Ariel Costas

Communication is a complete mess

By Ariel Costas - November 17, 2021

This is a rant about communication systems nowadays, especially instant messaging and forums. It might lead to more rants in the future about “subtopics” I consider relevant covering. Expect more “[something] is a complete mess”, I might convert it into a separate section on my website.

Back in the day we had nothing but face-to-face communication and letters for people who lived far away. Then the telephone appeared, a device that made voice communication over long distances possible, and was a lot faster than sending a letter and not receiving a response until many days later.

With computers appeared things like email, which imitated traditional mail but using computers. You could write an email, specify a recipient and send it, and it would go through a network and finally arrive at it’s destination. Instant messaging appeared too, with things like IRC. These protocols where fairly lightweight: in the case of email you had a few TCP messages to submit and transfer email, and then headers and the body itself as text.

Then the web arrived

And communication over digital mediums continued evolving, until today, where I believe we are at our worst era in communication means, by far. Before I started closing my accounts on proprietary “services”, I had the following instant messaging accounts:

Nine services for the same purpose: instant messaging. Some had more features (like VoIP calling) than others, but all required having an account on their service to use it, and was NOT interoperable. Want to talk to someone on Instagram? You need Instagram. Discord? The same. And all of them were different, when they serve a same purpose.

XMPP is quite a good protocol, which was actually used by Google Talk back in the day. It is usable, it is easy to implement and it’s federated (so you don’t need to depend on someone else’s server to use it). Do you hate sharing a server with a lot of people? Host your own, it’s easy. Your client loooks ugly? Use another client, or build your own.

Guess what happens when you hate WhatsApp… guessed it, either you accept it is that terrible (in all ways) or you stop using it. But stopping using a disservice is hard, especially when it’s almost a de-facto standard in your country. In Spain, most people have and use WhatsApp for some reason, and even for jobs and sending important documents we (they) rely too much on WhatsApp, instead of a proper file-sending system.

If I want to have a small chat, I’d consider using some IM system like XMPP. Say for example sending something to a friend, asking something or just talking about hanging out sometime. For longer conversations on certain topics, I prefer email: I write someone about a topic, explaining my point and everything relevant in an extended way, and send it. Whenever they see it and feel like replying, they reply and our conversation continues until it ends. No need to reply in the moment.

Want to use this site? Create YET ANOTHER account

According to my password manager, I have around 100 accounts in different websites. I could elaborate more on what accounts are actually forums or communication systems, social networks or other type of applications. But do we really need an account for everything? Seriously?

Want to participate on a forum? Get an account on that forum. Want to join some software’s community server? Well, you need to use Discord, Matrix or whatever shit they’ve decided to use to communicate instead of the traditional, standarized ways.

Mailing lists existed way before web forums, and they didn’t require more than an email account, whether you hosted it yourself or a friend, company or institution. You could write to an address to subscribe to all messages sent there, or write to another so everyone on the list would receive it. You just needed to write an email, and you would get replies into your email inbox. This could be about software, computers or anything else. And guess what… they can get archived! Many mailing lists archive their posts so can be accessed in the future by anyone, without asking the same question over and over.

IRC did also exist before these proprietary instant messaging platforms took over. Instant messaging was intended as a way to send messages in a faster way and receive it in the moment, but not as an alternative to a forum or a mailing list as a “community place”. Wanted to chat? Get into an IRC server. Have a quick question with a program you’re using? Get into IRC and ask, someone will probably answer.

Ok, I think this got a bit too long and unorganized, but I kind of like the final result. Sometimes I need to rant about all the shit that exists right now and I’m (somehow) forced to deal with. I’m not against advancing in technology, but I don’t believe the way we are doing it is really advancing. See you soon with more rants, about social media, instant messaging and other garbage that exists on the modern society.

Happy hacking!