A dream comes true. I had to wait for years for this moment but finally I found what I searched for. Finally I can run my own chatserver. And even more: it’s secure, has a distributed architecture and the most important thing: I own my data.
But first things first. In the past decade many messaging services became popular and more and more replaced SMS, e-mail and even simple phone calls for many people. I’d say the main reason was the simplicity. These apps were much easier to understand and to use than what we’ve had before. Sending a photo via e-mail could be a pain, you had to find a subject, otherwise your mail client complained. You wrote some nonsense text just to ensure that your friends find the attachment – which you hopefully did not forget to attach. Then the big question for your friends: should I reply or reply all?
Another big but not so popular issue with e-mail and SMS was – and still is – privacy. The user never knows if the e-mail is being transferred encrypted or if maybe someone else can read it. Encryption algorithms like PGP are way too complicated for the average user to understand. It was really time for something new, messaging services that let people communicate in an easy and secure way. Services where people can just send a photo.
And there are great services these days. WhatsApp got very popular. With the spying scandals more secure alternatives came up such as Threema, Telegram and Signal. Today almost every solution provides secure end-to-end encrypted communication but I still don’t want to use them for some reasons:
- Most of the messaging services required a login based on my phone number. I want to choose who knows my messaging account, I don’t want that anybody knowing my phone number can contact me via chat.
- Many messaging services are closed source. You don’t know what they are doing behind the scenes. Even if you’ll never browse the whole source code I want to be able to. I want also be able to provide feedback and maybe also enhance the software.
- I want to host my own server. Why? Because I can. Because I then know where the data is stored. Because I can do backups. Because I can remove the data. Because I own my data.
So I waited and waited patiently for the big thing to come and some months ago found a very promising project. It seems to be exactly what I searched for and even more! It’s not just a standalone server where I can talk to my family. It’s also a distributed system, a server that talks to other servers too. I don’t have to force everyone to use my server, they can run their own servers or even use some public hosted server and I can still talk to them through my server.
Sounds complex but think of it as an e-mail server. You can also write an e-mail from one server (like @benjaminhubert.at) to any user on any other server (like @gmail.com). So it is with matrix. You can share a chat room on your homeserver (like :benjaminhubert.at) with any user using any other matrix homeserver (like :riot.im).
For the user it is simple as WhatsApp. There are already many different clients out there. You find a native Android app, a nice web interface and even command line clients for Linux. The community is extremely active and helpful – of course using matrix as their platform.
I believe that this technology, this protocols and tools have the potential to replace e-mail on long-term. I think one big reason for e-mail still being so important is that none of the big messaging services had this distributed architecture in mind. Even in a world where we do lots of things in the cloud, there are some companies and some people who want to run their own communication server.
I can also imagine that this technology might replace the existing messaging apps out there. I don’t say that it will replace the brands and the services itself, but maybe they will support matrix in the future, so that you can chat with a user on WhatsApp using your local matrix installation. Or in other words, maybe WhatsApp, Signal, Slack and all of them will migrate to matrix at some point? Who knows, but as said, I see a potential…
- The network and reference implementations: matrix.org
- Nice clients and a hosted service: riot.im
- Slack no more. Why you should use Riot.im and Matrix.org
- Riot releases end-to-end encryption: get ready to chat securely!