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Matrix hits 115 million users, as founders look to add OpenID Connect, enterprise features

Major overhaul of the open source communications protocol and standard looms, amid steady user base growth

Open source communications network Matrix has hit 115 million users – up nearly 50% over 12 months – as its creators and community continue to work on implementing a new “Matrix 2.0” API and other improvements intended to boost performance and add enterprise-grade functionality. 

Matrix is an open standard and protocol for interoperable, decentralised, end-to-end-encrypted (E2eE), real-time communication. As co-founder Matthew Hodgson earlier put it to The Stack, the aim with its creation was to "create the missing real-time communication layer of the web.”

See also: Here’s what Matrix’s co-founders are doing with $30 million

Matrix has seen growing adoption and testing in European capitals in particular; many of which are keen to explore alternatives to proprietary, centralised, and cloud-based communications tools like Microsoft Teams or Slack – some using messengers like Element built on Matrix by its creators, others using their own home-grown applications built to be interoperable with the open standard and other toolings running on its increasingly expansive federation of public servers. 

German Armed Forces’ IT provider BWI for example built BwMessenger, a Matrix-based application for the Bundeswehr, Germany’s Armed Forces, in 2018. It was then asked to build BundesMessenger, a similar secure messenger for Germany’s federal, and local authorities. (BWI does not run the federal messenger; each authority has the freedom to set up and maintain its own infrastructure. But it is providing Kubernetes-based reference implementations for the application server.) The government does not mandate its use – WhatsApp also remains rife –  and has continued to grapple with some complex deployment challenges, from how much customisation local authorities can do, to whether to allow managed services for the application. Earlier conversations between The Stack and BWI suggested that uses are not operational but that the Bundeswehr is exploring how to incorporate the protocol and messenger into frontline operational communications.

Anyone can build an application on top of Matrix or host their own Matrix server. Its original creators provide the Element Messenger and said on October 24 that they have been the first to build on the “emerging” specification. (whilst Matrix is a canonical standard “there’s still some work to bring Matrix 2.0’s features formally into the specification” Hodgson said last month) with a new application dubbed Element X that it described as a “super-fast stripped-down messenger.”

See also: The world’s first fully specified, end-to-end encryption standard just landed.

As of September 2023 there were 11,873,374 Matrix IDs on a public network, spanning 17,289,201 rooms, spread over 64,256 servers. This has now climbed to over 115 million IDs. Hodgson noted around last month’s update that “this is just scratching the surface, given we estimate that 66% of servers in the public network don’t report stats, and there are many enormous private networks of servers too.”

A press release from Element, which provides a secure messaging  application built on the Matrix protocol (as well as hosting) by Matrix’s co-founders Hodgson and Amandine Le Pape, emphasised today that upcoming “Matrix 2.0” changes will iron out some common enterprise gripes and performance issues around encrypted group chats. 

This will add “sliding sync - a new Matrix API to enable instant login, instant launch, and instant sync; native OpenID Connect - industry standard authentication for enterprise-grade admin across Matrix-based infrastructure; and native group VoIP - end-to-end-encrypted (E2EE), scalable group voice and video calling, implemented on top of Matrix."

(OpenID Connect is an identity layer built on top of the OAuth 2.0 framework that lets third-party applications verify the identity of the end-user using JSON tokens to enable single-sign-on or SSO services)

The company cited a recent study from Forrester that it commissioned which suggests 74% of IT leaders across the US and Europe have experienced challenges securing internal communications due to the rise of hybrid work. More than half (52%) say employees are commonly using unsanctioned (consumer-grade) messaging apps and when reviewing alternatives are looking for high availability and uptime for mission critical scenarios (78%); end-to-end encryption (78%); and data sovereignty, to ensure ownership and control of data (71%). 

Element’s investors include Skype co-founder Jaan Tallinn, who has claimed "consumers need rescuing from surveillance capitalism, and organisations need a secure neutral way to communicate.  Matrix is the most advanced platform to provide that missing communication layer.”

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