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Jan 16

2020

Open-Xchange at FOSDEM 2020: When will messaging via email crash the monopolies?

By Robert Virkus, Director App Development at Open-Xchange

In February Open-Xchange are returning to Brussels for FOSDEM, Europe’s leading gathering of the open source community. A lot has happened since I spoke at last year’s conference and introduced the then new COI (Chat-Over-IMAP) initiative.

Over the past twelve months we’ve reached two milestones, namely the launch of the COI plugin of the Dovecot IMAP server and the OX COI Messenger app itself. At this year’s conference, I’ll be giving a run-down of the story so far, including how the idea for COI evolved over time, what we’ve learned and where we’re heading in 2020.

COI was born out of our desire for a new chat ecosystem based on open standards and federated infrastructure. Despite the existence of many great privacy-centered messaging services like Signal, these are still proprietary, closed and operated by single providers that we have no choice but to place our trust in.

Even with end-to-end encryption in place, providers of closed services have access to a wealth of metadata, including who you speak to and when, as well as the frequency, type and length of your messages. You’re also locked in, meaning that if you want to switch to a different service and still communicate with your friends and family, they’ll need to switch with you. Networks are also controlled by a single party, who set the rules and rarely give access to the API for creating your own software.

Email seemed to us like the perfect solution. It’s an existing network based on open protocols (like IMAP) that’s already used by almost everyone, making it a great framework to build a chat ecosystem on top of. From the start we’ve been lucky enough to have the support of Dovecot, who’ve worked on extending the existing IMAP protocol, as well as DeltaChat, the open source email-based messenger, whose team has worked on improving the client’s core for interoperability with COI.  

After months of hard work, we finally presented beta versions of iOS and Android COI Messenger clients and introduced the COI plugin for Dovecot in October. Yet we still have a long way to go and many outstanding challenges to face on our journey to create a world-first open, federated and permissionless WhatsApp killer.

If you’re interested in hearing the full story, join us at FOSDEM, where I’ll be speaking at 3.50pm on Sunday 2nd February in the Realtime Communications dev room.

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