On my phone and computer I use WhatsApp, Signal, Slack, Keybase, Discord, IRC, XMPP/Jabber and Element/Matrix. In addition, I occasionally use the messaging features of Mastodon, Twitter and even LinkedIn. I’ve never used Telegram, Line, WeChat, Session, Wire or Status chat, but they exist too, along with many others.
It would be better if I could chat with people using the app I prefer, rather than the one I am forced to use.
Of course, the only useful chat app is the one your friends and family are on, so it’s pointless to debate the finer points in each service’s favour, but here I go anyway.
Only Matrix is:
- End-to-end encrypted so people can’t eavesdrop on my conversations
- Decentralised (federated) so my identity and trust are not invested in a single company
- Free/Open Source software so its security can be audited, and everyone is free to use it
- Built on an open standard so lots of systems can implement it and use it
- Run as a public interest foundation so if supporting companies fail the project can continue
- Developed with sustainable funding so it’s less likely to disappear
- Able to bridge to other networks so (in theory) people can keep using their existing apps
- Popular, with about 5 million messages per day, so there is some chance my friends or family might be on it
The importance of decentralisation has been re-emphasised for me this week after the freenode IRC debacle. A single controlling entity, even when it is currently benign (as some people believe Signal is) is not a guarantee that things will stay this way. Thank goodness you can connect your usual IRC network to libera.chat: imagine what would happen to Signal users if they realised someone unscrupulous had acquired control.
Matrix does not solve all our problems. Notably:
- Its security is probably not good enough for people threatened by powerful interests – at the moment it’s quite easy to see who’s talking to whom, and when.
- Not all clients support end-to-end encryption, and not all turn it on by default (but the most-used ones do).
Despite these limitations, Matrix is the only chat network that is even attempting to provide what users need, and it seems to be doing a pretty good job of it.
I think we should work together to address its weaknesses, and adopt it wherever we can.
So, I recommend Matrix (specifically element.io) for group and individual chat.