Signal to Noise

corbett on 16 Jan 2015

Winter Break Of Code Day 4

I’m not sure those attending their first break of code know what they are getting into. When I said “sure” to Moxie my first break, I sure didn’t. During that week I had already come to the conclusion “I have to see this (TextSecure iOS) through”. In the intervening time, I’ve become an expert on the Axolotl protocol, come to understand ZRTP, picked up the world’s best collaborator, helped with the final polish of Signal with RedPhone support and contributed a lot of code to the TextSecure prototype.

I’m pleased to say, thanks in no small part to Fred’s hard work, we’ve graduated Signal with TextSecure support from the prototype phase to the beta phase. Soon, we will launch. And yet I don’t feel “through” in the slightest. That goalpost of “through” I originally vowed has moved much further afield. Signal to Noise. That phrase means a lot to me: Signal the app, takes your private communication and makes it noise to anyone you don’t want listening in, keeping the signal for just the people you choose. Perhaps equally importantly its use sends a signal to the powers that are listening; it is a vote for a less dystopian future. The higher the Signal usage, the more chance we have of making a change at the societal level about the way we approach mass surveillance. Mass surveillance is already morally unviable, and with our help it will become less financially viable as well.

The first few days at the Winter Break of Code, I closed out some core issues, finished the migration utility from Signal iOS with RedPhone support to Signal iOS with RedPhone and TextSecure Support, and prototyped our support of audio and video attachments. The core features for launch with a quality UI are now present. The rest of the week I’m focusing on making use of Tyler’s and Yoko’s presence to implement their vision for the UX and design of the app. I’ve never before worked on a project with such a clear roadmap to design and I’m learning a lot about the best way to work with such a map. Make no mistakes, Signal is a communications app with the user put in the front seat.

Circling back to the new attendees, I’ve been asked several times how Open Whisper Systems manages to do so much with so few people (Flock, TextSecure, RedPhone, Signal, Protocol, Hawaiian tour company…) all involving server-side, client-side, organizational and theoretical considerations. It can’t be pinpointed, but the combination of Moxie’s leadership by example, the intense start to getting involved (come to Hawaii to hack with strangers!), and the diversity, quality and passion of the attendees of our unique jumpstart goes a long way. We have a routine in Hawaii: stand-ups, runs on the beach, hikes, sushi bets, surfing, a budding appreciation for the movie Hackers and community dinners with philosophical conversations all surround an intense code and design sprint to ship usable privacy tools. It’s clear that while Open Whisper Systems does a lot with a small core, we need more help. I hope that the Winter of Code spirit extends far beyond those involved in Hawaii and into the rest of the world in the spring. In 2015, we can send a clear signal.

Signal iOS beta

Christine Corbett

Kauai, January 16th, 2015