26 votes

What are you looking for in a private messaging app?

Obviously, there are a lot of options out there for private messaging apps. Which features are most important to you and which ones are not?

44 comments

  1. [2]
    joplin
    Link
    People I wish to reach must be on it. Not hosted in the same country as me would be a plus since it would potentially make it harder for my government to spy on me.

    People I wish to reach must be on it.

    Not hosted in the same country as me would be a plus since it would potentially make it harder for my government to spy on me.

    29 votes
    1. Akir
      Link Parent
      Honestly, that's pretty much the long and short of it. If it doesn't have that feature, I'm not interested. Literally the only private messaging service I use is the one at work because everyone...

      People I wish to reach must be on it.

      Honestly, that's pretty much the long and short of it. If it doesn't have that feature, I'm not interested. Literally the only private messaging service I use is the one at work because everyone is forced to be available on it by company policy. Everything else is text messaging because it's the lowest common denominator.

      If you can somehow convince everyone to use your service, @lionirdeadman's requirements are a pretty good match for what I want. But I would honestly bypass most of it for a simple combination of "make it free", "no ads", and "don't use my data for evil".

      20 votes
  2. [18]
    lionirdeadman
    Link
    Easy-to-use encryption turned on by default. Otherwise, if the encryption is not on by default or hard to use, people are unlikely to use it making the data quite easily accessible. Free Software....
    • Easy-to-use encryption turned on by default. Otherwise, if the encryption is not on by default or hard to use, people are unlikely to use it making the data quite easily accessible.
    • Free Software. It must be easy to audit and not have any binaries which could muck things up and as such it should be Free Software.
    • Clear Business Model. If the service doesn't have a clear way to make money, there could be a catch to using it or it could simply shut down due to lack of funding.
    • Relatively easy to read terms of service. If the terms are hard to understand, people will not read them and as such, they will not know what they're signing up. In some cases, this is done on purpose to keep the user ignorant which is.. no good.
    • Self-hosting. The ability to host your own server for whatever use you may have which means you're not relying solely on the organization making the software and if you're unhappy with the direction, you can split off.
    • Federation. I think Federation is a great tool for both users and service providers since it allows for different terms to be applied to different people which means they can be more easily accommodated and it also means that you don't need to sign up for different networks to talk to the people you want to talk to. It destroys the network effect, effectively.

    Before you ask, no, I've not found such a service yet sadly.

    25 votes
    1. [9]
      timo
      Link Parent
      It's a shame self-hosting and federation seem like such a pipe dream. I haven't seen any modern federated service gather a large enough userbase. The creators of Signal have explained why they are...

      It's a shame self-hosting and federation seem like such a pipe dream. I haven't seen any modern federated service gather a large enough userbase.

      The creators of Signal have explained why they are not doing federation. It's a good read, even when you don't agree.
      https://signal.org/blog/the-ecosystem-is-moving/

      12 votes
      1. 0lpbm
        Link Parent
        And Matthew Hodgson (of Matrix) had a very good reply, which I feel like it needs to be added whenever Moxie's blog appears.

        And Matthew Hodgson (of Matrix) had a very good reply, which I feel like it needs to be added whenever Moxie's blog appears.

        14 votes
      2. [7]
        lionirdeadman
        Link Parent
        Mastodon and Matrix have been growing steadily although they are mostly popular with tech-savvy people.

        Mastodon and Matrix have been growing steadily although they are mostly popular with tech-savvy people.

        5 votes
        1. [4]
          suspended
          Link Parent
          Why do you believe this is the case? To put it another way, why would those platforms turn other people away?

          ...they are mostly popular with tech-savvy people.

          Why do you believe this is the case? To put it another way, why would those platforms turn other people away?

          3 votes
          1. mrnd
            (edited )
            Link Parent
            Their main draw (federation) is a thing pretty much only tech people care about. However, it seems that at least Mastodon has other fairly practical property: people who are banned or driven out...

            Their main draw (federation) is a thing pretty much only tech people care about.

            However, it seems that at least Mastodon has other fairly practical property: people who are banned or driven out of Twitter can use it, on their own terms. This is of course a consequence of federation, but other federated systems haven't really been able to market that aspect of it effectively.

            11 votes
          2. Greg
            Link Parent
            I'll flip the question back on you: what incentive is there for people to move to smaller, less well known platforms than the ones they're already on? Are they even aware of these alternatives?...

            I'll flip the question back on you: what incentive is there for people to move to smaller, less well known platforms than the ones they're already on? Are they even aware of these alternatives?

            Most of the answers I can think of to the first question, and definitely the second, have an enormous overlap with people who take an active interest in technology.

            8 votes
          3. lionirdeadman
            Link Parent
            Well, people who are not tech-savvy are unlikely to want to learn a new system and well, federated services tend to put the jargon straight in your face even if they try to simplify things down...

            Well, people who are not tech-savvy are unlikely to want to learn a new system and well, federated services tend to put the jargon straight in your face even if they try to simplify things down like Mastodon does.

            They're unlikely to jump into something they don't understand fully or that other people don't use already either.

            But I'm not exactly sure, it's mostly an observation. If you look at polls on Mastodon, you'll see Linux usage being way higher compared to other platforms. Even Tildes has this and it's much more traditional than Mastodon or Matrix. I guess we could say that most early adopters are tech-savvy people in general.

            5 votes
        2. [2]
          ehmry
          Link Parent
          If private messaging is defined as messaging where content is confidential between two parties, then Mastodon is not private. The server admins can read and manipulate messages.

          If private messaging is defined as messaging where content is confidential between two parties, then Mastodon is not private. The server admins can read and manipulate messages.

          1 vote
          1. lionirdeadman
            Link Parent
            This was an example of federation being more than a pipe dream and it working in the real world outside of email. Mastodon is not a messaging platform. Also, yes, you're right, Mastodon admins and...

            This was an example of federation being more than a pipe dream and it working in the real world outside of email. Mastodon is not a messaging platform.

            Also, yes, you're right, Mastodon admins and moderators can do this just like any non-encrypted platform.

    2. [3]
      PopeRigby
      Link Parent
      Have you heard of Matrix? It seems to fit all of your criteria except for the encryption, and that's about to be fixed very soon. They're days away from turning encryption on by default.

      Have you heard of Matrix? It seems to fit all of your criteria except for the encryption, and that's about to be fixed very soon. They're days away from turning encryption on by default.

      4 votes
      1. [2]
        lionirdeadman
        Link Parent
        I have of course. While I think it's the most likely project to reach all my goals, the redaction feature rather than a delete kinda bothers me. The communities and permission systems need a lot...

        I have of course. While I think it's the most likely project to reach all my goals, the redaction feature rather than a delete kinda bothers me. The communities and permission systems need a lot of refining and polish and some streamlining. And they don't make it easy for users to find servers other than the flagship matrix.org server which makes the platform quite centralized for now, I think they should learn from how mastodon does it.

        And also encryption is not by default for now but you've already mentioned that.

        4 votes
        1. PopeRigby
          Link Parent
          They're also working on fixing all the issues you've listed. This is one of the meta-issues I've been following that's tracking most of the mentioned things.

          They're also working on fixing all the issues you've listed. This is one of the meta-issues I've been following that's tracking most of the mentioned things.

          3 votes
    3. [5]
      Bullmaestro
      Link Parent
      If somebody could code such an app and find a way to monetise it without making the end user the product, I could see it being huge.

      If somebody could code such an app and find a way to monetise it without making the end user the product, I could see it being huge.

      1. lionirdeadman
        Link Parent
        Matrix and wire.com are probably those which I think have the most potential in that aspect but well, there's issues with both currently imo.

        Matrix and wire.com are probably those which I think have the most potential in that aspect but well, there's issues with both currently imo.

        2 votes
      2. [3]
        suspended
        Link Parent
        Why do you believe money would contribute to it becoming huge?

        ...find a way to monetise it...

        Why do you believe money would contribute to it becoming huge?

        1 vote
        1. [2]
          lionirdeadman
          Link Parent
          With money, development can be funded. Linux would not be as big as it is if people were not making money using it.

          With money, development can be funded.

          Linux would not be as big as it is if people were not making money using it.

          7 votes
          1. Bullmaestro
            Link Parent
            Money also serves another purpose: marketing. More people would learn about the messaging app and it would garner a greater user base if there is marketing behind it.

            Money also serves another purpose: marketing.

            More people would learn about the messaging app and it would garner a greater user base if there is marketing behind it.

            1 vote
  3. skybrian
    (edited )
    Link
    Being able to switch between phone, tablet, laptop, and desktop computers is pretty important to me. Also not losing my message history when I switch devices. There should be strong authentication...

    Being able to switch between phone, tablet, laptop, and desktop computers is pretty important to me. Also not losing my message history when I switch devices.

    There should be strong authentication to prevent anyone registering a new device as me, while also making it difficult to lock myself out. Ubikey, printed backup code, or authorizing a new device from an existing device are good ways to authenticate. Being able to log in from an unknown device using only a password or SMS are not.

    Identity: can be tied to any number of verified email addresses or phone numbers, or none at all. Not possible to spoof email addresses or phone numbers.

    Message contents encrypted in transit, at least. Preferably end-to-end.

    No ads. No spam.

    If it doesn't have emojis I would consider that a plus.

    10 votes
  4. [4]
    weystrom
    Link
    Telegram's UX merged with Matrix technology would be the perfect messenger for me. What Telegram does well: Instant article view (think firefox reader mode, but right in the messenger) Inline...

    Telegram's UX merged with Matrix technology would be the perfect messenger for me.

    What Telegram does well:

    • Instant article view (think firefox reader mode, but right in the messenger)
    • Inline media (youtube, twitter, instagram, you name it)
    • Bot platform (i control lots of things through telegram, like launching scripts on my server)
    • Rich API capabilities
    • It's really, really fast

    Important Matrix features

    • Federation/decentralization
    • Self-hosting
    • End to end encryption
    8 votes
    1. [3]
      PopeRigby
      Link Parent
      Telegram's client being open source, someone could potentially fork it and make it work with Matrix.

      Telegram's client being open source, someone could potentially fork it and make it work with Matrix.

      3 votes
      1. [2]
        lionirdeadman
        Link Parent
        While yes, it would probably be more work than working from scratch since the APIs are most likely very very different meaning all but UI would be scrapped.

        While yes, it would probably be more work than working from scratch since the APIs are most likely very very different meaning all but UI would be scrapped.

        1 vote
        1. PopeRigby
          Link Parent
          That's a fair point. Just taking the UI would probably be the best course of action.

          That's a fair point. Just taking the UI would probably be the best course of action.

          1 vote
  5. [6]
    cwagner
    Link
    Native clients Not intended mainly for multi-user chat Not tied to a phone(-number), Facebook or Google Federated I hate pretty much everything that is in use nowadays, so I’m self-hosting Prosidy...
    • Native clients
    • Not intended mainly for multi-user chat
    • Not tied to a phone(-number), Facebook or Google
    • Federated

    I hate pretty much everything that is in use nowadays, so I’m self-hosting Prosidy (XMPP/Jabber) and connecting with Gajim on Windows and Conversations on Android. Of course, this has the disadvantage that the only person I can chat with, is my wife ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    7 votes
    1. tomf
      Link Parent
      I love XMPP so much. I've spent YEARS trying to get people back into it, but it just hasn't caught on since the big dogs dropped it. In a perfect world we'd all be on Jabber/XMPP, bypassing all...

      I love XMPP so much. I've spent YEARS trying to get people back into it, but it just hasn't caught on since the big dogs dropped it.

      In a perfect world we'd all be on Jabber/XMPP, bypassing all apps, phone numbers, etc. It has everything we really need.

      5 votes
    2. [4]
      stu2b50
      Link Parent
      I actually want the opposite of this, but not because I love Google or Facebook or something. It's because what I really care about is having people on it. So my most used messaging software is...

      Not tied to a phone(-number), Facebook or Google

      I actually want the opposite of this, but not because I love Google or Facebook or something.

      It's because what I really care about is having people on it. So my most used messaging software is Messenger, Instagram and SMS. Encryption, federation, etc. is great as an idea, but without an actual user base messaging software isn't very useful.

      Because I need actual people on the platform to message lol.

      4 votes
      1. [3]
        cwagner
        Link Parent
        Well, we used to have XMPP federation with hangouts and fb messenger. So you could talk with each other. Now hangout users can’t talk to messenger users. And I can talk to neither. I rather use...

        Well, we used to have XMPP federation with hangouts and fb messenger. So you could talk with each other. Now hangout users can’t talk to messenger users. And I can talk to neither. I rather use SMS than support those fucks.

        6 votes
        1. [2]
          babypuncher
          Link Parent
          What about Signal?

          What about Signal?

          1. cwagner
            Link Parent
            It has almost the same problem as XMPP (no one I know is on there) but in addition it needs a phone number and while it can technically federate, they seem to have an anti-federation stance.

            It has almost the same problem as XMPP (no one I know is on there) but in addition it needs a phone number and while it can technically federate, they seem to have an anti-federation stance.

            2 votes
  6. rrajath
    Link
    @lionirdeadman and @joplin captured my sentiments about this perfectly! I need the basics - E2E encryption, having native and desktop clients, message history and all that jazz. Self-hosting and...

    @lionirdeadman and @joplin captured my sentiments about this perfectly! I need the basics - E2E encryption, having native and desktop clients, message history and all that jazz. Self-hosting and federation are a nice to have.

    The biggest pain point for me is finding people on the platform I switch to. I've deleted my Facebook and Instagram profiles because I don't agree with their business model and those are not the products that add value to my life. I'm happier without them. However, I'm unable to get off of WhatsApp for the main reason that I can't convince all my friends and family to switch to a different app. I installed Signal because I appreciate what they stand for and I support it. But having none of my friends on that platform makes it harder to use it. I made it my default SMS app, but that's about it.

    I've heard arguments for this as spreading the word and making people aware of it. But realistically, how much can you persuade someone to switch to a different platform just for one person? Some of my friends already hate me for not being on Facebook (which I don't have a problem with, by the way). But the effort involved in convincing each person to move to a different app/platform is huge.

    7 votes
  7. A_Little_Star
    Link
    Privacy, customization, multi platform, encryption

    Privacy, customization, multi platform, encryption

    5 votes
  8. crdpa
    Link
    Matrix, but with my friends and family.

    Matrix, but with my friends and family.

    4 votes
  9. StellarTabi
    Link
    Not a feature request, but I find it to revealing how in the last decade the vernacular PM (private message) magically became DM (direct message, implication of private disappeared).

    Not a feature request, but I find it to revealing how in the last decade the vernacular PM (private message) magically became DM (direct message, implication of private disappeared).

    4 votes
  10. mxuribe
    Link
    @lionirdeadman captured my feature needs perfectly. However @joplin said it best with: I mean, I've been using the riot client on matrix, and have been loving it! Has it reached maturity across...

    @lionirdeadman captured my feature needs perfectly. However @joplin said it best with:

    People I wish to reach must be on it.

    I mean, I've been using the riot client on matrix, and have been loving it! Has it reached maturity across all the features that i want (same ones that @lionirdeadman listed)? No, not yet. But i feel they're the likeliest to get there, and reach the goals. But as @joplin cited with an issue that is not specific to any messaging platform - it is tough to get one's recipients/community on the same platform or protocol. I mean, it is a struggle even with my family members to get them to use matrix for example. They're so comfortable with using plain, ol' text messaging.

    But, the people behind matrix really have a good heart and really good intentions for where they wish to take their protocol, etc. I'll add that while i wasn't too big in the XMPP world, I did play around years ago and loved the community feel and sentiments...I'm feeling those same good vibes in the matrix community. So, if for nothing else than being part of a nice, good community with definitive, good goals (that align with federation, freedom, privacy, control of one's messaging platform, etc.), I suggest taking a look at matrix.org and any of the available clients...and if you don't see a client that you like, by all means feel free to contribute and/or make one of your own!

    Disclaimer: Apologies if my above comments all sounded like a sales pitch - it wasn't intended as such. I am NOT a member of any formal/official matrix or riot group; I'm just a fan and happy user, so my endorsement should be taken that way...I also did donate to matrix.org this last holiday season - but those are my only connections.

    3 votes
  11. FriesGuy
    Link
    When I use a messaging app I want it to be easy to use for my friends to get used to it quickly, maybe mimicking the messaging of Instagram and Snapchat or Discord. Of course, nobody will pay for...

    When I use a messaging app I want it to be easy to use for my friends to get used to it quickly, maybe mimicking the messaging of Instagram and Snapchat or Discord. Of course, nobody will pay for a messaging app, let alone teenagers. If you go paid prepare to only be used by enthusiasts and businessmen.

    3 votes
  12. [2]
    ehmry
    Link
    I want message confidentiality and authentication as well as no SPOFs (single-point-of-failure). I don't know of any messengers with strong confidentiality, most will reveal things like who is...

    I want message confidentiality and authentication as well as no SPOFs (single-point-of-failure).

    I don't know of any messengers with strong confidentiality, most will reveal things like who is messaging whom and message sizes under traffic analysis. Encryption is necessary, but OTR is good enough for me.

    As for SPOFs, I don't want to use anything that relies on servers or specific DNS records, Tox is the winner in this regard.

    In reality I use IRC, XMPP, and email because of their popularity. I like Tox, but mostly use it for bots.

    3 votes
    1. lionirdeadman
      Link Parent
      Briar might be something along the lines of Tox which might interest you. I personally think it's better because of the layer of protection that TOR gives. I may not want to share my IP to those I...

      Briar might be something along the lines of Tox which might interest you. I personally think it's better because of the layer of protection that TOR gives. I may not want to share my IP to those I talk to.

      2 votes
  13. [2]
    babypuncher
    Link
    The big one that most platforms seem to miss is using end to end encryption by default. The only platforms I've used that behave this way are Signal and iMessage. They are also the only platforms...

    The big one that most platforms seem to miss is using end to end encryption by default. The only platforms I've used that behave this way are Signal and iMessage. They are also the only platforms I've used that make end to end encryption seamless to users. Other platforms, like Telegram and Messenger, require you to initiate a separate private chat with your contact, and do not properly sync your private chats across devices.

    1 vote
    1. lionirdeadman
      Link Parent
      Wire.com also does encryption by default for what it's worth.

      Wire.com also does encryption by default for what it's worth.

      1 vote
  14. [3]
    Cananopie
    Link
    For it to be completely private it would need to be: Free to use and does not require any personal information, including email, because paying for a privacy app or providing your information with...

    For it to be completely private it would need to be:

    1. Free to use and does not require any personal information, including email, because paying for a privacy app or providing your information with one is a great way to indicate to anyone who can access your financial information that you're doing using a privacy app, which can be considered suspicious.

    2. Obviously end to end encryption and any other obvious security measures that apps like signal and protonmail the current standard today.

    3. Ability to text, call, and video. Ability to destruct messages after if wanted on both ends.

    I'm not sure it would need much else. But if this is what is available then anyone could use this technology to have completely hidden conversations from all surveillance. Could this actually be something that could make us more unsafe as nothing anybody could want hidden could ever really be captured and proven? This sounds great for personal use but any corruption or terrorism plot could essentially communicate almost entirely over this app. I've found the balance between privacy and transparency always a tough line to draw.

    1 vote
    1. suspended
      Link Parent
      The one that I found that probably fits the bill is Riot.

      The one that I found that probably fits the bill is Riot.

      1 vote
    2. lionirdeadman
      Link Parent
      Then how is the service funded? Such services already exist. Even Signal, you can easily use a burner phone and do it if you want. With digital technologies, if terrorists want to, they can...

      Free to use and does not require any personal information, including email, because paying for a privacy app or providing your information with one is a great way to indicate to anyone who can access your financial information that you're doing using a privacy app, which can be considered suspicious.

      Then how is the service funded?

      But if this is what is available then anyone could use this technology to have completely hidden conversations from all surveillance. Could this actually be something that could make us more unsafe as nothing anybody could want hidden could ever really be captured and proven?

      Such services already exist. Even Signal, you can easily use a burner phone and do it if you want. With digital technologies, if terrorists want to, they can totally hide themselves. Or heck, even with non-digital technologies, you can just meet in person. If people want to, they will. That shouldn't mean that everyone needs to be surveilled and have their rights stripped away.

      1 vote