app architecture

Brian Hicks, March 6, 2024

So, a little news to start: I decided on a name for this project and bought a domain. is now receiving traffic (but just linking back to for the moment.) But today I want to write about the ideal architecture!

Part of the thing-a-month project is to pare down my ideas to the minimum that I can actually achieve in a month. I thought that was going to be easy on this project, but then I got to thinking about data governance and privacy balanced with long-term sustainability as a service. Let's think about how someone might use this app:

  1. They sign up, get whatever app installed and authed, whatever.
  2. They start answering pings
  3. They look at reports on how they're using their time
  4. Repeat, hypothetically forever (but actually who knows how long)

Questions about privacy and sustainability come up before the beginning, and in between each of those steps. For example:

Let's work out a couple scenarios. First, what's the answer if this is a purely-local app? Say it's on your phone (just to make it available everywhere, since people keep their phones close.) The answers to these questions would be:

That doesn't seem so bad, but this is where I hit some scope creep. I'd like this data to sync between my phone and computers somehow. I'm on my work laptop for most of the workday, on my phone in the evenings, and on my personal laptop when I'm doing things like blogging or working on projects like this. I want to track all that time!

One way to do this might be to consider making this a web app instead of a local-only app. Then the answers might look like this:

That seems worse on first read. It does have some clear benefits, though: there aren't nearly as many gatekeepers for web apps, and I wouldn't have to pay platform fees on sales (other than, say, Stripe's normal fees.) But I have a hard time thinking this is the best way forward.

But what about a hybrid approach? Local-first software is looking pretty good these days. What if the client stored its own data and then could sync with a server to get the data everywhere? Seems like that could work alright. Then what if the tags were encrypted somehow and could only be decrypted by the user on their devices? Then…

That makes me think that the way to get started here might be a local-first PWA. That'd allow you to get pings immediately, and then later be able to sync them with a server when that exists. That makes signup a little annoying (since all the data lives on your device anyway) so maybe the first version of this could just be an open thing? Or maybe that's how I'd make a trial available… use this for a while on your own device, but if you want backups and sync then there's a fee (seems like this works fine for Obsidian!)

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