Backstory Behind Prav App Project
To know about the prav app project, please visit the project website. This is the story behind the project.
Back in 2020, I uninstalled WhatsApp, mainly due to privacy issues and that WhatsApp is a malware. A few months later, I came to know about federated messaging services from Praveen, a fellow free software community member. I understood that software freedom is not enough in services and we need federation too. Otherwise, a single company/entity gets complete control over that messaging service.
I already switched to matrix after uninstalling WhatsApp. A few months later, I came to know about XMPP and started trying it out. I started promoting these messengers to my friends and contacts. It didn’t really work out well. The onboarding experience wasn’t easy for them because these apps(I am talking about Element, Conversations, etc) ask users to sign up using username and password. Compared to WhatsApp, Telegram and Signal, the apps recommended by me were inconvenient. Add this to the problem of network effect– most of these people had only me as a contact on these apps, which is not much incentive for them to use these apps.
Some months later, Praveen told me about Quicksy which makes the onboarding experience easy because the sign up requires phone number, which is same as WhatsApp. I came to the conclusion that Quicksy can be advertised to my contacts because I can still talk to them using any other xmpp service which does not require phone number. So I started to ask my contacts to join Quicksy as I don’t use any of WhatsApp, Telegram or Signal. Now this approach was not getting scaled as we(others from Free Software Community tried this approach too) were doing this in our personal capacity.
Around the time of November-December 2021, Praveen had a meetup with his old friends. When they wanted to share pictures, Praveen suggested using Quicksy as he was not on WhatsApp. Praveen told them why he doesn’t use WhatsApp and why he prefers Quicksy(the federation argument above). His friends got excited about the ideas behind such services and gave the idea of making business out of such a service. Praveen, having experience in running the poddery xmpp service himself, liked the idea. He and other peers from the Free Software Community of India had experience running poddery xmpp service for around 7-8 years. This poddery xmpp service is funded through voluntary donations and maintained by volunteers. But the service suffers from downtime, lack of funding and sometimes lack of volunteers to troubleshoot issues. So, the idea of users paying the subscription fee will solve these issues as we can pay people to work on running the service. However, this model is also an experiment. We don’t know how many users will join us and how much funds will we get. At least the idea seemed worth trying.
Then, Praveen asked me(in December 2021) if I am interested in getting involved in a project to run a service based on Quicksy, which is funded by users in the form of a subscription fee. I immediately got involved in the project. This was the start of prav project. However it took a couple of months for us to name it.
The idea behind Prav app project is to rebrand Quicksy and make experience of xmpp consistent throughout different platforms, as Quicksy is available on Android only, backed up by a cooperative society. It also aims to be different compared to services like disroot and poddery as those services are funded by donations and run by volunteer work, and prav app aims to charge users for the service and pay people behind running the service. Prav app is interoperable with Quicksy and so we are happy if people use Quicksy or any other XMPP app instead of Prav.
We wanted prav app to be a social purpose company, like Purism, but India does not have such a legal arrangement. We didn’t want it to register it as a corporate company, as the shareholders get the power to decide. So, we settled on registering it as a Multi State Cooperative Society in India. For this, we need 50 members each from any two Indian states. This proved to be a challenging task. Praveen, from his experience, wanted to launch cooperative society and ensure enough funding before launching prav app service. Then GN proposed that we need to have a sample beta app to show people. Otherwise, how do people know we have credentials to run such a service. His proposal made sense and we targeted to have a beta app and get 50 people from two Indian states in parallel.
Then I was guided by Praveen and Akshay to deploy the quicksy service after Badri and Suman completed the ejabberd setup. It took some months but we got the service up successfully. The prav app project is still work in progress and we need 50 members from another Indian state. We are also looking forward to launch a beta version publicly. Stay tuned.
In the meanwhile, we are also launching a private beta release on 28 January 2023, where you can join us if you are interested in the project.
This post also shows the power that Free Software gives to society in general, as we at Prav project used Quicksy app’s source code and its server side code to run our service.
Many thanks to all who helped made this possible.