Since I was a little kid I always liked projects. I created all sorts of little projects and experiments and pieces of kid art all on my own without prompting. People thought I was a weird little kid because I spent much more time by myself creating strange “things” than other kids my age. Even as a kid I knew what I was creating was of pretty poor quality but I kept making stuff anyway in the hopes that one day it would turn out the way I imagined it in my head. Now at 26 I find that my need to create hasn’t dropped off at all. I need it. I can’t stay sane without it. It started first in my kitchen as a kid, mixing up random household liquids into what I liked to call “concoctions” and watching them turn colors and react. Then it was my drawings. Then music, writing and poetry. Then programming. We all have a need for self expression, some more than others, but its a need we all have nonetheless. But do we have the proper outlet for them? This was something I found lacking and so I did something about it.
Where do we go to express ourselves?
There’s no shortage of apps and websites out there that let us express ourselves but are they right for scratching our self-expression itch? I don’t think they are. First of all, let’s define our terms here. What is self expression? In this context is means:
Creating something deeply personal
Something not necessarily meant for public broadcasting
May or may not document a time or emotion
Is useful as an emotional/creative outlet
Its deeply personal
It is creative in ways that are both mundane and exotic – all at once or separately
Its the thing that later becomes the great idea we show off to the world
Did I mention its deeply personal?
So we basically have our private thoughts and the ways in which we express those thoughts and feelings. And there are many but on the web we’re limited to uploading text, audio, video, and images. So where can we go online that meets those needs? Let’s run through the list:
You could argue that Facebook is the place for self-expression online. It’d be a weak argument but you could argue it. I mean, you can upload text, audio, video, links, and whatever else. It does allow you to express yourself in all the ways listed above but it’s also very limiting.
The problem: Facebook is all about social. Social is the killer of all self-expression. Yes, there are many art forms meant for public display but I don’t know of any that start out that way. The nature of self expression is deeply personal and when you’re on the Facebook stage you are inhibited by social. You cannot be who you are inside because it is on display and the fear of being judged (as you most certainly will be) holds you back. You cannot express yourself on Facebook. You can publish all the thoughts that don’t matter and you can even let some stuff that you probably shouldn’t post slip but in the end you cannot use Facebook as a platform for self-expression. It’s meant only for random thoughtless comment and that which has already gone through the creative process and is ready for a round of criticism. Creativity cannot be born on Facebook.
Twitter has the same problem Facebook does. It’s social and promotes even more thoughlessness. Twitter is a promotional and news platform. It’s even more public than Facebook.
The problem: Same as Facebook basically except more open and shorter. Self expression doesn’t come in the form of 140 characters.
What kind? Let’s say we’re talking about our own hosted blogs. Not a Wordpress.com or Tumblr blog. Something like Octopress or something you roll your own. Hmm, at first it seems that it could work but I say blogs are not where self-expression can be had. At least not our definition.
The problem: It’s public! That’s the biggest problem with self-expression. It’s shy and fragile and hates to be seen in public. Its rare that a person can form something deeply personal and creative in public. The fact that blogs are meant to be read by people meants that authors are incentivized to show off only their most polished work. When you have a blog you know someone could read it and so you hold back the personal bits. You can certainly see examples of wonderful self-expression on blogs but you can’t begin the process of creating something meaningful and expressive in a first draft post. Blogs are not the right place for self-expression.
Where is a good place for self expression
(There’s a shameless plug coming up soon!)
Well, on the web I can’t think of many places. Evernote may solve that problem but it has its own limitations at least for my purposes. Notebooks are the way to go. You cannot beat a good old fashioned paper notebook. I’m a web developer. I love apps. I love making apps. I bring my Macbook almost everywhere with me. But I also have my trusty Moleskine there too. And I may not write in it as much as I’d like to but its there and there’s no better place for you to express yourself. Write it, sketch it, tear up pages, however you like to work. Paper is best. But the truth is that most of us carry some kind of device with us more often than a paper notebook. So what then? Well that’s where my own solution comes in.
About a year ago I wanted a place I could go to online and just write. Takes notes. Keep my personal thoughts. I called it Write.app. It was a responsive site that worked well on desktop and mobile. I opened it up to the public and even open sourced the code! I was surprised by how many people signed up to use it! I found there was a need out there for a place online where you could go to express your private thoughts and organize your “expressions” without the pressure or fear of having it become public. It was a quiet place. This wasn’t some skeuomorphic “hey its just like your paper diary except online” kind of thing. No, this was deeper than that. It was about the thoughts and not the formatting. It was a quiet digital thinking place where it was just you and a blank canvas. You wrote what you needed then you saved it. You could come back later and read it, add to it, delete it, but you couldn’t make it public.
I saw there were some flaws in the original Write.app so I overhauled the site and it’s almost ready for launch. When it hits version 1.0 we’ll have the ability to add photos and videos as formats in an of themselves. During the beta we plan to have the following features:
Private notes and notebooks (everything is private by default)
Selectively publish notes
Save all notes to Amazon S3 as flat Markdown files to export any time
Great mobile experience
Distraction-free reading and writing
And that’s it! Simple. A blank canvas. A quiet place to put your ideas or jot down some notes. And best of all, its your and yours alone. It’s your private space. Yes, there is the ability to mark notes as public but I think most users will that pretty infrequently. For the most part I think they’ll keep most entries private save for some of the really good ones. I built it for myself and it turns out many others are searching for the same thing.
To anyone reading this who’s been waiting patiently on the beta list, let me assure you we really are almost ready to launch. At the last minute I completely redesigned the app and I promise it was worth it. If you recently saw the concept for Ghost, a Wordpress fork that appeared on Hacker News, then you’ll be pleasantly surprised (if you like it). Much of the new UI was inspired by (read: outright stolen) from Ghost.
There are honestly just a couple of critical bugs to iron out before we roll out the alpha to everyone on the list and soon after that we’ll have a stable beta. Hopefully the idea takes off but if not, at least I still have my own quiet place.
If you’re interested you can sign up for Write.app here.