Follow the white rabbit
First off, the people from Matrix.org made it clear on the official website FAQ that Matrix has nothing to do with the movie. However, it is far too tempting to not jump on the occasion to make all kinds of references to the cult movie. Let’s try to limit it to the titles.
What is Matrix
Matrix is an open standard for interoperable, decentralised, real-time communication over IP (Internet Protocol). As a simple user, Matrix can be used to power:
- Organised Instant Messaging, through direct chats, rooms, and keeping things organised through communities. This include image and file sharing.
- Voice and visio calls
Matrix.org is an open initiative which acts as a neutral and independent custodian of the Matrix standard. Because the standard is open, anyone can work to develop their own implementation of Matrix. There are already several available implementations of both client and server applications for Matrix out there.
Matrix.org provides its own implementation:
- Web, desktop and smartphone version of their Riot client
- Synapse server
Matrix.org relies on the Identity Server developed by the company New Vector for their instance of Matrix. Problem is, this service is not currently something you can install locally, and several issues have been raised about giving away your users data to New Vector when using this service.
The good news is, another entity called Kamax developed a strongly privacy-focused identity server called mxisd to address this. There has been some tensed exchanges between Matrix.org and Kamax in regards to privacy, GAFAM and the Matrix specifications. Those are passionate people on both sides with different agendas and immediate requirements ; however we hope the discussions will resume as they drove some welcomed changes towards better privacy default settings.
Is it the One?
Matrix protocol and its implementations are yet another attempt at enabling worldwide instant messaging/ real-time communication in an inter-operable way, under one set of open protocols and standards.
The hectic history of instant messaging went to a revolution in the 2010s with the adoption of smartphones and the rise of messaging apps developed or bought by social networking provider (WhatsApp, Messenger, iMessages), all proprietary and non-interoperable. Or how to stick to the old bad ways…
Well-established (and still growing) alternatives like Signal are already here (Open Source, secure). The company behind Signal, Open Whisper Systems, actually sold its expertise to some of the Web giants to implement secure instant messaging through client-side encryption. There are other projects as well, but Signal has a good reputation and was recommended by organisations and people with a strong expertise on the matter (like Edward Snowden).
As an immediate and ethic alternative to GAFAM tools, Signal is definitely our default recommendation. However, some may be concerned that Signal is hosted on AWS infrastructure (Amazon), and that as good as it is, it’s not (currently) a decentralised solution.
Jami, from Savoir-faire Linux, is another alternative which works serverless. You can hardly get more decentralised than this! Jami is very promising and we recommend to install it and give it a go as well. It comes with desktop clients and apps on all platforms. Since it is serverless, Jami needs both persons to be connected to send messages, and the messages do not get synchronised on the various devices / computers that you may own (although it’s on the roadmap).
Don’t think you are, know you are.
Matrix is another example of the numerous projects that are rising as full-scale and decentralised alternative to big centralised and proprietary platforms.
It brings to the fediverse an exchange and collaboration tool that could and want to rival with most, and can be added to the fediverse catalogue, alongside Mastodon (micro-blogging), Peertube (video streaming), Diaspora (social network), Funkwhale (audio streaming) and many others.
We are still on a fairly early stage all things considered (the specifications are still evolving, many admin functions are very rough, and encryption handling needs to be simplified further). However it comes with everything people would expect from a modern instant messaging solution. The implementations are FOSS and it was conceived with decentralisation from the start.
However, coming so late to the party makes it a huge challenge (people need to change their habit, learn a new tool… it’s almost mission impossible!). Success will only be measured by adoption, and only time will tell if Matrix manages were so many have had only partial success.
To help with endeavour, Nomagic is now offering its users a free account on our server!
note: We haven’t yet installed our own instance of Matrix-Dimension, the project to host widgets. So if you use widgets, those will be Matrix.org widgets for now.
Taking the red pill
At Nomagic we believe that Matrix could go a long way. After monitoring the status of the project from afar, the 2019 Matrix conference at FOSSDEM convinced us that time had come to start testing Matrix client and server hands-on, and we are currently working on putting up together the documentation to help our users getting started nicely with Matrix’s client Riot.
Walking the path or knowing the path
Since this is early days for us a well, we have tried to select settings that would maximize privacy, even if it makes our Matrix instance not available for guests. A guest is an external user that would be allowed to connect to the instance following an invitation. This is disabled by design for now. It may change in the future though, once we know more about the advantages and trade-off of enable guest access.
This will allow Nomagic to hold all the pieces for its own Matrix instance without relying on a third-party for any of the satellites components.
This is more of an admin side-project, as we would like to be able to implement a bot that we could chat with to get information about the infrastructure.
The community behind Matrix is very well aware that the ‘market’ for such tools is already filled with many solutions, both proprietary (Slack, Discord, etc.) and open source (Mattermost, Rocket Chat, etc.)
Several bridges have been developed to allow (usually limited) communication between Matrix and other solutions, including standard protocols XMPP and IRC. This could help growing the Matrix community dramatically, by simply making other people aware that it exists as they’ll be communicating with Matrix users through bridges.
See you on #atrium:matrix.nomagic.uk!