July 2021 status: Research on Forms and file import/export

This month we released two versions of CryptPad. 4.8.0 included some early work on INTEROFFICE format conversions. 4.9.0 addressed some early feedback on the Forms application as well as requests for a way to add links (URLs) to the Drive and to share them with contacts.

During both release cycles, since the launch of Forms last month, we have been conducting a lot of research. First about the use of the Forms application itself, and now also to inform work on INTEROFFICE.

Forms survey and interviews

The majority of more than 300 participants in our survey indicated that they use forms in a professional or research context

The first thing we did after launching the new Forms application was to use it to survey people on cryptpad.fr. We asked them about their use of online forms and recruited some volunteers for one-to-one interviews. These are still ongoing. Once they are complete and analyzed, we will use all of the findings to inform the next round of developments on Forms.

In the meantime, 4.9.0 included some minor improvements (e.g. randomizing ordered-list questions) and bug fixes based on early feedback. Unfortunately one of the bugs affected our own survey about file import/export (see next section). We found that setting an expiration date far enough into the future (above 23 days) caused the Submit button to disappear. So if you filled it out and weren’t able to submit, know that this is now fixed!

INTEROFFICE survey

We have started work on INTEROFFICE, our project about improving conversion between document formats in CryptPad (and in the browser in general). We already have some knowledge of requested conversions from a couple years worth of support tickets and feature requests. However after seeing the relatively high number of responses to the Forms survey (300+), we decided to conduct one for file import/export to get even more insight into what people use and request.

The File import/export survey will be open until the 8th of September. Please fill it out if you haven’t already, and now you can actually submit!

Other news

The work on INTEROFFICE also includes a series of business mentoring sessions as part of the DAPSI project. This month we started putting some of the advice received into practice by preparing a new project website that we hope to launch this fall. This will include a list of public instances to share the load of free users with cryptpad.fr. The project site will be separate from the flagship instance and it will offer a range of services to host your own instance, from one day installation help to fully managed service.

CryptPad's home page in Japanese

🇯🇵 CryptPad is now fully translated to Japanese. Big thanks to @suguru@mstdn.progressiv.dev for all the work!

This wraps up our news for the month. The coming cycle will be on the quiet side as the team takes turns taking much needed breaks.

June 2021 status: Forms and a call to instance administrators

This month we released two versions of CryptPad. 4.6 was a stability update addressing many minor issues while the team prepared for 4.7 and a major new feature: the new Forms application.

Say hello to Forms!

Preview of the new Form application

The Poll application in CryptPad was aimed at choosing a meeting date between a group of people. However it had some major shortcomings including “all or nothing” edit rights where participants could modify other people’s answers. Part of our Dialogue project proposal was to address these issues in a complete re-write of the application. Another aspect of the project aims to provide a new application for online surveys beyond simple polls.

The new Form application is an answer to both of these proposals. Polls are now one of 8 question types that can be added to an online form. Earlier in the project we spun out the reminders API element of forms into a full blown calendar app. With Forms we are merging a variety of use cases into one application. As we have indicated polls created with the old application remain available, but the creation of new ones is discouraged and all our future development efforts will be directed at Forms.

We released the first Beta version of forms with CryptPad 4.7.0 (on June 16th). There are many things we still want to improve, including:

  • Export of responses (e.g. to .CSV)
  • Better visualization of responses (e.g. with simple bar charts)
  • “Required” questions that would print an error if left empty
  • Notifications for form authors (e.g. when someone has responded)
  • A default “poll” template to make it easy to replicate the behaviour of the deprecated Poll app

We are gathering feedback on these and anything else that might be improved, using the Form app itself for a feedback survey that is open until July 12th. Please let us know of any comments on the application and what you would like to see improved, especially if you use online forms regularly. We really appreciate the time of nearly 100 people who have already sent in their comments. These will inform our work as we improve Forms this summer.

Details on how to use the Form application are available in the CryptPad User Guide.

A call to instance administrators

This month we sent out our first—and last—mass email to CryptPad instance administrators. This was a strange feeling for a team that spends most of its time working on ways to not know anything about its users. However we felt that version 4.7.0 was a good time to remind all admins to upgrade to latest version, and to ask for their consent for future communications as this is now managed directly from the admin panel.

First of all, how did we have their email? The configuration for a new instance includes providing an email contact for the administrator, and this is sent to the development team in the daily “ping” that lets us know how many declared CryptPad instances are active. This is all detailed in the configuration file that admins read when setting up their instance.

In both releases this month we have made improvements to the administration panel of CryptPad instances. More settings, such as the setup for the Support ticket mailbox, are now available from the panel rather than buried in configuration files. This also includes new settings for administrators to manage how they communicate (or not) with the development team.

The “mass email” was to encourage all administrators to upgrade to the latest 4.7.0 version in order to 1) benefit from all of the new features and security improvements made to CryptPad in the last few months (or years depending on the version they were on) and 2) manage further communication with the development team going forward. These communications will include security notifications and other things such as inclusion in a directory of open instances that we are working on setting up.


There is one last bit of news to wrap up: CryptPad is now included in Catalogue GouvTech, a software directory curated by the French state

The next month will be spent improving Forms and starting work on our INTEROFFICE project for DAPSI, working towards improved import/export and document conversions from within CryptPad.

May 2021 status: Communities wrap up and initial work on Forms

This month we released CryptPad 4.5.0, featuring the public debut of the Calendar application that was in beta since 4.4.0.

We reached a couple of milestones this month with over 100K registered users on cryptpad.fr, the end of the Communities project, and the start of Interoffice (DAPSI).

The calendar application shown in dark mode, now ready for public use!

Wrapping up the Communities project

Besides Calendars, CryptPad 4.5.0 also introduced restricted registrations for administrators who want to limit access to their instance.

On the documentation side, version 4.5.0 was in fact the first complete release with all three guides: User, Developer, and the new Administrator guide with instructions to install and maintain a CryptPad instance in production. Additionally, admins can now check that their installation is complete and well configured with an improved /checkup/ page.

The documentation GitHub repo remains open for feedback and/or contributions, and please see Weblate for translations of the User Guide (note that the developer and admin guides are in English only to keep translation of the user guide manageable).

Restricted registrations and the admin guide were the remaining two deliverables for the Communities project. For a summary of all features implemented for this project over the last few months, visit our public roadmap and filter with the “communities” tag.

While we are on the topic of wrapping up projects, Aaron took part in the 6th NGI TRUST Results Webinar and summarised our work for that project which we completed last February

Preparations for Forms

With some projects completed we can now turn another major milestone ahead: the Dialogue project and a new app: Forms. This will allow for the creation of surveys and questionnaires with use-cases ranging from finding a meeting date to conducting research in a secure and private manner. We are only in the initial stages of development but once completed the Forms app will gradually replace our current Polls and their many shortcomings (such as anyone being able to modify anyone else’s answers). If you use Polls currently, rest assured that the new app will provide the same functionality and more. The migration strategy remains to be finalised but existing Polls will remain available through the transition.

Coverage

Finally, the team took part in a couple of events this month. Ludovic Dubost was interviewed about INTEROFFICE, our upcoming project as part of the DAPSI grant.

CryptPad was featured as part the of the 3rd Workshop on Obfuscation, a fascinating online event running on open-source software. We presented the poster below in the exhibition space. Click for the PDF version.

The CryptPad poster presented at the workshop

April 2021 status: Calendars and a major new research project

This month we released CryptPad 4.4.0, and 4.5.0 is just around the corner. From a user perspective, these two releases bring some major new functionality in the form of a calendar app. We have also made some improvements for instance administrators by introducing instance-wide “broadcasts”. Finally there are some exciting things on the horizon as we have secured funding for a new research project.

Calendar

The new calendar app made its debut as a BETA preview in 4.4.0 and will be fully released in 4.5.0. This application is not directly funded by any of our current research projects, but rather makes the most out of the Dialogue project funded by NLNet/NGI Zero. For Dialogue, we have planned a full re-write of our current Polls app as well as a new Survey app (see our roadmap for more details). Both of these include a Reminders API to notify authors, for example when surveys are completed. Rather than limit this API to the upcoming apps, we took this as an opportunity to bring full calendar functionality to CryptPad. When it is released, the calendar app will include the following features:

  • Creation of calendars and events for CryptPad users and teams.
  • A typical calendar UI with month, week, and day views, drag and “resize” events, etc thanks to Toast UI.
  • Sharing calendars similarly to any other CryptPad document (access rights, sharing with contacts, via a link, etc).
  • Import/Export of .ics files for interoperability with other calendar apps.
  • Setting reminders for events, and receiving reminders as CryptPad notifications.

A beta preview of the calendar application

We are aware that some features are missing, such as recurring events. This is likely to generate some “feature request” messages from users that we will have no funded time to address. However our hope is that this initial feature set still brings enough benefits to CryptPad users on the whole to make it worthwhile.

Admin Broadcasts

Another part of the Dialogue project is to enable administrators to broadcast messages to all users on their instance. This is now possible as of version 4.4.0, with the following use-cases available in the Broadcast tab of the Administration panel:

  • Maintenance: to notify users of planned work that may disturb their use of the platform. Admins enter a start and end time and users receive notifications prior and during the planned maintenance.
  • Survey: to direct users to a survey via an external link. Admins enter the survey URL and users receive a notification and a survey link in the user menu. Users of cryptpad.fr can make use of this with our new survey to gather feedback on their usage.
  • Custom message: to send any message as a notification to all instance users. The message can be translated in all languages available on CryptPad, and will be seen by new users registering as long as it remains active.

Instance administrators are set to receive more support as we wrap up our Communities project. The last of our 3 documentation guides will cover instance installation and administration, and the only remaining feature of the project will allow admins to restrict registration on their instance.

While we are on the topic of administration, we have added one line to the example Nginx configuration for CryptPad.

1
+ add_header Permissions-Policy interest-cohort=();

This opts the instance out of Google’s FLoC network, we encourage all administrators to make this change.

INTEROFFICE for DAPSI

Finally, we are delighted to announce that we have secured €100K in funding from the NGI Data Portability & Services Incubator (DAPSI). Our project is called INTEROFFICE: INTER-operable Office File Formats Integrated with Client-side Encryption.

Our focus in this project will be to develop solutions for converting documents to/from popular office formats (.xlsx, .docx, .odt, .csv, etc). There are, of course, already solutions to this problem but none that operate solely in the browser which makes them unsuitable for CryptPad. Our experience with .xslx import/export in CryptPad Sheets has been useful to us in scoping out this space, and in confirming how lacking it currently is. Our goal with INTEROFFICE is to bring multi-format document conversions to the client, and to CryptPad, which we hope will:

  • Address a common barrier to the adoption of CryptPad (unsupported office formats).
  • Make it easier for users to retain local copies of their documents, integrate them in broader office workflows, or simply leave the platform with their data.
  • Make CryptPad more versatile and useful.
  • Make it easier for anyone else working in this space to do client-side document conversions since we plan to release this work as open-source modules.

We are excited to start work on this, and will use future monthly status posts to keep everyone updated on progress.

March 2021 status: Public roadmap and Spreadsheet updates

This month we released two versions of CryptPad, 4.2 and 4.3. Both improved CryptPad’s stability and performance:

  • Version 4.2 saw Offline mode extended to Teams, shared folders within teams, and files. Summary on Mastodon
  • Version 4.3 focused on improving “intensive” use cases, defined as 1200+ concurrent viewers on the same document, or 10+ editors all writing at once. Summary on Mastodon

In this status we’ll focus on long requested updates to Spreadsheets and on other activities of note for the month.

Spreadsheet updates

We made a couple of important updates to the Spreadsheets application this month. First we enabled OnlyOffice’s Strict collaboration mode, in addition to the Fast mode that was already integrated. In Fast mode, which remains the default, new edits are synchronized automatically between users as they are made. In Strict mode, users “lock” cells as they edit them and they have to manually save their changes in order for them to be sent to other users. The benefit of Strict mode is that it allows users to Undo their unsaved changes. The lack of undo in sheets has been a recurring point in user feedback. This goes some way towards addressing these requests, at least within the constraints of OnlyOffice collaboration. There are more details on how to switch between modes in our Spreadsheet documentation.

The other notable change is the update to OnlyOffice 6.2 in our 4.3 release. Aside from small user-interface polish, this update introduces pivot tables and improved graphs.

Open Tech Will Save Us

David presented CryptPad on the monthly Open Tech Will Save Us Matrix/Element meetup. Episode 11 was an art & design special with a great lineup:

Public Roadmap

We have been working to make more use of CryptPad itself to communicate about the project. The first major step in this direction is the introduction of our Public Roadmap Kanban where we detail all of the research projects we are currently working on. We summarise each project, funding amount, and associated features. Using the tags feature to filter one project gives an overview of its completion status. We find this very useful and hope you will find it informative.

The Public Roadmap Kanban

The next steps planned in this direction include a review of the onboarding document (the first document that is placed in new user’s CryptDrives), as well as a rewrite of the Privacy Policy for cryptpad.fr. This last one is nearly complete and will be published as a rich text document.

Cleaned up translations

We have started an effort to reduce the amount of work needed to translate CryptPad. As the development team we maintain English and French, and an active German speaking community maintains the German translation in near real-time for which we are very grateful. We want to encourage people to translate CryptPad in other languages, and to complete the many languages where the translation has been started but not completed.

Past efforts towards this have included moving the Frequently Asked Questions out of the platform to a dedicated page in the documentation. This month we have taken further steps with automated scripts to detect un-used translations. These were left over from previous versions of CryptPad and were sometimes hard to detect in the code. There is now less work for translators, and better assurance that no time will be wasted translating text that isn’t actually used in the product.

We are keeping this in mind for future versions and will do our best to facilitate the work of community translators as much as we can. If you are interested in translating CryptPad, please head over to our Weblate instance.

This wraps up our monthly status update. There is more to look forward to in April as we move to complete our Communities project, and exciting things on the horizon for CryptPad’s interoperability with office formats.