What is Matrix?
Matrix is an instant messaging system which has a similar user experience to WhatsApp: you can message people individually or in groups, send photos and videos, and secure communications with end-to-end encryption. However, Matrix works a bit more like email:
- Just as there are many different email providers (e.g. gmail, yahoo, outlook), there are many different Matrix providers.
- Just as every email user has an email address, every Matrix user has a Matrix ID (which looks like @username:example.org).
- Just as people who use different email providers can talk to each other, people who use different Matrix providers can talk to each other.
- Just as there are lots of different email clients, there are lots of different Matrix clients. You can use Matrix on your computer, on your phone and in your web browser.
Services that work in this way are called federated services and are only possible because they are based on open standards. Anyone can read the specification which defines how the computers should talk to each other and make their own program. In the case of Matrix, the vast majority of these programs are released as free software, meaning that anyone can use, modify, and share the program freely.
This is good because it means there are no dependencies on large centralised services that often do not work in your best interest (e.g. collecting personal data to sell to advertisers). It also means that anyone can check the software is secure and doesn't have any backdoors, which is impossible to do for proprietary software like WhatsApp.
How to get a Matrix account
If you like the sound of Matrix and want to start using it the first thing you need to do is choose a homeserver (the provider you want to use). I run a Matrix homeserver for people I know (family and friends etc.) here at calcuode.com, so if you want an account just let me know through an existing communications channel. If I don't know you, or you want an account somewhere else, there is quite a bit of choice. The biggest homeserver is matrix.org, but in the interest of reducing the centralisation of users on this homeserver I ask that you do not register there. Instead search for "public matrix homeservers" or take a look at hello-matrix or publiclist.anchel.nl. Remember that if you use end-to-end encryption then even the person who runs the homeserver cannot see your messages (not that they would be looking).
How to use your new account
If you created an account on my server (calcuode.com) then you should have a Matrix ID and a password. Now all you need is a client. There are lots to choose from, but I recommend Element because I find it works well and has encryption enabled by default for private rooms (Matrix chats are called rooms).
I've written some short guides to help you get set up using Element:
- If you are on a desktop or laptop computer see Using Element Web
- If you are on an Android phone or tablet see Using Element on Android
- If you are on an iPhone or iPad see Using Element on iOS
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