I — and possibly you, Dear Reader — am ancient by Internet standards. I don’t “get” a lot of what passes for the zeitgeist these days. My generation, X, are quickly becoming the forgotten generation in the eyes of marketers and taste-makers. I also have the benefits of remembering the days before the Modern Internet, when I had to use home phones to dial-into the matrix and did so behind the walled gardens of AOL or CompuServe.
I also remember the days when there weren’t so many ways to communicate. I had an AOL Instant Messenger account. I also had an ICQ number — 795668, which I remember but which I cannot recover. MSN Messenger was in there, and probably others which came online, which I joined, and which have since passed into memory. Way back when there were only a handful of messengers, I could coordinate with friends on which one to use and it wasn’t a big deal. Still, there was always someone who was on a different network, forcing me to begin what I would later understand to be a long-standing effort to register for practically every service under the sun in order to maintain contact with people, or at least to reserve my username.
Then came Trillian, a single instant messaging platform which allowed me to sign into all of the various services I had accounts with so that I only had to rely on a single application for all of my instant communication needs.
Things have since spiraled out of control with the introduction of cellphones and mobile operating systems whose owners have their own messaging platforms as well as the age old vehicle of SMS/MMS. As the Internet has become a global platform, we also have regional and, in some cases, state sponsored platforms. The IM landscape is more fractured than ever, and while Trillian is still around, I haven’t ever heard of a next generation app that has attempted to bridge the gap between all of these messaging platforms until I heard about (and then forgot and was later reminded of) Beeper.
The problem, as you are probably aware of because you are a savvy technology beast, is that we have come a long way in all ways since the days of AOL Messenger. Companies are now very careful to lock down their messaging platforms not necessarily to ensure user privacy (as that would probably interfere with the operator’s ability to skim data themselves), but to ensure that no one rides for free. I can’t use iMessage unless I have an iOS device. Google Chat is a bit more widespread, but no doubt suffers on non-native Google platforms. I, like many, use Discord on a daily basis, but woe be to anyone who tries to get their friends and group-mates to switch once they are in the back pocket of a specific member of Big Instant Messager.
Beeper is built on top of the open-source Matrix platform. As someone who has begun to embrace the FOSS and Federated replacements of a lot of apps and services recently, this is a benefit. I tried a Matrix shard called Element a while back but because I had once tried to get friends off of Discord and onto Guilded with disastrous results, I never really bothered to try and get them to try to use Element, leaving it as a way for me to pass notes between my mobile and desktop platforms. Matrix encrypts its traffic, which I suspect is fine for Matrix-to-Matrix communications, but I’m not sure how it plays with third party platforms. Each platform can be hooked into Matrix using a custom “bridge” which is how it can commune with Discord, Instagram, Messenger, Google Chat, WhatsApp, That Fucking Shitshow of a Social Media Site, Android SMS, LinkedIn, Signal, and Telegram (Slack is in the “labs” section as is Discord). You can check out Beeper’s repo at GitLabs if you’re curious.
The White Whale, though, is iMessage, as Apple is the most jealous of the divas at the Instant Messenger Ball (aren’t they always, though). In order to get access to iMessage through Beeper, you no longer need to own an iOS device, as you can register for an Apple ID through legitimate channels, and then rely on Beeper’s “Mac server farms” which will route your iMessages to you.
Still, having one app to consolidate all of the other services — and which gives access to Matrix itself, making Beeper its own best friend, and apparently gives us our own Beeper.com instant message handle — is nothing to shy away from. If it were to reach a wider acceptance, then I would hope we’d see more bridges written for other platforms. Being a gamer, the idea of having Battle.net, Ubisoft’s Whatever, Steam, and others would certainly be welcome even though I use absolutely none of them. The only downside is that this seems to be a one-on-one messenger application. Although you can connect to Discord, this does not replace Discord; it only allows you to send DMs. Likewise, I cannot find a way to set up new messages to multiple recipients through SMS (Google or iMessage), although if a group text comes in, Beeper will recognize it and allow a response to be sent to all participants.
You’ll notice that this post has absolutely no hands-on experience provided; as I alluded to once, I had signed up for Beeper’s beta long ago, and I just got an invite to their platform (in whatever phase its in now). Once I realized what I was working with, at least on the surface, I wanted to let folks know about it. I also want to let folks know who had heard about Beeper that while it was originally going to be a $10USD-per-month service, that has apparently been dropped in favor of a full-featured free version, and a power-user subscription version. THAT is a good move in my books, and why I’m going to go nuts trying to fit this into my workflow. What I hope to do is to report back with more in-depth info on what each “bridge” offers compared to its native implementation (for those platforms that I currently use) to hopefully help folks decide if Beeper is right for them.