by XPORTA team
Online communication today is dominated by a tiny number of proprietary providers. WhatsApp alone (owned by Meta/Facebook since 2014) has surpassed 2 billion users, and in many regions is inescapable for people who want to maintain control of their privacy and data, while still being able to communicate with their friends and family.
We believe the future of a healthy online communication ecosystem is built on open standards. Like the existing email and phone networks, widespread adoption of open standards for online messaging would allow people the freedom to choose their messaging provider, and utilize their preferred platforms and apps to communicate.
Snikket is our messaging system, based on open standards. Snikket is interoperable with the recognized internet messaging standard Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol (“XMPP”).
Focused on ease of adoption for families and other small groups, Snikket is the implementation of our vision for the future of open communication. Already used by many people from a range of backgrounds, it brings easy access to the XMPP network in an easy-to-use modern messaging app.
Snikket is open-source software, available for self-hosting (i.e. be your own provider) or you can simply use the simple services provided by the not-for-profit Snikket CIC to get your own group started on Snikket.
DAPSI funded an important part of our roadmap – XMPP account portability (nicknamed “XPORTA”). Through this work, we published new open standards that allow people to easily port their data between service providers, including Snikket.
We implemented support for account import and export in Snikket itself, building upon the new standards.
Beyond the funding, DAPSI also provided business mentorship and coaching sessions. These valuable sessions allowed us to take a critical look at our work, and practical ways in which we can realistically succeed in our ambitious goals for the future of internet communication.
DAPSI journey – Achievements from first phase of the DAPSI programme
During the first phase of DAPSI we created, updated and published protocols and data formats that allow users to export, import and migrate their data between XMPP services. As mentioned, XMPP is an open standard internet protocol, that allows real-time communication interoperability between communication services.
Thanks to our work during the first phase of our DAPSI-funded project, there now exist formats, protocols and tools that allow users to migrate their entire account and contact list between XMPP services without losing touch with their contacts.
To help bootstrap initial adoption, we built a prototype web-based migration tool to allow users to download and migrate data from XMPP accounts without installing any software, or requiring cooperation from their XMPP service provider.
This migrator has already been successfully used by users migrating away from the Germany-based Blabber.im messaging service, which held around 7000 active users and announced its intent to shut down at the end of June 2021. Using our migration tool, people were able to export their account data and move to alternative services before the Blabber.im service shut down in July 2021.
These are the technical documents within which our data format and protocol work was published. They describe the standard data formats and protocols that allow users to seamlessly export, import and migrate their data.
DAPSI journey – Achievements from second phase of the DAPSI programme
During the second phase of DAPSI we worked to integrate support for migration directly into our primary product, Snikket – an open-source privacy-conscious communication solution for families, clubs and small organizations. Through this work we aim to make account migration not only possible, but easy and accessible to all users at all times. We believe that migration of data between providers should not be limited to urgent situations like the one described previously, but accepted as a commonplace activity whenever it is desired.
To achieve our goals, we implemented our new standards in the open-source XMPP server ‘Prosody’. Secondly we built a friendly user interface in Snikket to access it and allow users to export and import their account data in the self-service account dashboard.
We also witnessed the implementation of our new standards in other XMPP implementations, notably the open-source server ‘ejabberd’.
In summary, through DAPSI we:
- Developed and published new standard data formats and protocols for account portability in XMPP.
- Implemented support for these formats and protocols in Prosody, a widely deployed XMPP protocol server.
- Tested interoperability of our implementation with an independent implementation (ejabberd) of the standards we developed.
- Added support for exporting and importing user account data in Snikket, a modern open-source self-hostable chat solution based on Prosody and XMPP.
DAPSI was our first public funding for Snikket, and it went very smoothly from start to finish. There’s not really anything I would have changed!
The biggest surprise was the value of the business coaching. I would participate again just for that.
From a product perspective, we plan to continue improving the usability, security and functionality of Snikket, as well as bringing it to more platforms beyond Android and iOS.
As a not-for-profit, our next steps for the business side of Snikket are to reach financial sustainability with a suitably-sized team, and continue to grow the ecosystem and network.
We also recently formed a partnership with JMP.chat, a provider of VoIP and SMS services also open-source and using open standards to link Snikket/XMPP and the traditional phone network. We will be collaborating on software and services that benefit all our users.
For a summary of our progress on the XPORTA project during DAPSI, check out the XMPP Account Portability project page.