Over four years ago, inspired by the (nano) Hipster PDA, I started carrying a blank business card in my wallet so I would always have something to write on. There are no limitations to a blank piece of paper other than its size — it can be used to write down reminders, driving directions, lists, ideas, to-dos, jokes, more. Even before I owned an iPhone, I realized that having a digital version of this would be useful. There were already dozens of GTD apps and task managers that required you to enter data in certain formats and under certain UIs. I just wanted a digital blank piece of paper that functioned equally on my desktop and my phone.
To access Pastecard, you just navigate to the URL where you installed it. There’s no authentication step of any kind. When the page finishes loading, it’s just a rectangle of plain text. There are no buttons or images. Clicking or tapping on the box makes it editable and reveals two buttons to save changes or cancel out, and both those actions bring the window back to its original state. I essentially wanted no UI, nothing to get in the way of reading and editing.
Simplenote’s explosive popularity started after I had been using Pastecard on an iPhone. I bought it and used it for a while, and actually really liked it. The most immediate advantage was the ability to use it without an Internet connection, something that was impossible with a web app (and likely to remain impossible by choice, despite cache manifests and HTML5 local databases).
But after a couple months, I realized that I didn’t need the ability to store multiple notes or the ability to search through them, and I certainly didn’t enjoy logging in from each new desktop browser I used. So I went back and rewrote Pastecard to reduce its filesize and make it load faster, even over anemic cellular data connections. Don’t get me wrong: Simplenote is great and is only getting greater, but it turns out I wanted Simplernote.
The only thing preventing someone from hijacking my Pastecard is that they don’t know its URL. This is true to life; the only thing preventing someone from scribbling over my blank business card is that they don’t know where it is. In either case, if someone else has access, they’re free to edit as they want, and I am fine with this. The kind of information that I put there isn’t sensitive or of dire importance. If it was, I could just remember it (I hope).
I’ve shared Pastecard with a couple friends and posted the source code on my personal site for everyone to use. I’ve thought about offering it as a complete package (pastecardapp.com/username maybe) — for free, of course, and still without any authentication. I may attempt to rewrite the web app to function offline somehow. No matter what happens, I will make sure Pastecard stays true to its roots of a digital scrap of paper.
Update 10/30/10: Going Public
Pastecard is now a publicly-available product. While I still provide the source for download at the site, people may now register a username and host their personal card at pastecard.net. I have migrated my personal card there and those of two of my friends, the site’s first three users. Just as with the product, the site itself is simple, with only a home page, a signup form, a help page, and the download page. I’m choosing not to promote it for now, and to see how it spreads via word of mouth.
The product’s light footprint makes it relatively cheap and easy to serve. I’m using a shared server with A Small Orange, and their least-expensive plan at that. Assuming my hosting load and bandwidth do not exceed the plan’s offerings (more on this in a bit), the total cost of running the site will be $35 a year, including the domain. The increased speed combined with the satisfaction of maintaining a complete product is worth the cost to me. No need to run ads or otherwise recoup this cost.
As of this writing, the site’s assets take up about 56K of space. Each individual user takes up no more than 2K, depending on how much text they’re storing at any given time. Going by my own usage, each user will access their card 20 times a day on average, resulting in roughly 160K of bandwidth (excluding any visits to the main site). I manage the site using Google’s free apps for domains, specifically Gmail and Documents. Pastecard should scale very well with its estimated usage.
Update 6/8/11: The Cloud
Pastecard hasn’t gotten many more users since the last update, but cloud storage is going to receive a lot of attention soon, now that Apple’s put an i in front of it. Pastecard has always worked like a cloud app, thanks to being entirely on the web. Being able to “install” the web app to your phone can make it seem more like a native app, but it’s always been “cloud-powered.” I don’t expect cloud mania to drive more people to Pastecard, but the cloud’s growing popularity reassures me that the choice to build for the web was the right one.
Just as Apple’s solution makes the cloud the primary hub, rather than a desktop computer, so is the same with Pastecard. It’s what keeps it simple. And, despite what I wrote above, the iOS home screen version of Pastecard can now store data locally so it can open without a data connection. Keeping with the cloud-centric philosophy, the end device is still only a consumer from the cloud. Offline mode cannot make edits that are published later; it’s just read-only until you can get back online.