Ohai: Elegant Checkins for App.net

Timelines are core components of many social networking experiences. Facebook rolled out its timeline feature nearly two years ago, displaying major life events and activities in a beautiful chronological layout. Unfortunately, social network timelines are often more about the reader than the creator. Users are forced to broadcast their checkins and life events, because most networks aren’t designed to handle private posts well.

Ohai, created by Mustacheware, is a checkin journaling app, built upon the App.net infrastructure. The app can post user checkins to Twitter and/or App.net, or tuck them away into a private journal. Can an app built on a social network yield a satisfying private journaling experience? Read on to find out.

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Getting Started

Unlike most clients built for App.net, Ohai is all about the user’s content, not the content of friends. The app can’t display friends’ timelines, mentions, or private messages — it’s limited to the primary user’s checkins. First time users will have to log in to their App.net accounts. Ohai’s login page contains links to the App.net Passbook, 1Password and the Google Authenticator app, for those who have activated two-step verification.

Ohai provides many options for quick log in.

Ohai provides many options for quick log in.

Ohai is designed to look like a traditional paper journal, bound in aged leather. The app opens like a book, each time it is launched. Entries and sections of the app are separated by pages, and navigating through the app is similar to navigating through an iBook. The pages curl responsively, as a user swipes to the next or previous page. There are no settings for page color, font type or anything for that matter, so users are limitied to the default appearance, much like they would be with a paper journal.

View all of your checkins for the day, or post a new checkin with the Check In button.

View all of your checkins for the day, or post a new checkin with the Check In button.

Just like a traditional journal, Ohai begins with an acknowledgement page, followed by checkins, arranged from oldest to newest, and ends with an author page. This page displays the user’s avatar and basic user profile information. Each checkin page displays a single day of checkins. Daily checkins are pinned to a map, that sits at the top of the page. Checkins for the day are arranged from oldest at the top to most recent at the bottom, tethered together by a simple gray timeline and timestamp. Posts can contain photos, text and location.

Checking In?

Instead of the classic Compose button, Ohai adds a Check In button to the bottom of today’s checkin page, where the completed post will append to the timeline. This page disappears if there are no checkins by the end of the day. Tap the Check In button to bring up the Places window. The app will list the nearby places, but it’s also possible to add custom locations. Either choose one of the listed locations, or tap the Plus button at the top of the screen to add a custom location.

Choose an existing location, or create your own.

Choose an existing location, or create your own.

After selecting a location, it’s time to choose or take a photo, construct a witty post, and decide how to share the checkin. Ohai takes the Pinboard approach to social networking, allowing users to share but not forcing them to do so. Checkins can be shared to App.net, Twitter, the private journal or any combination of those. This is perfect for documenting amazing summer vacations, without inundating followers with images of every monument or morsel. Although photos enhance the journal timeline, users can add text-only checkins. Ohai checks to make sure that posts are less than 256 characters and will disable checkins if a user exceeds the character limit.

Ohai can post to App.net, Twitter or the private journal.

Ohai can post to App.net, Twitter or the private journal.

Be sure to double-check before posting, because posts cannot be deleted from within the app.

Performance

Ohai is an excellent app, despite a few minor annoyances. The app’s icon design is great, but the developer accidentally shipped a developer icon with the latest release, slapping a random “0” in the middle of the bound-journal cover. The daily map flags all of the user’s checkins but pins sometimes appear out of frame. The journal metaphor works well, but the developer buries the Check In button at the bottom of the posts from the current day. Newest entries would go at the bottom of a journal page, so the journal metaphor remains intact, but this works against usability. The app always opens to the Today page, but it would be nice if it were possible to create a new checkin from any page within the app.

Button location is clearly a matter of personal preference, and the current button position is consistent with the paper journal theme. Unfortunately, the app also suffers from another limitation of physical journals. Users with many check ins may find it tedious to swipe through page after page, to get to posts that are a few months old. A page slider, like the one found in iBooks, would resolve this issue. Aside from these minor issues, Ohai is incredibly stable, more so than many of the App.net apps on the market.

Conclusion

Ohai is a well designed app, with a clean layout and a honed feature set. The app doesn’t try to be a Swiss Army Knife for App.net; it simply provides the best App.net checkin experience that I’ve had so far. The app is a prime example of how the the App.net API can be used to produce more than a Twitter-like experience. It’s possible to use the app without ever posting to a social network, something that’s almost unheard of from a social networking app. Ohai does require an App.net account, but free account invites are now much easier to find. Those looking for a simple location journaling experience need look no further than the leather-bound pages of Ohai.


Summary

Ohai is a client for App.net. Check in with photos, posts or locations to Twitter, App.net or your private journal.

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