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Moving my Matrix identity to Element One

15 December 2021 (4 minute read)

🏷️ 100daystooffload 🏷️ technology 🏷️ selfhost

💯 100 Days to Offload

This article is one of a series of posts I have written for the 100 Days to Offload challenge. Disclaimer: The challenge focuses on writing frequency rather than quality, and so posts may not always be fully planned out!

View other posts in this series.

For as long as I’ve been using Matrix I’ve hosted my own homeserver on my own VPS and at my own domain.

Why I chose to move

I previously wrote about how I self-host my homeserver with the help of the Synapse project. Although this set-up is quite straight forward, it’s an extra system to maintain with all of the associated overheads.

One of the reasons I don’t host my own mail server is that I fear missed messages and silent bounces. I trust dedicated mail providers (particularly Fastmail) more than myself in providing a robust enough service to ensure things get through. Equally, if I am telling other people my Matrix handle, then I want to make sure that messages they send (and those that I send) actually get delivered without any problems.

The Matrix project, and Element too, are moving at such a pace that my own setup quickly feels old-fashioned. They also introduce new features for which I would need to take time learning about and setting-up in a robust way.

So, last week, I made the decision to move my primary Matrix identity over to the Element One service. I pay $5 a month for their basic plan.

The migration process

Moving was relatively simple. I just created a new account on the Element One website and, once in, I re-joined the rooms I had previously been in on my old server. I also logged-into my new account on the Element One homeserver in my Element apps.

I then messaged those people that I talk to frequently to let them know my new username. Unlike Mastodon, there is no way to seamlessly transfer and redirect conversations between homeservers, so this was a bit of a manual job (though not too time-consuming).

I am keeping my old homeserver up for a few weeks in case any new messages come through, but will eventually archive the messages and shut this down.

My thoughts so far

I’m really enjoying the fact that I don’t need to worry about the ongoing maintenance of my personal homeserver, and the knowledge that I can trust Element in that they know what they’re doing.

The bridges that come with Element One - for Telegram, Whatsapp, and Signal - are fantastic. They work seamlessly; I get read receipts, can reply to messages, and see when people are typing. Contact profile information (such as avatar images) get pulled through too with no problems.

This means I can chat to people and groups on Matrix, Telegram, and Whatsapp all from one place, which is super convenient! Sure - the chats are no longer end-to-end encrypted (yet), but I rarely use secure chats on Telegram anyway and Whatsapp’s claims have always been spurious.

On the flip-side, Element One restricts you to their own domain name for their homeserver. As such, my new handle is @wilw:one.ems.host, and I’ve lost the “vanity” associated with using my own domain. This also means that I need to go through the migration process again if I ever move away from Element.

EMS (Element Matrix Services) does offer the ability to bring your own domain, but this service is aimed more at groups or businesses, since the smallest plan comes with a minimum of 5 users at $3 each. For now, this is overkill for just me.

This is the only down-side I notice at the moment, and it isn’t a big killer for me since most of my activity is room-based anyway.

Conclusion

In general, I’m glad to have made the move. Things work smoothly, I get to use modern Matrix features, and I trust the robustness and security of the professionally-hosted platform.

I’m not emotionally tied to Element One, and am always interested to hear about other Matrix homeservers and communities that may be more of a fit for me. However, for now, it’s a great alternative to self-hosting.

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