Element builds a bridge to realm of encrypted, decentralised comms • The Register


Element Matrix Services is adding a bridge between hipster chat platform Slack and the open-source world of Matrix messaging.

With recent events focusing the minds of users on what might be happening to their data on centrally hosted platforms, Matrix, which emerged from beta in June 2019, represents a more open alternative.

To ease the journey from the centralised world of Slack, Element Matrix Services (EMS) – a hosting platform for Matrix – is adding a managed bridge for connecting Slack to the Matrix ecosystem. The bridge will join others that connect services such as Telegram and Discord to the network.

The functionality costs $20 for one workspace and a maximum of 20 rooms (unless one wishes to purchase multiple bridges) on top of the EMS subscription pricing.

The Register spoke to Matthew Hodgson, technical co-founder of Matrix and CEO of Element, who explained how it worked. “The integration happens on the server side, so it’s available on all of the clients both on the Matrix side and also on the Slack side,” he said.

The implementation works on a room-by-room or channel-by-channel basis and, assuming an administrator has enabled the necessary inbound and outbound webhooks, replicates the requisite bits of Slack in the Matrix. Matrix users appear as bots in Slack, and authorised Slack users appear in the Matrix.

Things are text-based for the time being. Hodgson was, however, hopeful that the impending Digital Markets Act [PDF] would see more APIs opening up and the arrival of VoIP in the coming months.

Managed bridges for other platforms, such as Microsoft Teams, are also on the cards.

The Matrix project itself is all about secure, decentralised and real-time communication. Messaging is protected by end-to-end encryption, VoIP is present and correct and the reference implementations for the system are Apache licensed. The system can handle pretty much any real-time data, according to the foundation.

“If you’re familiar with how Git works,” explained Hodgson, “we shamelessly stole Git as a model for Matrix, and we thought, hey, why hasn’t anybody decentralised communication, like Git decentralises version control? And so we literally applied the same technological, technical architecture.”

Matrix is effectively a decentralised conversation store, with messages replicated over the servers whose users are taking part in the chatting (much like commits in Git repos.) Bridges have been implemented by both the core Matrix team and the wider community to connect to the likes of Telegram, Discord, and WhatsApp.

Although users can set things up themselves, running as publicly or privately as required, the challenge of “rolling one’s own” can be dealt with by a hosting platform, such as EMS. While the company is at pains to highlight the security of its solution, hosting currently means AWS, which is one of the main providers for EMS’s cloud-based infrastructure, and four different geolocations for the servers.

However, Amandine Le Pape, co-founder at The Matrix.org Foundation and COO and co-founder at Element, added: “We’re platform agnostic and could change in the future.”

With Slack taking a tumble in recent weeks, and Signal struggling under the load, joining the 27 million on the Matrix network and 60,000 deployments (according to Hodgson) has a certain appeal, with the ability to connect to existing platforms a handy bonus. Some are clearly pondering a messaging move. ®

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