Millions of people use messaging apps like Twitter (now X), WhatsApp, Signal, Threads and others to communicate online. Many businesses also rely on messaging apps for branding, product announcements, and keeping in touch with customers. Typically, none of these account holders have a say in how the platforms develop, unless they’ve signed up for OpenChat, which has a different take on messaging app governance.
We’ve become accustomed to the model of tech giants offering free or low-cost services in exchange for insights gleaned from customer data. But the creators of OpenChat, which runs on the Internet Computer a decentralized platform to host code, data and processing (see below) offer their app as an open Internet service.
That means there’s no helper company tracking and selling your data, explained Hamish Peebles, co-founder of OpenChat and one of the project’s Rust developers, in an online introduction to OpenChat. Instead, the service is owned and operated by the service governance token holders. And in our case, we will distribute those tokens among users.
Changes to the Open Internet Service are made through proposals, which are made public, and users who wish to be involved in the decision-making process can vote on the proposed code or feature changes. Proposals that gain sufficient support are then adopted.
Additionally, to encourage others to get involved, contributions are rewarded with additional Governance Tokens.
Nothing happens behind closed doors, everything happens outdoors, and everyone is welcome to get involved, Peebles said, when he pitched the project in 2021. And for those who just want to use [OpenChat] like a regular chat app, that’s fine too.
How OpenChat works on ICP
The first step is to register, for example, by creating an Internet computer identity. Additionally, users have the ability to generate a passkey, a unique public/private key pair stored in the secure hardware chip found in smartphones and other messaging devices.
Messages carry an initial tick to indicate they have been received from OpenChat services, and a second one appears when the correspondence has been read by the recipient. Users can add emojis to their messages and upload attachments.
Media files such as images and videos are displayed directly in the message panel and other file types are marked as downloadable attachments. The OpenChat team recently launched a community feature and has a roadmap of technical updates advertised online.
Notifications and messages can be sent between browsers using peer-to-peer RTC Web connections brokered using the OpenChat service operating on Internet Computers, according to co-founder Matt Grogan, another software engineer working on the project. This allows, for example, extremely fast messaging when two users in a conversation are both online.
The search data is available in the protected user’s chat container on the Internet computer. This means that a user can query their entire chat history from any device.
Another feature of the service is the possibility for users to exchange so-called Cycles with each other. Cycles are similar to gas in Ethereum and are used to pay for Internet computer resources down to CPU instructions and bytes of memory, Grogan explains.
The basic unit of Cycles is in trillions, and this is a good story point to answer the question: What is the Internet computer?
What is Internet Computer?
To borrow the words of Dominic Williams, founder and chief scientist of DFINITY, the foundation responsible for creating federated computing resources, the goal of the Internet Computer project is to extend the Internet and make it far more powerful.
Rather than having services hosted by private companies in the cloud, the Internet computer aspires to provide a worldwide computing platform. And Williams calls the project the third major innovation in blockchain, following the invention of Bitcoin in 2009 that evokes the concept of digital gold, followed by the second milestone of smart contracts on Ethereum in 2015.
A decade ago, Williams saw how blockchain could do more than just enable cryptocurrencies and could be used to house computer code (smart contracts), data, and critical computations. Internet computer smart contracts can deliver user experience (UX) by processing HTTP commands, which sets the platform apart from other projects.
Also, recent developments mean that Internet computer nodes can communicate with Bitcoin nodes. This allows smart contracts on Internet computers to directly process Bitcoin on the Bitcoin blockchain without the need for bridging, Williams said earlier this year, summarizing the project’s achievements so far. The next step is integration with Ethereum.
The internet computer governance system is known as the network nervous system (NNS) and provides the means for an adaptive blockchain, where protocol updates can be introduced without having to hard fork.
Williams also points to other efficiency improvements. He believes that, ultimately, Internet Computers’ cryptographic cloud may be more efficient than centralized technology. The foundation has partnered with Carbon Crowd on a Proof of Green initiative. And it has been reported that a single Google search consumes four times more energy than a transaction on an Internet computer.
OpenChat, one of several Internet computer apps, is hosted in independent data centers running the Internet Computer Protocol (ICP). And some believe that ICP could be a potential replacement for the legacy IT stack, considering not only messaging applications, but other products as well.
Software is reimagined as interoperable computing units known as containers, comprising a package of WebAssembly byte code and associated memory. Parallelizable, containers work at the speed of the web and can be used to build various services, from websites to business systems and industrial platforms.
Developers write code in any WebAssembly-compilable language, such as Rust, and then upload the resulting containers to the Internet computer via ICP. The architecture is said to eliminate cloud services, database servers, web servers and the use of a content delivery network to speed up delivery.
Williams even goes so far as to say that the approach also eliminates firewalls since the containers operate within a tamper-proof environment. Supporting the system are node machines (organized as subnets) that host the containers, with everything authorized by a so-called network nervous system.
Looking at the Carbon Crowd Internet Computer dashboard we see that the majority of nodes are hosted in Switzerland (DFINITY is headquartered in Zurich), with a total of 26 data centers and 66 node providers worldwide.
Internet Computer architecture explained by Dominic Williams.
In OpenChat, containers are created when users sign up for the decentralized messaging service. They hold direct chats and list which groups a user belongs to. Containers also act like individual user wallets by linking to a ledger account.
The security of the system comes from the fact that the user of the container is the only person authorized to educate that container, which also benefits the right to vote. The “one user, one container” approach also makes the system highly scalable and avoids having to subdivide users as the platform grows.
OpenChat had a huge success earlier this year in raising ICP funds, with the Internet Computer community backing the project. And now it’s up to the developers to meet those expectations and deliver a decentralized messaging app to rival WhatsApp and other big names in chat services.
In practice, for the OpenChat team, this means going from tens of thousands of daily active users to hundreds of times more and beyond.
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