The personal website of Chris Coyier

Signal

It was hard enough to get the families onto WhatsApp. My wife and I pushed for that to normalize chat across iOS and Android for our friends and family. I feel bad for anyone on Android who has to put up with iPhone people sending them videos that come across the size of a postage stamp across SMS, and those same threads filled with “Sue Loved [2 paragraphs of text here]” just because someone did the low-effort iMessage-specific response of loving the message.

But WhatsApp is from Facebook and Facebook is awful. I’m mad at them for not doing enough to curb hate on their platform. I’m mad at them for only occasionally, when forced, saying that collecting data on you is the business model, but throwing a tantrum when they have to actually ask you if that’s OK.

WhatsApp is a massive messaging app with nothing you can pay for and no ads. The business model of WhatsApp is collecting data about you for use elsewhere. I don’t like that. But like I said, it was hard enough getting people on WhatsApp.

The answer to a more private low-barrier-to-entry messaging service, if we could wave a wand and move everyone, appears to be Signal. I have Signal installed and am using it among friends and family that feel the same way about Facebook.

Signal feels exactly the same as WhatsApp, except they don’t collect data on you and the security is better (I’m not qualified to speak on security, but they have a quote from Edward Snowden on the homepage, so that’s saying something.)

There are native phone apps and desktop apps that work through the phone app.

Not everyone is 100% on board that Signal is the answer here though. Anirudh says:

A common defense in favor of Signal is, “But it’s all open source!”. Sure is, but on what basis do I trust them? I don’t mean to sound conspiratorial, but what’s to say that the server in production hasn’t been backdoored? In fact, the Signal server code hasn’t even been updated since April 2020. You’re telling me it’s undergone no changes?

Again, I can’t speak to the security stuff, but I have an equally fundamental concern: what’s the business model? I feel like that is asked of every startup under the sun, but I haven’t heard people talk about it with Signal. Probably because they kind of wave it off:

Although it was meant to be an alternative business model to the one normally followed in Silicon Valley, Signal’s approach bears a striking similarity to the unprofitable startups that rely on billions of venture capital dollars to build themselves up into a position where they’re able to bring in revenue. “It hasn’t been forefront in our minds to focus on donations right now, primarily because we have a lot of money in the bank,” Acton says. “And secondarily, because we’ve also gotten additional large-ish donations from external donors. So that’s given us a pretty long runway where we can just focus on growth, and our ambition is to get a much larger population before doing more to solicit and engender donations.”

They are growing like wild, they are hiring, and the plan is whatever, we’ve already got a bunch of money. And after that, we can focus on donations. That “buy me a cup of coffee” style donation thing doesn’t work to fund software projects of any size, let along one with full-time employees. I’m not saying it won’t work (because I’m always wrong about everything), but I would like to know if there is some kind of actual business model plan that points to long-term sustainability after the initial investments run out.

If there isn’t a plan, I’m far less motivated to try to push all my family and friends over.