Ronit Ray


Signal: Down, but Not Out

2021-01-16 • 2-minute read

Signal services were down at night (IST) on Friday, 15th January, 2021.

As of the time this article goes up, services remain suspended. People who have moved their entire, or a sizable portion of their networks over recently are grasping at ways to contact each other again, some falling back to greener pastures like WhatsApp, and others looking for alternatives already.

I'm not saying this is acceptable. I understand the criticality that often comes with instant messaging, and the problems that arise if networks suddenly collapse on you. It may well be a matter of life and death in some hopefully rare but unfortunate cases. The situation is far from ideal, but the optimist in me still believes.

Signal's user base grew almost 4x over just a few days this week, and traffic on the app likely grew by an order of magnitude more. Growing pains are expected when dealing with problems on this scale, and I absolutely believe things will be looking up soon again. If it is a scaling issue, it may well need to be fixed just this once. As the curve of new users onboarding themselves as well as the traffic flattens (or gets less steep) over time, such issues will be fewer and further apart.

It is worth remembering that even services that are backed by some of the largest corporations in the world like WhatsApp have been down similarly less than a year ago, and have experienced scaling issues during the pandemic as more people find themselves online than ever before. This too, I must believe, shall pass.

This is not to say that you shouldn't keep both eyes open at all times. See how things go, and if it seems like the service is unable to keep up even after you've given it enough chances in the near or distant future, you absolutely should consider picking alternatives, perhaps even decentralized services like XMPP or Matrix that are less likely to suffer from such issues.

I must remind anyone reading this that Signal is not run by bloodthirsty corporations, and it does not seek to make products of its users. Signal runs on the time and effort every volunteer puts in, and the support of patrons and donors. If there is one thing you do in response to this outage, please let it be a gesture of support.

This is not the time to jump back to what feels safe and familiar. We must hold strong for a better tomorrow.


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