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Web3 email and messagingUnderstanding Web3 and how it dramatically changes the future of email and online communication.
Every week, a new and exciting technological advancement happens in the world. In the last two years, many of these changes involve privacy, data ownership, decentralization - all frequently referred to under umbrella term of “Web3.” But, what exactly is Web3, and are there any real use cases for it today? How can internet users - who primarily rely on the web to communicate, collaborate, and work together - leverage the technological developments wrapped up inside Web3?Communication, in particular email and messaging, benefits significantly from Web3’s promises of greater decentralized, data ownership, and anonymity. As these products are used every day by billions of people around the world, we are seeing an incredible transformation of consumer technology to be rewritten from the ground up to be private and secure.This guide provides a comprehensive product and technical overview covering the basics of Web3 communications, and particularly what Web3 email is. We’ll cover:
- What is Web3
- How can we apply Web3 in the context of email
- How online communication and messaging has evolved to become secure and private
- How Web3 communication happens today
- The key components needed for successful Web3 email product
How online communication/messaging has evolvedToday, online communication is generally done through two formats: Email and instant messaging. While messaging is generally perceived to be synchronous (done at the same time with counterparties), email is asynchronous, where conversations may span multiple days or weeks across different groups.The first version of email was invented in 1965 at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Almost a decade later, computer scientists proposed the first standardization of email’s protocols in 1973 and later finalized the proposal finalized in 1977. This standardization included things such as to and from fields, as well as the ability to forward emails to other recipients. Fast forward to today: Email is as ubiquitous as ever, with almost every device interconnected using some form of email’s protocols or formats.Instant messaging shares some similarities with email but maintains some key differences. Firstly, instant messaging is designed to mimic a face-to-face conversation (synchronous), while email is meant to mimic asynchronous communication more in the character of an old-school letter. In fact, many of the terminology and symbology, such as inboxes, are derived from postal analogies.The other main difference is there is no single standard for instant messaging. Apple’s iMessage protocols - which also enable end-to-end encryption - are dramatically different from the Signal Protocol, which yields its own set of security properties beyond E2EE. Almost every social platform, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn, maintain their own messaging products and standards.While you can almost never send an instant message from one instant message provider to another (such as sending an iMessage to a Whataspp contact), you can send an email to any other person who has an email address, regardless of which email service they use.Initially, both email and instant messaging were designed to efficiently send information across the internet from one device to another. However, over the years both end-users and developers became more and more concerned over the privacy and security of the users on these platforms, as well as the content they were sending on email and through instant messaging.A major breakthrough in ensuring users messages were kept private and safe from prying eyes was the adoption of end-to-end encryption (E2EE). End-to-end encryption is an encryption protocol that prevents third parties from gaining access to the transmitted data. In an E2EE protocol, data is encrypted on the sender’s device and transmitted in encrypted form over a network to the recipient’s device. The data can only be decrypted on the recipient’s device - so, even if some malicious actor acquired the encrypted data while it was being transmitted, they would have no way of decrypting the message and accessing its contents. Today, many of the most popular messaging apps use E2EE, including Signal, WhatsApp, iMessage, and Android messenger and Telegram (when enabled).There are many different closed and open source protocols that can be used to implement end-to-end encryption in online messaging and communication. One of the most famous and highly regarded is the Signal Protocol. The Signal Protocol is an open source E2EE protocol developed by Open Whisper Systems in 2013. Today, numerous messaging apps, including Signal, Whatsapp, and even Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) service Skype either completely rely on the Signal Protocol for E2EE or give users the option to use the encryption protocol when communicating with others.All of these changes to online communication yield the end goal of providing the user with a simple, intuitive user experience while protecting the integrity and privacy of all messages and personal information shared on a communication platform.
How Web3 communication is currently doneToday, Telegram and Discord are the two most popular forms of communication in Web3 communities and products. Telegram is a freemium instant messaging service with over 700 million monthly active users distributed across the world.Discord is another instant messaging service that was originally built for the gaming community. However, as online communities exploded in recent years, Discord has been quite widely adopted by groups ranging from hiking clubs to hackathons. At the moment, most Web3 communities use a combination of Telegram or Discord to collaborate, share information, and discuss new projects with other members of their chosen communities. Both products’ low friction to join and ease of use have made them global favorites.While Telegram does give its users the option to use end-to-end encryption, Discord does not, yielding a more community but not privacy focused experience. Both Telegram and Discord are generally quite centralized, in the character that data and information is stored in servers run by each company.It may appear strange that communities who value privacy, anonymity, and decentralization choose to use centralized platforms for internal collaboration. The reason, however, is that competing decentralized services are either nonexistent or lack the rich features and user experience to compete with existing alternatives. This is changing however with companies like Skiff and Matrix developing privacy-first communication methods that are quickly gaining popularity and features.
What’s Web3 emailIf you’re reading this piece, you probably have at least one email address - in fact, the average internet user has about two email accounts. You may, however, be curious about how how the new developments in Web3 can be applied to email and yield an improved user experience as well as new features.In Web3, cryptography represents the root of individuals’ identity - a public key, an address on a blockchain, or a key fingerprint used for encrypted communciations. Unlike Web2 platforms and identities, a public private keypair allows an individual to share their identity across multiple platforms and never share the corresponding private key. For communities, this property allows an individual using a Web3 email or communication product to submit transactions on the blockchain, participate in DAOs (decentralized autonomous organizations, and own digital assets all with the same cryptographic identity. When using a public key for identity, services must also provide the utmost privacy and security, including end-to-end encryption.
The key components needed for the future of emailThe three key components needed for a true Web3 email product are: Privacy, decentralized identity, and censorship resistant storage. These properties yield significant improvements in protecting your personal information and ensuring that you own your own data.The first component is a high level of privacy and security. Users must have confidence that their data is not being used, shared, or monetized by providers. This includes end-to-end encrypted, transparency - such as open-sourcing, and other good practices, such as regular security audits. It is also critical for companies to have privacy-forward policies, terms of service, and development practices.The second component is decentralized identity. This ensures that even if the company closes its doors, users will have access to their public/private keypair and proof that they can own their identity across platforms.The last component is a mechanism for censorship resistant storage. In particular, this could be using a decentralized storage network, or by allowing users to encrypt and backup their storage on self hosted platforms. Thus, it is important that any Web3 email provider have the ability to link to users cryptographic, user-owned identities. These identities often take the form of crypto wallets (like MetaMask), that also allow submitting transactions, owning digital assets, and voting or contributing to DAOs.
ConclusionWeb3 technologies across identity and storage have transformed the way products are built and released. Today, users have more options and ability to control their data than ever before.Skiff gives users the option to store all their data in a fully decentralized manner by making use of the InterPlanetaryFIleSystem (IPFS) developed by Protocol Labs.Skiff is also fully end-to-end encrypted meaning that users data is encrypted on their device and can never be intercepted and decrypted by any third party while it is transferring over a network.Skiff also gives users complete control over their data by allowing them to connect and link their chosen Web3 identity wallet to their Skiff account. At the moment Skiff supports MetaMask, Coinbase Wallet, Phantom, Brave, and Unstoppable Domains, with a lot more coming soon.Skiff also gives users access to a whole suite of privacy-first products, including real-time colloboration on Skiff Pages as well as file sharing and storage with Skiff Drive. Skiff is dedicated to becoming the all-in-one, privacy-first, and Web3 collaboration platform of the future.
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