Today ist May, 1st. In about two weeks on May, 15th WhatsApp will put their changed Terms of Service into action and when you don’t accept their rules you won’t be able to use WhatsApp any longer.
Early this year there was already a strong movement away from WhatsApp towards other solutions. Mainly to Signal, but also some other services like the Fediverse gained some new users. And also XMPP got their fair share of new users.
So, what to do about the WhatsApp ToS change then? Shall we go all to Signal? Surely not. Signal is another vendor lock-in silo. It’s centralistic and recent development plans want to implement some crypto payment system. Even Bruce Schneier thinks that this is a bad idea.
Other alternatives often named include Matrix/Element or XMPP. Today, Don di Dislessia in the (german) Fediverse asked about power consumption of the Fediverse incl. Matrix and XMPP and how much renewable energy is being used. Of course there is no easy answer to this question, but I tried my best – at least for my own server.
Here are my findings and conclusions…
Currently my server in the colocation is using about 93W in average with 6c Xeon E5-2630L, 128 GB RAM, 4x 2 TB WD Red + 1 Samsung 960pro NVMe. The server is 7 years old. When I started with that server the power consumption was about 75W, but back then there were far less users on the server. So, 20W more over the past year…
I’m running my Friendica node on Nerdica.net since 2013. Over the years it became one of the largest Friendica servers in the Fediverse, for some time it was the largest one. It has currently like 700 total users and 180 monthly active users. My Mastodon instance on Nerdculture.de has about 1000 total users and about 300 monthly active users.
Since last year I also run a Matrix-Synapse server. Although I invited my family I’m in fact the only active user on that server and have joined some channels.
My XMPP server is even older than my Friendica node. For long time I had like maybe 20 users. Now I setup a new website and added some domains like hookipa.net and xmpp.social the user count increased and currently I have like 130 users on those two domains and maybe like 50 monthly active users. Also note that all my Friendica and Mastodon users can use XMPP with their accounts, but won’t be counted the same way as on “native” users on ejabberd, because the auth backend is different.
So, let’s assume I do have like 2000 total users and 500 monthly active users.
CPU, Database Sizes and Disk I/O
Let’s have a look about how many resources are being used by those users.
- Friendica (MariaDB): 31 GB for 700 users
- Mastodon (PostgreSQL): 15 GB for 1000 users
- Matrix-Synapse (PostgreSQL): 5 GB for 1 user
- XMPP (PostgreSQL): 0.4 GB for 200 users
CPU times according to xentop:
- Webserver VM (Matrix, Friendica & Mastodon): 13410130 s / 130%
- XMPP VM: 944275 s / 5.4%
Friendica does use the largest database and causes most disk I/O on NVMe, but it’s difficult to differentiate between the load between the web apps on the webserver. So, let’s have a quick look on an simple metric:
Number of lines in webserver logfile:
- Friendica: 11575 lines
- Matrix: 8174 lines
- Mastodon: 3212 lines
These metrics correlate to some degree with the database I/O load, at least for Friendica. If you take into account the number of users, things look quite different.
Overall, and my personal impression, is that Matrix is really bad in regards of resource usage. Given that I’m the only active user it uses exceptionally many resources. When you also consider that Matrix is using a distributed database for its chat rooms, you can assume that the resource usage is multiplied across the network, making things even worse.
Friendica is using a large database and many disk accesses, but has a fairly large user base, so it seems ok, but of course should be improved.
Mastodon seems to be quite good, considering the database size, the number of log lines and the user count.
XMPP turns out to be the most efficient contestant in this comparison: it uses much less CPU cycles and database disk I/O.
Of course, Mastdon/Friendica are different services than XMPP or Matrix. So, coming back to the initial question about alternatives to WhatsApp, the answer for me is: you should prefer XMPP over Matrix alone for reasons of saving resources and thus reducing power consumption. Less power consumption also means a smaller ecological footprint and fewer CO2 emissions for your communication with your family and friends.
XMPP is surely not the perfect replacement for WhatsApp, but I think it is the best thing to recommend. As said above, I don’t think that Signal is an viable option. It’s just another proprierary silo with all the problems that come with it. Matrix is a resource hog and not a messenger but a MS Teams replacement. Element as the main Matrix client is laggy and not multi-account/multi-server capable. Other Matrix clients do support multiple accounts but are not as feature-complete as Element. In the end the Matrix ecosystem will suffer from the same issues as XMPP did already a decade ago. But XMPP has learned to deal with it.
Also XMPP is proceeding fast in the last years and it has solved many problems many people are still complaining about. Sure, there still some open issues. The situation on IOS is still not as good as on Android with Conversations, but it is fairly close to it.
There are many efforts to improve XMPP. There is Quicksy IM, which is a service that will use your phone number as Jabber ID/JID and is thus comparable to Signal which uses phone numbers as well as unique identifier. But Quicksy is compatible with XMPP standards. Snikket is another new XMPP ecosystem aiming at smaller groups hosting their own server by simply installing a Docker container and setup some basic SRV records in the DNS. Or there is Mailcow, a Docker based mailserver setup that added XMPP server in their setup as well, so you can have the same mail and XMPP address. Snikket even got EU based funding for implementing XMPP Account Portability which also will improve the decentralization even further. Additionally XMPP helps vaccination in Canada and USA with vaxbot by Monal.
Be smart and use ecofriendly infrastructure.