually keep a diary, but there are many apps for that. Indeed, they can immediately publish it in a blog. I would advise that you worry less about a generic product and focus upon a definable markets.

    I am suggesting that you narrow cast, that is specifically think of professionals and executives. There are many markets where a few tweaks would make sense, even to farmers. Everyone has to make notes and track expenses and income.

    As an lawyer, I must keep daily notes, clients files with links, resource files with links, links to court systems. A Journler page was my desktop. If you can plug in Quickbooks or a timer/biller this would be irresistable. Another amazing trick would be to suck in email conversations. Lawyers should not want to keep files online for security reasons, so you plan for local data is consistent.

    Journler is the core of a mini-enterprise system. Indeed, a little forcing of users could meet legal requirements regarding tracking information for larger business.

    Perhaps, prospecting for distribution avenues is a good start. I know from experience bookkeepers and accountants are a wonderful resource. They will advise clients (very loyal market) on useful products. Having a link to quickbooks, e.g., would make their lives easier. I recall Freshbooks, I think it was, makes money by offering affiliate business products and services. Journler linked to a bookkeeping system would be very attractive..

    I winced reading how you were on your own putting Journler together. I have done that and, sure enough, getting partners is always trouble. You had a great product in search of users. An established product and strategic dream would attract crowd funding. With some cash, a first target market could be properly analyzed.

    OK, it was three cents. I did go on because I respect what you created and wish you the best.


    1. Hi Gene,

      Another commenter, Ciaran, also expressed an interest in an application specifically tailored for lawyers. I agree that a specifically built and strategically targeted application is appealing. I originally thought the scientific community would find the product useful, but you and Ciaran aren’t the only lawyers who’ve used Journler or needed a Journler-like application.

      It seems like there is a market here that is looking for the right product, but does that product already exist? A cursory search of lawyer software led me to and Clio looked particularly well suited to your requirements and includes as far as I can tell time tracking and billing features.

      I’m open to building a product that is specifically tailored to a market, perhaps lawyers for case management. But as there are already competitors to a more general Journler-like application that push me away from pursuing that, it looks like there are already options for the legal market specifically as well.

  13. Phil,

    Just a short testament to the profound influence Journler has had on my life and to thank you for that grand ride. We corresponded a bit during the last year or two before you open-sourced it.

    I still limp along with Journler; I just can’t leave it. I’ve spent many hours with MacJournal and others and keep coming back. I found this blog because the latest security update (to Mavericks) broke Journler, and I was on a forlorn search for ideas to resurrect it.

    Anyhow, I thought you might like to know that keeping Journler running has completely driven my OS choices since 2011. It is why I am still on Mavericks.

    Looking forward with excitement to your new project, I still have to ask: have you abandoned Journler for your personal use, or like me and many others, do you keep a machine around that will run it?


    1. Hi Rich. I’ve spoken with folks who are still running OS 10.6 (Snow Leopard) for full Journler compatibility! There was definitely something to the application that keeps people on it, although I still wonder exactly what that was and if I’ll capture it again.

      I don’t use Journler myself, no. I stopped using it some time before I open sourced it when I returned to keeping a handwritten journal and as Journler focused more on information management. It’s why I’d prefer to build some kind of full blown information manager from the outset rather than accidentally stumble on one as I go. I still need a robust information manager that includes support for text entries, but with the focus definitely on the former.

    2. Hi,

      (I’m not the Richard of the above post)

      I normally hold off on large security updates to Mac OS X for a while, because I like to do a full system backup first, just in case. It’s never convenient to do that.

      After reading Richard’s post above I delayed even further because I didn’t want to loose access to Journler. The last few weeks I’ve been searching for a replacement that works for me and the best I’ve found was MacJournal, which is in many ways a near clone of Journler. I was impressed by the way it could import Journler’s data so little was lost. But I ran them in parallel until I could decide.

      With just a few days left on the MacJournal trial period left, today I finally got around to applying the 2016-004 security update and prepared for the worst re Journler.

      To my surprise Journler is working with no issues post-update that I can see. I just thought I let others know that it may not be the end of the road if you are holding off as I was.

      I may eventually update to something beyond 10.9,5 (Mavericks) but for now it’s OK.

  14. Hi Philip,
    What a joy and surprise when I found that Journler works with Sierra! I never thought it would and I was trying to try any other software or wondering if I should try South Lake.

    But in any rate I’m not a computer person, so so happy to realize that I still can use the Journler. Thank you and I hope you won’t give up creating “a tool for thoughts”. from beautiful autumn sky in Tokyo (with busy traffic.)


  15. I first started using Journler in Tiger (PPC Mac) in 2006, after looking for a “diary app”. Having read your account above Phil, I really wish I’d donated more often – Journler has been that useful to me. Last year, for example, I used Dragon Dictate to transcribe my written diaries (going back to childhood) into Journler running in Snow Leopard. After installing Yosemite and then Mavericks on an external HD a couple of years ago, and finding that Journler still worked, I was content.

    A couple of weeks ago I finally upgraded from Snow Leopard to Mavericks 10.9.5. Since then, Journler – whose database is in my Dropbox via symlink – has not been without glitches; sometimes it bounces in the Dock for what seems like forever, but usually eventually loads.

    I was interested in the remark above concerning Scrivener – that’s another app I’ve learned to use and love very quickly; it cannot replace Journler, nor can Journler do what Scrivener can, but side by side they are among the best ever tools for information management and creative writing. A third I’ve used over the years sans pareil is FileMaker Pro, ever since FMP 2 on a Powerbook Duo in 1994. But, in that time I’ve had to upgrade and purchase FMP4, FMP6, and currently FMP10, as each iteration brings with it something new or lacking in previous versions. Unlike Journler, FMP does not stand alone as something more or less unique and complete in its own right, and that’s one of the reasons why I will never upgrade to an OS unless it runs my essential apps.

    It would be nice – but perhaps a bit alarming – if Journler were to become open source. Alarming in the sense that certain features might be ‘ironed out’, or even worse, that the interface became bloated with features that will never be used. I think I briefly looked at MacJournal and rejected it as a ‘Journler substitute’, and Evernote I disliked intensely right from the start including its subscription model.

    To learn that Journler still runs in Sierra is pretty amazing. I have not given up hope that one day you might return to it, and if not expand it, at least tweak it for best running in newer OS’s. At any rate, thank you for its existence, and don’t worry that you don’t completely understand its purpose – that’s the way with the best software, that it is shaped by – and shapes – its users who continually find new uses for it undreamed of by its creators; Journler is far from unique in that regard.

    1. I tried MacJournal again, but although it imports entry names and folder structures from Journler, it doesn’t import entry content (seemingly). So I’ve abandoned it again, and as Journler still limps on even in Mavericks, I’ve no reason to abandon it just yet. (and if the worst ever came to the worst, I’ve a copy of the Parallels virtualiser and Snow Leopard Server to install into it.)

    2. Entry content WAS imported into MacJournal the next time I tried, but no pictures. 🙁

      And that’s the current problem with Journler in Mavericks – it doesn’t seem to want to “import” (i.e. make aliases) pictures anymore, which is a bummer. Everything else, apart from the media browser which hasn’t worked for years, is still functional.

  16. Phil

    You have done a really nice thing, blogging the history of Journler and how it all started and your ups and downs with it over the years.

    However, it’s clear isn’t it? that there are still many users who struggle along with it, even though it is a bit crippled now. What we need really is a forum of users where we can share our experiences and offer tips how to make Journler continue to work.

    Because of my own physical disabilities, I couldn’t really start this off, but if you or someone else out there could think about it…?

  17. HI,
    Me again. Im trying to figure out how to post to the journler forum. I have a new mac laptopn yosemite 10.10.5. I just downloaded journler 2.6b. Toggle low light display not working. Any tips?

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