Over the past 2.8+ years, I evaluated multiple messaging platforms that don’t treat my contacts and me as products to make their revenues. The surefire path being self-hosting, I started by hosting on my VPS, Jitsi and later chugged along for long with NextCloud Talk. This journey halted at Delta Chat for a brief period of time culminating in Signal. Here I share my experiences with each of the platforms:
Jitsi: A simple self-hosting experience for a first-timer thanks to extensive documentation. This is equivalent to a Cisco Webex or Zoom Meetings service. Along my way, I ran into brand new concepts (TURN/STUN servers) and went through quests.
The group video call experience was great but when conducted across the globe, especially with people from countries with comparitively lower Internet speeds, it was disappointing. Moreover, the mobile app, didn’t produce a ring/call notification. Both parties must agree upon a time in some other way and then ‘join in’ like in a Webex meeting. There would be a lot for the right minds to learn from logs any time. Jitsi community is very supportive to newcomers and I do still using their publicly hosted instance for ad-hoc meetings
NextCloud Talk: Part of an extensive suite of self-hostable file-hosting and other services like notes, calendar etc., Talk is a well-thought out application. Textual chat, group chats and video calls are supported in both web and mobile clients.
While the app performed fine with video calls, over the last 12 months, there have been 3-4 instances where one party couldn’t see video of the other while the other party perfectly does. In the recent past, even message notifications didn’t occur on my Oneplus 8 Pro device. While I believe this could be resolved with proper log analysis and community support, at this time I have my attention elsewhere. This sure is a great addition to the NextCloud ecosystem.
Delta Chat: An ingenious concept to frame regular email messages as chat conversations. Why did no one think of this earlier? And video calls - just add a Jitsi room link or similar in Settings and be ready to initiate calls anytime right form the app! No phone number required and you can add multiple email accounts to make up multiple chat accounts. No data for any government to subpeona for!
While that’s all fine and dandy, the latency of supporting infrastructure is quite visible. After all, the email has to be received at the other end and has to be picked up by Delta Chat itself. pfff.. For reasons I did not explore further, while the app on the other party’s Redmi 5 phone picked up messages consistently after 6-8 seconds of being sent :O, my Oneplus 8 Pro device sitting next to it displayed delays quite longer as 20-30 seconds at times.
Video calls are a good experience and interestingly you needn’t grant access to your Contacts at all! You are free to punch in the phone number of the party you wish to communciate with manually without knowing whether they have Signal installed and setup on their device. It is upto them to accept your message and let their profile show up to you or ignore completely and protect their privacy completely, if it is the first time such a contact is made.
As of this time, the platform is still centralized (i.e) there is no option to self-host. Yet with my efforts focussed in other interesting areas, I’m making peace with that. Sustain or Boost for Signal is offered by a non-profit foundation with no traditional way of supporting its operations unlike the deceiving free apps - WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and so on. More ways to contribute - monetary/non-monetary are here
With this, I welcome Signal as my preferred instant messaging platform to stay in touch with you all! I understand the hard place I put you in over the years by redirecting you to use SMS, when in same country and email when outside the country. The voyage was great, the learning was immensive and I thank you all for letting me do that. Send your first messages, make your first calls at my current alternative mobile number over Signal today! My primary phone number should be available as well soon.