My Declining Matrix usage
This post explains my journey with Matrix/Element. Here is a short timeline:
- 2020 November: read A Matrix overview on LWN and installed on my home server. Added Messenger, Hangouts and WhatsApp bridges. “Bridges” meant that I could read and write messages from FB Messenger, Google Hangouts and WhatsApp using a single application — Element (the application for the Matrix network). After 2 evenings of installation hurdles I conveniently reduced the number of browser tabs and phone applications I use for messaging.
- 2021 February: convinced my brother to move to Element. Conversations between us (which are second-in-volume after my wife) were now hosted by me.
- 2021 April: rest of the family to moved to Matrix. Much-reduced usage of WhatsApp, Messenger and Hangouts. It felt great and liberating!
- 2023 July: switched my family to Signal.
First year of Matrix was promising. Matrix posted good news about adoption to their blog. I followed them closely in conferences (you can see my name in one of the screenshots here!).
Then bugs started creeping in.
The first thing I noticed is that Element from f-droid would sometimes not deliver notifications. Reading about it on forums revealed that applications on f-droid use a different notification mechanism than Google Play apps do. Re-installed Google Play version and it worked fine. Not much to be grumpy about, but it would be a nice touch to explain this in the landing page of the Element f-droid version.
The second, and still ongoing, annoyance was occasionally not being able to see 1:1 messages from my family, because it would fail to decrypt. I am not the only one. I’ve been waiting for a fix since the very beginning.
The third was a brittle audio/video setup. Calls to my family were hit-or-miss: sometimes they would work well, sometimes audio would be one-way or would not connect at all. I followed the manual to the letter, but it still couldn’t make it work reliably. I was a “VoIP expert” at some point in my career, so troubleshooting this was not completely alien. But I still lacked knowledge and/or persistence to fix it “once and for all”, which meant I just gave up on audio/video. It should be easier.
Forward to mid-2023:
- I was not able to read a few important messages from my close family due to above-mentioned “failed to decrypt” bug.
- Opening some channels with long history would take minutes. I have been warned, so it’s my fault. But there is a limit on how much complex I want my messaging stack to be.
- My Matrix server was down for a week due to an upstream bug. Same problem — using SQLite — but same answer as above.
- Libera.Chat bridge got shut down, which was a big use-case for my Matrix use. As of writing it’s been 27 days without an update, so it does not feel like Matrix folks are treating this shutdown like a real incident.
- Audio/video calling got even worse: it would be a surprise if a call connected successfully, and I lost motivation to debug it further. Should audio/video be the only problem, I would probably muster. But this just added up to the pile which I wanted to touch less and less.
At this point I started looking for a reliable alternative. By now I had added Signal to communicate with some of my friends. I explained to my family what Signal is and asked whether it would be OK to switch. Everyone agreed, we have done it. Now they even have a wider bubble of people to talk in that platform, audio/video calling works reliably, and I don’t ever remember missing a notification.
I still use Matrix to join channels of some open-source projects. The channels are not encrypted, thus not hitting the “failed to decrypt” bug. I also wiped the SQLite database (it was ~6 GB by the time), which made things very fast again. I will leave my Matrix contact details and you can still message me on Matrix. But honestly, due to all the reasons above, I prefer Signal by now, even if it’s not self-hosted.