Controlling Data in the Cloud

I’ve been using the Day One app for a while now to keep a personal diary. The frequency comes and goes, but I’ve kept at it often enough, ever since our son was born, that holds important personal memories and milestones. Whenever I remember, I jot something down just to record a week’s worth of living.

The team behind the app just released version 2.0, awkwardly named Day One 2. It’s a paid upgrade on both iOS and OS X, and while I won’t really use its new features, I gladly bought the new apps to support the developer and ensure myself of future software updates1. I’ve been trying to be more open about paying for quality software than in the past, and Day One has already proven its utility many times over.

There is some controversy, however, around the developer’s decision to remove support for syncing journals across iCloud and Dropbox, and to only use its own in-house syncing systems. It reminds me a little of how the Things team decided to build its own syncing service and make it the only way to keep data consistent across devices. Of course, there have been technical justifications for these product decisions, but they also conveniently lock their users into that service, and there’s now a tension between selling discrete copies of client software with maintaining permanent cloud servers to keep that data in-sync.

And folks are completely right in pointing out the dangers of relying on a proprietary syncing mechanism. Less so for a todo list like Things, but Day One journals tend to hold very personal data that remains valuable over time. It’s not just that these services can be unreliable; there’s no guarantee that a small, independent company will stick around in the long run to keep its cloud services running. Game companies make a habit of shutting down servers when there isn’t enough of a player base to warrant keeping them online, but media items like journal entries and photos only accumulate over time, and the whole collection becomes more valuable.

Before this update, I had used Dropbox to sync my journal: that way, I could and if necessary parse the raw files, while a separate “dumb” service just made sure that the files stayed synced2. With their Day One sync now required with the new app, the syncing system is much more opaque, though if I try hard enough I can probably figure out where the app keeps its files and keep it synced across PCs via something like BitTorrent Sync or just rsync. I can also just export my data, though that doesn’t help keep the apps run post-server-shutdown.

Such is the state of customer software in 2016.

  1. The developer has promised updates to what’s now the classic app, but both economics and developer interest have already deprecated it.

  2. This would also work perfectly with photos in the form of JPGs as well, and Dropbox had tried to capitalize on this with Carousel. Sadly, their storage was and remains much too expensive for that use case.

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