Riot Matrix: Background + Findings

The following post deals with the background, along with my personal experiences and findings to-date with the RIOT/Matrix instant messaging and group chat system. To connect to the Matrix Synapse instance, please refer to the basic guide to get started.

In Late December 2017, some concerns were raised among friends regarding their discomfort with Relying on WeChat (along with other proprietary commercial instant messaging apps) for communicating among ourselves, and subsequently I was asked whether or not it would be possible to add some sort of chat function to my website.

I’m going to be upfront. I don’t believe at this stage that I am ever going to pull the majority of my Facebook Addicted friend base out from the clutches of the Facebook eco-system (FB Messenger and WhatsApp) and at this present time, only aiming this service at Family and a handful of closer friends who have expressed desire to use an alternative instant messaging platform.

For a number of years, I have had in mind for a while a desire to set up a self hosted instant messaging ability built on top of an inter-operable protocol where any user regardless of what server / provider is able to contact another user on a different server. Much like how Email operates today where a user on any given provider can email another user on a different provider… No one provider / company controls the protocol.

A digital ocean droplet was spawned, and an available domain name was newly registered to attach to it, then began the process of setting up Matrix Synapse on the droplet.

Matrix IM I feel has a few advantages over say the often quote alternatives to Face-Borg Messenger, such as  Telegram and Signal in that you can self-host using Matrix Synapse’s “Home Server” and set it up so that it can interoperate with other “Home servers” (as a federation), much in the way Email servers inter-operate with each other (as explained further up)

To begin using the service, on the desktop, point your browser to riot.im for Android / IOS, and other platforms, please follow the instructions here.

 

Matrix web Interface, connected to MANA.NZ Matrix Synapse "Home Server"
Matrix web Interface, connected to MANA.NZ Matrix Synapse “Home Server”

Some potential issues so far discovered (26th January 2018) ..

  • If you attempt to visit the Web interface at im.mana.nz using a mobile device, you will get a prompt “Riot is not supported on Mobile Web. Install the App?” This is something I am very keen to seen resolved as this will likely be an “Acceptance Issue” for a large number of prospective users. My feeling is there should be a usable web based option, even with reduced functionality, for people to use if they don’t want to download yet another app on their phone rather than having an app forced upon them..
  • End to End encryption is still Beta, is currently a usability Train Wreck and is not practical for the average attention deficient user to really pick up and run with it yet I feel. There’s a lot of manual mucking around with Security Keys between room members. Forget trying to use it in a browser incognito session. Past encrypted chat history won’t be available.
    If chatting in a normal room (without the end to end encryption function), users aren’t faced with such complexity. Probably better to leave End to end encryption off If people are not worried about chat encryption as the service is already encrypted “on the wire” so to speak courtesy of SSL.

    RIOT.IM Web app. User Interface Encryption issue
  • When registering as a new user, the ‘Identity server’ needs to be left as ‘https://vector.im’ otherwise headaches will ensue at sign up time. Developers within the community are still trying to find out a way to definitively decentralize this part of the Federation.
  • You can’t presently delete your own user account, nor does there appear to be away in laymans term for the Server admin to delete users (I’m now left with a whole collection of useless Test accounts) It has been suggested that one could simply delete Rows from the SQL database, but even the developers have gone cold on that idea fearing redundant trash may be left behind.
  • Sign up via The RIOT.IM app hung in one instance (The endless spinning wheel UI Faux Pas), but apparently the account was successfully created anyway as the account was available upon trying to log on using the newly registered credentials.
  • Originally trying to connect to #matrix.matrix.org from my @fyoung:mana.nz identity would result in 502 Bad Gateway Errors. This has since been resolved by upgrading the server with more RAM
  • As of 21st December 2018 – Matrix protocol adoption in New Zealand appears to be remaining quite low. There is evidence that attempts were made by various groups, such as Python NZ, the Internet Party along with a handful of individuals to adopt it, however it would appear that interest ultimately waned. If feels that no one else in NZ is really actively using Matrix chat other than myself and immediate family.
Riot Matrix: Background + Findings

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