Open Diary is the original diary / journaling community. They
currently have 315,000 people keeping online diaries from 63
countries around the world.
We spoke to the founder Bruce Ableson to find out more.
Position / title:
The DiaryMaster, founder of OpenDiary.com
AbleSites, Inc. - publishers of Open Diary and Teen Open Diary
Your company / website vision statement / goal:
Our objective is to provide an easy to use platform for online diary
writers and readers. We have created a community where hundreds of
thousands of people write about their daily lives, and can read
about the lives of other people around the world.
What you sell / services you offer (brief description of your
Open Diary offers an online diary service for people who want to
keep their journals on the Internet.
Our basic service is advertising-supported and free of charge to the
user. We also offer a Plus service that is by subscription, costing
$12 USD per six months.
There are currently 315,000 people keeping online diaries on our
site, from 63 countries around the globe. We even have two diarists
who write from a scientific station in Antarctica - making us the
only diary community with writers on all seven continents.
When I started Open Diary in 1997, it was the first web site that
brought online diary writers together into a community. Since then,
online journaling has grown exponentially - there are now nearly a
hundred sites offering the same sort of service that we originated
seven years ago.
Have you always wanted to run your own business? What were some of
your previous jobs / companies?
My first job after college was as a systems administrator for a
pharmaceutical company. PCs were new to the business world then, and
the company had a sales office with twelve PCs, and no idea what to
do with them. The machines had been plugged in, and they had
purchased some copies of WordStar on diskette, but that was all.
There was a new spreadsheet program called Lotus 1-2-3, and they
thought that they might be able to use it to track sales and make
forecasts - but they didn't know how.
When I interviewed for the job, the office manager asked me if I
knew how use a spreadsheet, and I said yes - even though I had never
seen one before.
I figured if they had never used it, they wouldn't be able to tell
if I knew what I was doing. Luckily, my new office had a door - so I
could keep it closed while I read every PC, spreadsheet, and
database manual I could get my hands on.
I worked at that job for five years. In the last year, I was part
of a team
that used PC software to analyze demographics by zip code across the
country and realign the company's sales force territories to be more
efficient. The project lasted six long months. When it was over,
the company newspaper carried a story about how our team had created
a new way of analyzing sales data and applying it in the field - and
estimated that it would have a positive impact of millions of
dollars on the company bottom line.
My annual performance review came two months later. My boss extolled
the virtues of the work I had done that year, praised me for the
many extra hours I had put in, and gave me the highest possible
performance rating - "Exceeds Expectations". Excited, I checked the
charts that told employees what sort of raise the highest performers
would receive - and found that Exceeding Expectations translated to
a three percent increase in annual salary. After all I had put into
the company that year; my salary increase would be less than twenty
dollars a week.
That experience cemented my belief that I needed to work for myself
- if I was going to put in a superior effort, I wanted to earn a
Soon after, I left the corporation to work for a small consulting
company. I worked with them for four years, writing software for
Fortune 500 companies. It was intense, consuming work - as soon as
one deadline was completed, there was always another deadline
waiting to pounce on you.
Again, there were many extra hours, and a great deal of extra
effort. The compensation was better, but I still knew that the
company was taking 70 percent of everything I was billing. What I
was left with was nice, but I wanted more.
I finally started my own consulting firm in 1985. At last, I was
working for myself. The downside was that I was still doing the same
sort of work - writing software at large corporations, working for
clients who still decided my fate (and my revenue) through regular
performance reviews. I did well, but I wanted out of the corporate
The Internet was just getting started, and once again (like when PCs
were new), there was a business segment where I could know as much
as anybody else working in the field. I started to seek out web
assignments for my consulting work, and started to teach myself web
programming and HTML. By 1997, I was ready to start a new business.
Have you got any qualifications? Please tell us about yourself
I earned a four-year degree from Michigan State University, majoring
in Telecommunications. My education was in television and radio
production – I even worked as a disk jockey at the college radio
My education really had nothing to do with the field I ended up in.
I had worked a little with computers during college, but mostly to
help my girlfriend out with homework for her BASIC programming
class. I didn't take the class myself, but there was something
about the construction of computer programs, the feel of building
something useful from scratch, that appealed to me.
When I graduated from college, I lucked into that first job -
knowing little about computers, but working for people who knew even
less. After that, all of my computer skills were self-taught - I
read manuals, I practiced programming at home, I participated in
online discussions and users groups.
I did everything I could to improve my coding abilities, while still
working my regular job.
How / when did the idea of your website / company come about?
I was working as a consultant for a large corporation in 1997,
financial reporting software - not the most exciting thing in the
world to be coding. I was the project leader for a team of three
programmers, and we were working on a six-week project that we
completed in four. As a result, we found ourselves with some extra
time. Then as now, one of the benefits of working for a large
corporate client was that they provided us with a broadband Internet
connection in our offices.
It was only by accident that I was surfing the web one of those
days, and came across the personal site of somebody who was keeping
a journal on the Internet. The author was an 18-year old from
Alabama, who was traveling across the United States working odd jobs
to support himself. When I started reading, he was working on a
cattle ranch in New Mexico. I found reading the journal
fascinating, because it was written about a way of life and a place
that I was not familiar with. I found myself coming back to his
journal every day, to see if the author had written more.
With a little more searching, I found that there was a small group
writers - maybe a couple hundred - that were doing the same thing,
writing about their daily lives on the web. I read journals of
people from Israel, from Russia, from the United Kingdom - all of
them interesting because they detailed lives and lifestyles that I
had no knowledge of.
It seemed to me that if I found these journals compelling - that if
I wanted to come back and read them every day - that other people
would feel the same way. However, it was hard to find them, and hard
to keep track of them - if there was a central location where they
could be gathered together in an easy-to-read and easy-to-search
format, there could be a larger audience for them.
Also, it was hard back then to write an online diary - you had to
have your own web space, and you had to know how to create pages and
use HTML. These were barriers that prevented the average Internet
user from keeping a diary.
If this central journaling location could also provide a simple
method for writers to post entries to their journals, without
needing to know obscure codes and without needing to pay for server
space, it could be a good thing.
I started Open Diary in October of that year, using money from my
consulting business. On our first day, we had twelve visitors and
three people actually started writing diaries. One of our new
writers was from Turkey - so right away, we were an international
business. Since then, the growth of the site has been amazing - we
have several hundred new members join every day, but we still have
people writing with us who have been here since 1997.
The most fulfilling part of the job is that we provide a place for
people to let their feelings out - to meet other people, to put
their emotions down on (digital) paper, and to learn about the daily
lives of other humans, that they wouldn't normally interact with.
Many times, our users have told us that reading diaries has given
them an understanding of others that they never would have had
otherwise. Building a community has been the best reward of all.
If you could give readers of this book one piece of advice what
would it be?
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