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When Was the Last Time You Heard Someone Discuss the "Quality" of a Chat App?

Chat apps: Part 1

What constitutes a “good” car? (Yes, “car” — I’ll get to chat apps, I promise!) If I were to answer for myself, I’d split it up into three factors (with one added as a bonus):

  1. Security
    • This is important, both for the people inside and outside the car!
    • … but it’s not the only factor, of course.
  2. Features
    • Size, range, etc. — things you can do with it.
  3. Comfort, and sense of quality
    • This isn’t about what you can do with it, but how it feels to do them. In a car, this could be sound (or lack thereof), looks, driving experience, how it feels to open and close the doors, and other small, and large, things.
  4. Price
    • Maybe this shouldn’t be here — but when picking a car, it’s often about getting the most features, comfort, and security for the price.
    • (“Quality” can also be interpreted as how fast it breaks, which could also be included in the cost of owning the vehicle.)

Luckily, the car market is pretty competitive — so there are plenty of options. And you don’t have to buy the same brand as your friends and family! But I want to compare it a bit to chat apps, and both the market and discussions surrounding them. Because even though most of us use chat apps numerous times every day, I’d argue both the market and discussions are lacking.

To me, it seems like most apps only have one of two value propositions —

even though I’d say all the factors from above applies to chat apps as well: Security (and, the connected, but separate, Privacy), Features, Comfort and sense of Quality, and Price. (The way we pay for chat apps is often with “personal data” and “viewing adds”.)

The first proposition is good ol' “Lock-in”

The “default” chap app varies from country to country — and here in Norway, we’ve made the worst “choice” of them all: Meta’s Messenger. It’s just a very poor product. If we look at the factors, Meta’s ad-tracking business affects its score when it comes to both Security/Privacy and Price. And it’s also severely lacking in both features and general quality and polish. It simply oozes that the responsible company doesn’t feel any pressure to make the product as good as they can. 1

The same can be said about iMessage, which is “the default” in the US, and another service I have quite a lot of experience with. It’s not bad, but compared to the best experiences, it’s thoroughly mediocre. Even though Apple is a giant company, with infinite resources, they only manage to give it slight improvements year-over-year.

The security and privacy is good — even though I wonder what the ratio of end-to-end-encrypted conversations really are, seeing as it’s only that if none of the participants use regular iCloud backups. But personally I don’t really care about that - it’s more than good enough for me!

The quality is also good, but the features are lacking. I’d also say the price is pretty high, as you have to buy Apple products to use it. 2

Am I the only one who’s never heard any good arguments for why people are using these, apart from “it’s what everyone else uses”? I get that the network effect is huge when it comes to chat apps — but still!

The second proposition is “Security!!!”

I assume most people reading this agree that you should always wear a seatbelt while driving — even though it’s a slight inconvenience. However, I also assume most of you don’t wear a helmet during your daily commute. Why not, though? It’s more secure, right? The answer is simple: Because we constantly balance security and comfort/convenience in our daily choices. However, there are plenty of instances where wearing a helmet while driving is a good idea — like if you’re Lewis Hamilton.

I think it’s great that chat services like Signal, Threema, Session and Matrix exist — which have “security” as their first, second and third priority. 3 I have users on several of them, and have zero issues with people needing, or just wanting, to use them! 4 What I do have a slight issue with, is people claiming the increased security makes them inherently “better” than the alternatives. Better for what? In what context? Is it “better” to drive with a helmet just because it’s more secure?

Let me try to be precise: It’s crucial to know how secure the different services are — especially if you have a certain threat model. I also think it’s fine to just find comfort in extra security! I just think we should be honest about the cost, and that it’s OK to look at other factors as long as something’s “secure enough” (whatever that means for you).

I guess I’m a bit annoyed that the only time people actually discuss and compare chat apps, “security” is the only factor discussed… I just wish more apps had “being nice to use when chatting with your friends and family” higher on their lists. Beeper is saying they want to be “the best chat app” - but to them, that just means connecting services.

Am I really alone here? Have you ever heard “features and quality” being discussed? What are the factors of a good chat app in your mind? And which app/service do you think is the best?

I have my own thoughts on this, which will be Part 2!

  1. I’ve only use WhatsApp a little bit - but it seems to be less bad, even though it also coasts on lock-in. ↩︎

  2. Not just because of the price of these, but the “price” of not choosing your devices freely. ↩︎

  3. I mean, just look at their websites! ↩︎

  4. Many of them also seems like great organisations doing good stuff and deserving support. ↩︎