Diary.com re-invents diaries for Generation Twitter

When the history of the Internet is one day written, as it will be, URLs will probably figure high on the list of the jewels Web companies tried to amass, alongside the services themselves. Some of them have been notorious, like Sex.com (wiki entry). But the best are always those that bring something new to the party, not just a memorable address and a dull, predictable application.

Which is why it’s encouraging to see a UK startup take “Diary.com” and turn it into an interesting new kind of lifestyle service which is absolutely not a simple calendar application slapped onto an obvious URL.

One’s first impression of Diary.com is that it has a clean interface, a little like like Twitter. You have a simple entry window where you can plug in status updates, which go into a life stream, just like Twitter. But Diary has taken the “stripped-down” Twitter conceipt and applied it more more of a journaling, diary writing environment. In other words, you can paste in anything you like, from text (not Twitter’s 140 characters but up to 1000 – a good sized paragraph for the ADD generation), or URLs pointing to pictures and videos. The site then sucks in the actual video/picture, to make it appear in your life stream. It’s this aspect which starts to take Diary away from micro-blogging into the realms of private life-streaming and Digital Lifestyle Aggregation.

As TechCrunch wrote last year, DLAs are a new class of startup which are about winning people for years to come. Digital Lifestyle sites help people to assemble their memories (blogs, images, video) and, bluntly, aim to lock them in through the amount of sheer time they’ve invested. In the US, Our Story raised $6 million in VC, and joined Story Of My Life, dandelife and My Family in the sector. Coming out of the UK there is Rememble and Miomi (backed by Brightstation Ventures). However, there remains a problem at the core of these sites which is how to keep users coming back once they’ve uploaded some memories, and keeping their attention. Diaries might just be the way to do it since keeping a diary is a very old and recognisable concept. A “DLA” is not.

Diary is also pulling away from both micro-blogging and DLAs, because while your initial Diary is private you can also create any number of shared diaries with other users. At this point it seems obvious to point out that Diary doesn’t sound too dissimilar from old-fashioned blogging, or perhaps running a Tumblr site. The difference comes in that there are a lot of privacy controls on the diaries, and it’s not really a blogging environment – you don’t input HTML tags for instance. It’s a very mainstream concept and probably plays well into a crowd of people who will never bother to understand blogging, let alone microblogging. However, the apparent simplicity of Diary.com might also make it look too simple.

The Diary guys say that user testing so far suggests that a few significant niches enjoy using the site. Women – traditionally bigger diary keepers than men – are using the site a lot. As are the younger female base of 16-24year old, who are mainly in the US where journaling and “scrapbooking” has a long history. Some 50% of the test user base so far has been from the USA, while 20% are from UK (the rest are from Asia and Russia).

However some of the site’s core features lend themselves not just to broadcasting your diary entries but to instant diary feedback, so some users are scrapbooking observations, links, pictures and videos and then chatting around this as the shared diary opens out into a sort of group discussion. There are users with travel diaries, shopping diaries (interestingly), and even some diaries between lovers – because a Diary.com diary is more secure than email and allows pics/video and conversations between the diary owners.

To an extent Diary.com is closer to Friendfeed than Twitter, but where Friendfeed allows threaded comments on posts and is essentially and aggregator, Diary is designed to be a destination site, not an aggregator.

Diary.com plans to allow the importing of importing a couple of key feeds like flickr and twitter just to store in your private diary but they don’t plan to become a FriendFeed style aggregator, given the commoditisatoin of that space and the privacy issues around diaries.

So, monetisation strategy? Hard to say until Diary captures a use base following this public launch. There’s obviously an attempt to monetise attention here – perhaps there is scope to offer power users premium accounts, advertising, SMS revenue (mobile would be a natural fit), virtual goods (“pimp out” your diary) and affiliate revenue.

Running in stealth mode for some months, Diary.com is a team of which consist of co-founders Keld van Schreven and Peter Brooke (who’s owned the domain since 1996), Richard Taylor (CTO) and Ken Lee. So far Diary has raised £300,000 in angel money, but say they are going out for a modest series A round later this year.