Open source advent calendar: the messenger element and the matrix protocol

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It’s an advent calendar for tech-savvy people. In the fully commercialized digital world, almost everything is owned by a large internet company. Their software is neither open nor free. As an alternative, there is this small island of the open source world: software whose code is publicly visible and can be independently verified for possible security breaches and backdoors. Software that can be freely used, distributed and improved. Often the motivation for work is simply the joy of providing something useful to the company.


Short portraits of open source projects will be published on heise online from December 1 to 24. These are the functions of the respective software, pitfalls, history, context, and funding.

Short portraits of open source projects will be published on heise online from December 1 to 24. These are the functions of the respective software, pitfalls, history, context, and funding. Some projects are supported by an individual, others by a loosely organized community, a tightly managed foundation with full-time staff, or a consortium. The work is completely voluntary, or it is funded through donations, cooperation with internet companies, government funding, or an open source business model. Whether it is a single application or a complex ecosystem, whether it is a PC program, an application or an operating system, the diversity of open source is overwhelming.

The Element Messenger and much more the Matrix Protocol could radically change the logic of messengers and create an open technological landscape, where the closed siled worlds of WhatsApp, Signal and Telegram are today.

As soon as you start you notice that Element is a little different from the well-known big messengers. In the first screen of the application, you must select a server. The default server is Matrix.org. If you take it, you enter a profile name and password and you have to enter and verify an email address for recovery. The username, the Matrix ID, looks like an email address and could be StefanXYZ: matrix.org, for example.

The special thing is that you can also enter the address of another database during configuration. Element allows you to entrust your own chat, audio and video telephony data to a provider of your choice. Lists circulate on the net with servers that can be used for the item. For example, the organization Digitalcourage recommends an overview Hello-Matrix.net with 14 different servers, approximately Tchncs.de.

The messenger is based on the Matrix-Protokoll, which was developed with Element and is also open to other messengers. In addition to Element, there are several other applicationsthat for example FluffyChat and SchildiChat medium. The matrix protocol allows communication beyond the boundaries of messengers. Element provides what politicians strive to achieve under the title of interoperability. Bots, which you integrate with your matrix messaging, take it upon themselves to overcome limitations. These bots dock with the interfaces of other messengers and act as bridges between Element and Signal, Telegram, WhatsApp or Slack.

However, when communicating across messaging boundaries, there is no end-to-end encryption. Behind the cosmos element / matrix hides a typical construction of open source projects, consisting of a company, a foundation and a community.

British company New Vector Ltd. is the provider of the open source Element messaging application, which was called Riot until July 2020. In addition, New Vector is in charge of the development of the Matrix protocol. 118 employees and freelancers currently work for the company, says Matthew Hodgson, one of the project’s founders and CEO of New Vector. The company is funded by an open source business model: the messaging app is free. But there is a payment model attached to it. For five US dollars per month for one account or ten US dollars for up to five accounts, you get a faster server connection, already built-in bridges, or a custom subdomain for the Fabric ID (in the form, for example, StefanXYZ.FamilieSchmidt: matrix.org).

Above all, the company is financed by professional clients. Prices for enterprise solutions are three or four US dollars per month per active email account. Thousands of businesses and organizations are already using it, Hodgson says, citing Mozilla, RedHat, and the Wikimedia Foundation as examples. The company also offers advice and technical support for self-hosted messaging on a matrix basis. Several state and public actors are now doing it: the French state with its governmental and administrative messenger Tchap, the German armed forces with their BWMessenger and the German health system with the IT messenger project.

The ownership structure of the company is in the UK the commercial register publicly visible. According to a document from September 2021, the two founders hold around a fifth of the shares (including Matthew Hodgson 13% and co-founder Amandine Le Pape 9%). The main shareholder is the US enterprise software company Amdocs (14%). Automattic, the US company behind WordPress, and Swiss Status Research & Development GmbH, which operates a blockchain-based messenger (Status.im), each hold 13%. Various venture capitalists specializing in start-up financing then hold smaller shares.

According to the industry website Crunchbase Element has raised $ 48 million in funding to date. Matthew Hodgson is not revealing how high the company’s sales are. He believes, however, that it will be enough to bring New Vector to profitability without the need for new investors.

As a non-commercial counterparty, the company has the Matrix.org Foundation opposite, which is responsible for the matrix protocol. She has no employees. According to the UK Trade Register, the Foundation had revenues of around £ 27,000 in 2019. They came together through donations and the sale of derivatives. The five-person board of directors includes New Vector’s Matthew Hodgson and Amandine Le Pape, as well as a computer professor, think tank employee, and IT entrepreneur.

As with many open source projects, a third pillar alongside the business and the foundation is the community. At Matrix, there is a huge ecosystem of people who build applications for the Matrix protocol, Hodgson said. They develop matrix-based messaging applications and bots to cross messaging boundaries or provide servers for chat data. Github Lists 188 forks on and according to Hodgson, there are about 80,000 servers for the matrix protocol. New Vector Ltd. is mainly responsible for the work on the Matrix code.

Of the 118 employees and freelancers, around 50 work full time on Matrix. Hodgson estimates that about 70% of Matrix.org’s code contributions come from company employees and 30% from the community. The technology that could slowly but radically change the closed world of messengers is just beginning. The founder of Element and Matrix.org estimates that 1.1 million people per month use the Element app with the Matrix server by default. Two to three million people are said to be using Element in total, including through other servers. And there are 42 million different Matrix IDs in total.

The work on the article series is based in part on a grant “Neustart Kultur” from the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and Media, awarded by VG Wort.


(mhh)

Disclaimer: This article is generated from the feed and not edited by our team.


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