I was thinking about what topics I could write about and I thought it would be fun to have an ongoing series where I would talk about technologies that I follow that I’m excited about and why I’m excited and where technologies I’ve talked about in the past are up to. I don’t plan to do this on any particular planned schedule; they’ll be done when I feel like enough has changed.
Signal usernames were announced to be “coming real soon” in January, 2022 by Moxie Marlinspike. There was a period where I was telling people to pay attention so that they could grab the username of their choice when it was released. It’s now May, 2023 and we still don’t have usernames but we do now know that the feature is supposed to be arriving in the first half of 2023 according to the new CEO Meredith Whittaker and that Signal usernames will have a discriminator that allows multiple users to have the same name.
Despite the long wait and the lack of exclusivity, I’m still excited. Why? Most privacy-minded users of Signal will tell you that one of the biggest downsides of using the secure messenger is having to give others their phone number, one of the most sensitive identifiers associated with almost everyone. Once the feature is available, I’ll finally feel like I can use the platform openly. I’ll probably has a signal.me link on my website and social profiles that anyone can reach me through.
Bluesky and the AT Protocol
Bluesky is one of Jack Dorsey’s attempts at making a successor to Twitter (another being Nostr). It builds on top of the AT Protocol. I was recently invited to the platform and while on the surface, it looks like a proof-of-concept Twitter clone, it’s everything behind the scenes that has me excited.
After visiting the AT Protocol website, you’ll see that some of the goals include creating a federated social network (like the fediverse which I also have a presence on), allowing selective algorithmic choice and portable accounts. The first means that deplatforming is scoped. A user may be kicked off one platform but they will still be able to have a presence on the overall ecosystem. The gives the freedom to a user to choose what content they see rather than falling under the whims of the platform and the stakeholders that will typically want to maximise profit in a typical social media platform. The third allows users to move between different providers without having their social graphs compromised. While I haven’t experienced it in the fediverse as I host my own Pleroma node, I have heard stories of individuals having to scramble to keep their followers intact as their provider shuts down with little to no notice.
Something that hasn’t been talked about much is how direct messages will work. Twitter and other mainstream platforms all have the problem where direct messaging isn’t private. As long as a message can be read by someone running the platform, true privacy isn’t there. Matrix has created a experimental social network based on Matrix called Cerulean. I’m curious to know how much overlap Bluesky ends up having with Matrix if they ever decide to tackle end-to-end encrypted group messaging.
Discord has several features that are unrivalled which is why a few of my “gaming” social circles use the platform to stay in touch. A common use case is for everyone to gather in a voice channel with a few individuals streaming their gameplay for anyone not participating to watch along. Unfortunately, those who are less privacy-inclined use the tool for everything else as well from share each others’ livelihooks to organising physical meetups. Given that all messages are stored “forever” without being end-to-end encrypted, all participants are put at risk of their data being harvested.
While many who are privacy conscious will suggest Matrix as an alternative to Discord, anyone with a social group dependent on Discord’s advanced voice call features will quickly realise that Matrix really doesn’t quite work. While it’s true that Element’s beta “voice rooms” feature is comparable to voice channels, there are still a few features lacking to stop adoption. One such feature that I’m waiting for is for video streams to be optional for participants. Currently, all participants are forced into accepting video streams which limits their overall bandwidth. Element Web is due to have Element Call integration released towards the end of 2023.
GL-iNet firmware V4
I’m a fan of GL.iNet routers. Firmware V4 has been rolling out over the last few months and it comes packed with several features I’m really excited about. (See the official user guide for usage details.) I think the one I’m most excited about is the Tailscale integration. I’m not exactly sure how I plan to utilise it but it’s just good to know that it’s there if I need it.