Looking back, looking forward

It was four years ago when I first started working full-time on CryptPad. At that point fewer than 10 people used the service on a weekly basis. Our development team was included in that list, often multiple times since we visited from both our office and our homes.

In those early days the platform was much more of a toy than a tool. There was no CryptDrive for storing documents, no login, markdown rendering, file upload, kanban, or whiteboard. It was the first of four years of a research project in which we were responsible for building a variety of collaborative editors. We mostly used CryptPad to prototype new technologies before committing to a much more complex integration into the larger project. Nobody insisted that our editors include the extra privacy features we designed, yet, among our small team we definitely hoped they would catch on.

We knew that as long as we produced viable editors and passed our project’s yearly reviews we didn’t have to worry about our jobs. It felt like we were supposed to take risks and we certainly did. The stakes were low. Sometimes if we wanted to test the platform together we’d just push our code to our production server. Occasionally we’d edit files directly on the server to cut out additional steps. We did our work as quickly as we could without having to worry about the consequences because nobody was relying on us for their safety.

It was an exciting time.

Two thousand and nineteen

Our situation today is drastically different. Privacy is very much in the public eye, although the news is more often bad than good. In any case, instead of ten weekly visitors CryptPad.fr now supports more than ten thousand.

Many of those that trust us to protect their information have no cause to use our service other than the very reasonable expectation that nobody will access their content without their consent. We’re pleased to be able to offer this peace of mind and we appreciate that we need this demographic and its expectations to become the norm if those with more extreme requirements are to blend in with the crowd. As the saying goes: privacy is a team sport.

As proud as I am of the project’s advancement since our humble beginnings, I still feel as though we’ve been playing this sport defensively in these last 365 days. We began the year with the knowledge that our stable funding was about to dry up and that our efforts to sustain the project via subscriptions and donations were not going to be enough. At the same time, increasingly more of our time was occupied just keeping up with regular issues: answering emails, fixing bugs, and managing a progressively more complex codebase. Meanwhile, we had to consider the effects of every change on those users whose physical safety occasionally depends on their privacy.

Fortunately for us and our community we received an enormous amount of support from Europe’s Next Generation Internet initiative, both in terms of publicity through the presentation of an NGI award and monetary contributions through the NLnet PET grant program. We’ve still had to cope with an endless stream of feature requests and correspondences, but the funding definitely addressed our existential worries for a time.

In the course of our CryptPad Teams project we struggled to balance all the responsibilities of our position and as a result it’s taken somewhat longer to complete the project than we planned. I now have a better appreciation of how much easier a project can appear in its planning compared to its execution. The opportunity to go slightly over budget on a small project has been a welcome learning experience that I hope not to repeat.

Looking forward

At this stage in our project it isn’t enough for our team to try to keep up with tickets on our issue tracker. Reactionary decisions won’t make our project sustainable, nor will they effectively serve the community that has helped us get this far. That’s why in 2020 we’re going to focus on project governance and providing a cohesive vision with the hope of getting more of our stakeholders directly involved in its success.

I spent a large part of this holiday season making small changes to make it easier to correctly configure a CryptPad instance. Starting in January we’re going to continue this effort to support the 300 independent instance administrators with a radical overhaul of our documentation, along with simplified guides for users and more detailed guides for contributors.

Our immediate roadmap will also feature further development of our admin panel to ensure that community instances can be governed by team members lacking advanced technological expertise. Beyond that we’re looking forward to some big improvements to the tools that are most essential to effectively coordinate distributed groups of people, namely our rich text, spreadsheet, and kanban apps.

There’s still a lot of work we can do to improve the social integrations first proposed in our Teams project. We’ll continue to streamline the process of onboarding new team members and add in some even more advanced controls for very sensitive data.

I’ve been hesitant to commit to development time that doesn’t yet have a source of funding but in the coming year I hope to be able to deliver an improved experience for users of mobile and touch-enabled devices.

How you can help

Privacy should not be a luxury item. CryptPad has been built largely with public money and we’re committed to continuing its development as a public good. Continued monetary contributions via donations enable us to offer our services to users regardless of whether they can contribute themselves.

Along with subscriptions to our platform, our independent revenue helps to finance all the minor tasks that don’t easily fit into the narrative of a successful grant proposal. Every cent of these revenue streams go back into development and we do our best to get the most value out of your contributions.

There are, of course, many other ways you can contribute. Any publicity you can generate will free us to spend less time marketing and more time improving the software and its documentation. Sharing our messages on social media with your followers helps a lot, so please follow us on the Fediverse and Twitter. We especially appreciate personal messagest that tell the world exactly what it is you love about CryptPad.

We’re also happy to support and publicize offline events promoting the project. If you’re comfortable speaking in public and would like to represent us in your community feel free to contact us about and we’ll see how we can help.

As we produce more documentation we’ll also need help reviewing it and keeping it up to date. Every little bit helps, whether it’s a page or a line of documentation corrected. Finally, we welcome any efforts to translate CryptPad into a new language or to help those already working on our existing translations.

Wishes for 2020

I made a deliberate choice in naming the most recent cycle of releases after extinct animals. We are living through a major extinction event and growing list of crises. More than ever we need a hopeful vision of the future.

I’m personally grateful for the opportunity to offer tools to support these endeavors.

Embrace private spaces.
Connect with those around you.
Organize and build a better future together.

See you in 2020!