Skiff launches Skiff Mail to handle Gmail with encryption

Boat He’s spent the past two years developing a privacy-focused, collaborative document editing platform that you can succinctly describe as “Encrypted Google Docs”. Now, it’s coming to Gmail. The company launched an email service called Skiff Mail that aims to be well-encrypted Gmail — and ultimately much more than that.

Ultimately, Skiff co-founder and CEO Andrew Milich says Skiff wants to create a complete workspace, something as comprehensive and broad as Microsoft 365 or Google Workspace. But the only way to do that is with an email solution, which is, in many ways, the core of both platforms. “It’s the most private group of our lives, you know?” Milic says. In an effort to keep people’s most important information safe – which includes doctors’ notes, confirmation numbers, work emails, family conversations and everything else – he says the email seemed like a “logical and crucial next step”.

Email is also a potential growth hack for Skiff. “It’s really hard to walk away from the service you’re using today when it’s your main identity,” Milic says, “the main layer of communication, the way you live on the Internet, outside of that.” In other words, for every user who switches to Skiff Mail instead of Gmail, it’s someone else who’s just a click away from other Skiff products. Currently, Skiff is free for personal use and earns money with business subscriptions; Milich didn’t say what Skiff’s plans are for email but said advanced features will likely be pushed in the future.

Instead of reinventing the wheel and coming up with some Hello new level model As for how email works, Skiff started out fairly simple. The app, which works on the web, Android, and iOS, now looks like Gmail minus all the colors and UI cruft. It’s almost entirely text, with folders on the left and a reading view of your current message on the right. In other words, it’s an email app – it’s just a very simple app. At the moment, there is no support for custom domains. You can’t check your Gmail in Skiff, and there isn’t much in the way of automation or organization tools. Simplicity is mostly done by design, Milic says: “We weren’t very ambitious and say, like, ‘We’re going to reinvent email with a new set of inboxes, a new set of filter rules, a new set of templates.'” The goal instead was to make all the important things – text editing, searching, managing attachments – work really well.

Skiff’s email client is pretty basic at the moment, but that’s by design.
Photo: Skiff

This does not mean that there is no ambition for Skiff Mail. Milich’s entire theory is that the “privacy first” strategy only works if people really like to use the apps. Lots of apps and services focused on privacy and security practically scream their values ​​in your face. The apps are hard to use, they force you to manage more systems or click a thousand warning messages, or they seem to have been created by coding designers rather than designers. (Because they usually were!) A Skiff consultant told me that many of these products sound more like advocacy campaigns than competitive products. Skiff tries to live by all these same values: the company often publishes its research, and much of its code is open source – but in a much more user-friendly package.

Make Milesh talk for long enough, and he’ll start drifting off into more playful territory. One of Skiff’s recent projects has been to integrate its document system with the IPFS protocol, a decentralized network layer that users can now choose to use to store their data. Milich also has thoughts on bringing Skiff Mail to the Web3 community. It imagines users with .ETH domain names using those addresses for fully encrypted and decentralized messaging, for example, or perhaps enabling wallet-to-wallet communication via MetaMask integration. “Cryptography and public/private keys have a lot to do with what identity means in Skiff, and it’s also what we see identity become in Web 3,” Milic says.

There is mounting evidence that “Gmail but private” is a compelling proposition for many. Proton, the manufacturer of ProtonMail, said last year that it had done so More than 50 million usersplatforms such as Fastmail and Librem Mail continue to grow as well. Gmail remains the behemoth in the market, it’s virtually the only major email company, but those looking for something different have more options than ever.

However, even if Skiff could figure out how to build the largest and most private email system ever, getting people to switch email providers is a nearly impossible task. The deadlock is massive. Switching email accounts is like changing phone numbers or credit cards, the kind of thing you only do when absolutely necessary. That’s why most companies don’t even try to deal with Gmail. Even the majority of email apps out there are mostly front-ends on Gmail, not a wholesale rethink of the system. Milic says Scaife has some ideas about how to facilitate the transition but acknowledges that it is a huge hurdle.

One of the tricky things about the idea of ​​”private email” is that, by design, no one can control email. It would be easy for Skiff to create an encrypted email platform if it was just about Skiff users sending email to other Skiff users, but… that’s not how email works. Instead, the team tried to create a tool that increases and decreases the scope of security. When Skiff users send email to other Skiff users, everything is encrypted by default and easy for senders to revoke or verify, but when you send email outside the ecosystem, the SMTP protocols still work.

Milich hopes that as more providers embrace privacy, they will build tools to match the entire ecosystem, and thus improve it. But he thinks that, for now, if the least Skiff can do is say “We’ll keep your most important communications safe, even from us,” then that counts for something.

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