To know about the prav app project, please visit the project website. This is the story behind the project.

Prav app logo

Backstory

Back in 2020, I uninstalled WhatsApp, mainly due to privacy issues. 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 had 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. However, the onboarding experience wasn’t easy for them because these apps (I am talking about Element, Conversations, etc.) ask users to sign up using a username and password. Compared to WhatsApp, Telegram, and Signal, the apps recommended by me were inconvenient. Additionally, the network effect was a challenge as most of these people had only me as a contact on these apps, which was 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 a phone number, similar to WhatsApp. I concluded that Quicksy could be advertised to my contacts because I could still talk to them using any other XMPP service that does not require a phone number. So, I started asking my contacts to join Quicksy as I don’t use WhatsApp, Telegram, or Signal. However, this approach was not scaling as we (others from the Free Software Community tried this approach too) were doing this in our personal capacity.

Around 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 explained 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 proposed the idea of making a 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 the Poddery XMPP service for around 7-8 years. This Poddery XMPP service is funded through voluntary donations and maintained by volunteers. Over time, Poddery.com faced challenges in getting enough volunteers for smooth functioning. Also, the Diaspora service of Poddery had many spam posts, leading to the closure of sign-ups for the public. The idea of users paying a subscription fee was considered as an experiment to address these issues by enabling payment for people working on running the service. The outcome in terms of user adoption and funds was uncertain, but the idea seemed worth trying.

In December 2021, Praveen asked me if I was interested in getting involved in a project to run a service based on Quicksy, funded by users through a subscription fee. I immediately got involved in the project. This marked the beginning of the Prav project, although it took a couple of months for us to name it.

The idea behind the Prav app project is to rebrand Quicksy and make the XMPP experience consistent across different platforms. Quicksy is currently available on Android only and is backed by a cooperative society. The aim is to differentiate from services like Disroot and Poddery, which are funded by donations and run by volunteer work. The Prav app intends to charge users for the service and compensate the people behind running the service. Prav app is interoperable with Quicksy, and the team is content if people use Quicksy or any other XMPP app instead of Prav.

We envisioned Prav app as a social purpose company, akin to Purism, but India lacks such a legal arrangement. We opted not to register it as a corporate company to avoid giving shareholders decision-making power. Instead, we decided to register it as a Multi-State Cooperative Society in India. However, this required 50 members from each of two Indian states, proving to be a challenging task. Based on his experience, Praveen aimed to launch the cooperative society and secure sufficient funding before launching the Prav app service. GN proposed the need for a sample beta app to demonstrate credibility in running such a service. This led to the target of developing a beta app and acquiring 50 members from two Indian states simultaneously.

I was guided by Praveen and Akshay to deploy the Quicksy service after Badri and Suman completed the Ejabberd setup. Although it took some months, we successfully launched the service. The Prav app project is still a work in progress, and we require 50 members from another Indian state. We are also preparing to launch a public beta version soon. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, we are launching a private beta release on 28 January 2023. If you are interested in the project, you can join us.

Prav private beta launch poster.

This post also demonstrates the empowerment that Free Software provides to society in general, as we at the Prav project utilized the Quicksy app’s source code and its server-side code to operate our service.

Many thanks to all who contributed to making this possible.