Here is a(n unfinished) recipe for a modern chat server using XMPP (which you may recall I like). It needs polishing but I’m publishing it right now to make sure it can start being useful to anyone who needs it. I hope there are no glaring security mistakes, please let me know if you see any.
We will be able to get our messages on all connected devices at the same time, share pictures, audio clips and files simply and instantly, retrieve more chat history from the server and, once we go down in the metro and lose connectivity, get our messages when we regain access to the Internet.
It’s 2016 and I realised I hadn’t updated this site in a long time.
So it’s back up and running, with a fresh coat of paint and an updated backend. I finally moved away from lighttpd and to nginx (after all the cool kids did, 4 years ago) and the site is now secured thanks to a Letsencrypt certificate.
It might not seem like much, but it’s nice to feel like things are moving forward.
I like Jabber¹. It’s simple. It works.
I can use to chat from my home computer, from my office computer, from my phone. Or all three at once.
I can use to chat privately by adding some end-to-end encryption (such as OTR).
I’ve used to call a friend when he was in Africa.
I use it to chat with my mum. Privately too.
I use it to chat with my friends.
Correction, I used to be able to use it to chat with my friends.
Lately, I don’t see some of them online anymore. Including some long distance friends with whom it has become an important way of staying in contact.
See, it may come as a surprise to you, but most of my friends aren’t übergeeks. In fact, most of them aren’t geeks at all.
They just use what everyone uses. And what everyone uses these days is Google, and thus Gmail.
So they have a Jabber account, which they call a Gtalk account.
I’ve tried telling them their Gtalk account is really a Jabber account, in the same way their their Gmail account is really an email account. Most of the time it didn’t stick but hey, what the hell, at least we could chat.
Now Google has decided to move all their users away from Jabber and towards Hangouts, their new instant messaging platform.
Now before we go any further, of course I understand the need for Google to clean up their multiple instant messaging apps. Of course I understand that most Gtalk users only have Gtalk users in their contact lists. And from what I understand, you can still log in to your Gtalk account, as the Gtalk service is being maintained for the foreseeable future, whatever that means.
But while, Google is selling this a an upgrade they are passing over the fact that Hangouts is really only compatible with Hangouts, and nothing else.
As if users’ Gmail accounts could only send email to other Gmail accounts.
So now, more and more of friends aren’t showing up online anymore because they’ve been switched to Hangouts, usually without realising so. And most of them will probably wonder why am never online anymore, not realising they have moved to a different network.
After all, everything looks the same right? Just a little shinier and more “modern”.
Of course, a perfect solution would be to explain the situation to them.
Create an account for them on my jabber server (or on anotherserver or even help them set up their own, it’s reallynot that hard), even enable them to point their own domain name at my server, and let them have a cool email@example.com address.
It’s simple, all they’d have to do on their end is download Xabber on Android or ChatSecure if –heavens forbid– they’re on iOS², enter their login and password and be on their merry way.
But the truth of the matter is: that would already be too much of an inconvenience.
Most people agree on an intellectual level that independence is important. But once you hit the practicalities, a surprising (and disappointing) amount of people will throw their arms in the air and explain how all they want is to chat, not go into all this complex stuff.
Most people would also agree, especially in these post-PRISM-revelations days, that protecting your privacy is important.
But how many are willing to actually take a look at their online habits and change them?
I may sound bitter, and that’s because I am in part, but I am really more disappointed than anything else I guess.
At the end of the day, I wish I could just create an account for all my friends, have them realise the danger of putting all your eggs in the same basket and all your online life with the same provider and keep chatting as we do now, but to get the same usefulness out of that Jabber account they’d still have to convince all their friends to do the same, who’d have to convince all their friends to do the same, etc.
All of this compared to “but it already just works”.
Sure, it’s possible, but it’s an uphill battle.
And the best part (or the worse) is that it has already happened.
Remember 10-15 years ago. IM was ruled by ICQ, AIM, Yahoo! messenger, MSN messenger.
None of which could talk to any of the others.
Users were siloed.
But users were not (and are not) stupid, so they created accounts on each service. Then they started using clients that could run all services at once.
Ahh, those were the good old days of Trillian and then Miranda and gAIM.
In the end, a better service, or in fact a better protocol emerged: Jabber.
Legacy services even ended up trying to run on Jabber at one point or another and finally huge players based their entire instant messaging offering on Jabber: Google with Gtalk, Facebook with Facebook chat.
This made this services technically compatible with any other server running Jabber (in the same way firstname.lastname@example.org can send and receive mail to and from email@example.com). And most of the time it made the services actually interoperable (if the service did it right and didn’t close off connections to the rest of the Jaber network in order to be an island on their own… looking at you Facebook chat).
In plain words : I can run my server and chat with anyone connected to a Jabber server as long as I’m on their contact list.
Fast forward to now, and having been through a period of interoperability, we are back to silos: Skype, Facebook Chat, iMessage, WhatsApp and… Hangouts.
None of which can talk to each other.
And this is what really annoys me. We were pretty much done with this silly issue and now we’re back to the same problem.
That and the fact I simply won’t be able to chat my friends, unless they decide to switch back to Jabber (hard), to run a Jabber account on the side just for me (some might be nice enough to indulge me, but for how long?) or I accept to open a Hangouts account.
Why are we still blindly (for most of us, to say the least) trusting a messaging protocol that lacks so many basic security protections?
The fact is that if someone owns our email account, they own us. To make things worse, so many of us hand the keys to our lives over to the custody of third parties such as Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo!
The lack of updates on this website is a clear testament of the fact, though.
It feels as if it has been a lot longer, and some of my friends have also told me so. As one can imagine, it has been an intense ride, with many dossiers unfolding at the same time: the Net Neutrality debate, the French HADOPI law and similarly-named administration clinging on to dear life, the revision of the European IPRED directive, the dangerous and infamous ACTA agreement, and the many and ongoing attempts to control and censor the Internet.
But many positive things have also happened: positive proposals for the future of creation funding were synthesised, wonderful projects such as RespectMyNet, a citizen Net Neutrality monitoring and reporting platform, the Political Memory, or the Pi Phone came to fruition. Furthermore, many, many citizens learned of what is looming over the Internet as we know it and our freedoms in this space, and decided not only to keep track of these issues but also to act on them.
To imagine over 2.5 million people have watched a two-minute video trying to synthesise the dangers about ACTA is quite incredible, and to see how in a post-SOPA setting this translated into literally thousands of phone calls to European elected representatives makes one realise that citizen involvement, beyond being heart-warming, is also vastly efficient.
I can hardly sum up everything I’ve learned, the insight I’ve gained into politics and policy-making at the European level, the understanding of organisations and volunteer communities, the wonderful people I’ve met and the knowledge and expertise they’ve shared with me.
But I will attempt to do so in a few posts in the near future.
My role will be to coordinate the community, help build citizen campaigns directing grassroots energy towards existing institutions (both French and European) and assist with fundraising and support.
It’s quite an honour to join one of the most dedicated group of people in Europe fighting for a free Internet and for the protection of civil and fundamental rights online, and I expect to learn many things and gain insight as much as I hope to be efficient in defending our freedoms.
Here is a quick summary of what happened at day 2 of Le Web 10.
A fascinating presentation by Salim Ismail of the Singularity University about the brain, how it controls stuff, what we know and especially don’t know about it.
Before that, Ariel Garten from Interaxon talked about thought controlled computing, using the brainwaves.
The presentation was insightful but felt a little too prepared and unnatural. The opposite from Dennis Crowley of Foursquare.
Talking of which, he came back for an extra Q&A and answered candidly questions from the audience.
Later during the day, it was good to see Mitchell Baker from Mozilla and Matt Mullenweg from WordPress talk and remind the participants of the importance of Free Open Source Software on the web.
I sometimes wonder if they realise most of their infrastructure runs in no small way thanks to FOSS. It seems most of the start-ups are very happy to take advantage of the Free Software offerings, but most don’t practice that approach themselves.
Save for WordPress, whose Matt had this good wording of the situation:
We are one of the only companies here today that makes a living by giving away our intellectual property.
Given the success of WordPress (it powers 10% of all websites according to them), it may have given a bit of food for thought to a few participants.
Matt Mullenweg also called people to pay more attention to the hidden social network, the vast network of loosely federated blogs that still contain more people on or around them than Facebook. If they were to actually federate, one can only imagine the result. But I’m sure some smart people are already thinking about that and working on it.
As for Mozilla, they did a very cool demonstration of an real-time animated city with video rendered on the skyscrapers, all in HTML5. And Mitchell Baker talked about how they plan to make one’s identity a bigger part of the browser. The future sure looks interesting for the web.
The day ended with possibly the best talk (and did he talk) by Kurt Vaynerchuk.
Unrelenting, unabashed, whole, he spoke before a delighted and fascinated audience about the importance of finding what really motivates you in life and follow that as a professional path. His message is a really positive one and his delivery makes it even more honest and interesting to listen to.
All in all an interesting 2 days, some interesting people, some not-so-interesting food (but maybe it’s just France that spoils us) and lots of interesting insight, be it on the web/tech start-up scene or more general perpectives.
So far, most of the presentation from companies have been a little bland.
Well maybe bland is the wrong word, but not that exciting nor disruptive, which is what we’ve come to expect from web players that often skyrocketed to success.
Seeing the MySpace CEO struggle to convince the audience that they could turn around the “plane in mid-crash”, in the words of the interviewer, was a little painful. Hard to think they will manage to stay relevant, especially considering how tainted is their brand name.
TechCrunch’s Arrington was a refreshing interviewer, he pressed Facebook’s Ethan Beard on some answers and seemed unimpressed when Beard’s answers became too diplomatic.
Microsoft refused to give any real numbers on Windows Phone 7 sales, but assured us that they were planing on re-becoming a large player in the mobile landscape.
Ignite Talks (10 five minute presentations) were interesting.
Japanese geek culture and how not over-protecting your copyrighted content and letting people remix and re-distribute it is actually profitable.
Protecting kids from bad search results and bad side-effects from tech, how important it is to think about it and much harder it is becoming with the rise in mobile devices.
How teen entrepreneurs need to be taken more seriously by the tech community and investors. Considering how they can change things thanks to their ingenuous and not money-centred approach.
A fun and witty presentation by Matthias Läkens from the World Economic Forum (Davos) about Twitter Diplomacy and how World leaders (or their team at least) are becoming reachable via Twitter. Interesting graphing of who follows who and doesn’t follow others, with a little jab at the French Presidency which doesn’t follow anyone and doesn’t tweet during the summer, as everyone on the team is on holiday.
And not long ago, Marissa Mayer, VP of Google, announced a few Android evolutions (3D vectorial maps, some offline caching of maps). Arrington (again) was a better interviewer than others, but the answers were still a little too distant and PR-like.
Gingerbread is considered to have been released, the Nexus S is coming really soon (some before Xmas, a lot more in January… this is the Nexus One all over again) and Chrome OS is gearing up, but won’t really be available before sometime next year.
Also, an interesting announcement it “contextual search”. Search is changing: already 1 in 4 mobile searches are now voice searches in the US.
Contextual search takes the “don’t type to search” mantra further by searching (and finding) relevant stuff as you walk around in an unknown city, for instance.
Likely to be very popular.