Update on Heml.is

A while back we started thinking about what to do with the issues that the Snowden leaks revealed to the world. My friends, Linus and Leif, are two of the best people I know. We all have our hearts in the right place and we all have skills and ideas that can be put into good use.

We decided to put our minds and skills together and try to make an encrypted messaging app. We thought about the issues, the things noone seemed to be trying to solve. The tech community had solutions – but only focused on the people who understood the problems. The non-tech communities didn’t care. A messenger that catered to the common users but still understood the political issues was a thing we all felt was missing. We started a crowd-funding campaign, both to see if there was an interest but also to raise enough money to actually get time to do this. We were thinking we might get about 50.000 USD in a few months. In about 48 hours we had three times that money, and we decided that we needed to stop asking for money, it was more than we knew what to do with.

So we had about 130.000 USD after all fees was paid. And then we lost some more (like 30.000USD) because of a bitcoin wallet that got stolen from our bitcoin supplier. But still, a lot of money. We decided to hire some people to help us out with the things we are not experts in. The process was slow and hit with lots of realizations of that certain things would not work. The ideas were too complex and sometimes just too expensive. We had a lot of money, but far away the same amount (we’re talking millions or billions) that our competitors had access to. Just think – verification by SMS for all of the potential users would be millions of dollars even at a few cents per SMS. And if we didn’t verify by SMS it would be hard to invite users and bootstrap the usage. It’s a lot of these things that we didn’t understand until quite far in to the process.

In the middle of it all one of our team members got a kid and had to focus on that of course. I personally had other issues as I got kidnapped by the swedish government and locked up for my work with another project – The Pirate Bay. In the middle of the kidnapping, my father died. I had no way of working on anything, and I’ve had a hard time with how I personally need to handle things. This project – as well as the other projects I’m involved in – was hit massively by my absence. And they still are, since I have not been able to get 100% on my feet yet. I’m getting there but just as with other things, it takes a lot of time.

So, we had been working on this project for a long time with all of the set backs we had. And a few weeks back we started talking. What are our results? We have spent the money (and if we paid for all the work and time that we and other people put in it would have been many times more). We have a decent app for IOS and Android. But it’s still not finished and there are other things that are not software related that’s missing and will take lots of more time. And would require much more money both for time but also for legal, hardware, structures etc.

But the bad thing – or rather good if one tries to stay positive – is that our competitors have been good at fixing issues. And we have lots of new ones. They’ve had more progress and financial support so they could speed up their process to the level that they’re now really good. Better than our messaging app could become right now. Ok, they’re missing on features but they have the ability and cash to resolve those issues. And our goal was always to ensure that the everyday users would be protected. Signal and other apps are doing that quite well, with good UI and UX compared to what was the case when we started.

We decided that we could go two ways. We could ask for more money (a lot), either from the community or some investors. Or we could close down. Since we already got money from the community with way too little to show back from the expectations that felt wrong. And we don’t think that it would be a good idea to ask investors for money since we’d lose control over the project. So in the end, closing it down felt like the least bad thing to do.

I know a lot of people will be upset. But timing is key, and there’s no point in spending more time just because we feel we dropped the ball. Life gave us curveballs and we were probably way too naive in entering this project. I don’t regret it though, but right now it’s stressing me (and the other guys) quite a bit, because we really don’t want to disappoint the community. But then again, we also wouldn’t really contribute. And we still lack funds if we decide to go ahead. So it’s a catch 22. We tried looking for someone to merge our project with, but didn’t really find anyone. And we’re not sure what to do with the things we’ve created – part of it might be useful for someone, other things (that took a lot of time to create) are things we realized would not work in larger scales.

So I’m sorry that we’re closing down, but it’s the only reasonable thing to do. Sometimes it’s better to just take the bull by the horns than to try to ignore it. And move on to the next thing and try to fix that. I’m personally trying to influence people and politicians to make sure we don’t need systems like Heml.is. We should be protected by the governments instead of trying to protect ourselves from them. It’s a multi-angle attack needed, technology, political work and transparency.


#1 Sometimes you understand | Hemlis blog on 04.22.15 at 14:36

[…] Read Peters own thoughts » […]

#2 Linda van der Pal on 04.22.15 at 14:43

I’m sorry that Hemlis won’t come to be. But I think it was a very brave and wise decision to admit that it wouldn’t be going anywhere and to quit now.

#3 Alice on 04.22.15 at 14:48

First off I’m really sorry to hear about all the problems you have had and I hope that you personally will be back on your feet soon. It’s always disappointing when an idea like this doesn’t come to fruition but at least you tried and part of the process of building a system of communicating and living that we can all accept is exploring every avenue and by trial and error working out what is viable and what isn’t.

Wishing you all the best for the future,

Alice. London, England.

#4 Nick on 04.22.15 at 14:55

Hello Peter. It’s sad to hear about project closing… but… we all donated to yours project and we hoped to have cool privat messendger.
If you lost any hope to complete this project – please, make everithing you have done opensource. Let other people to continue your work.
Keep the movement moving.

#5 Coral on 04.22.15 at 14:57

It’s ok. Shit happens.
My only final wish about this project is that you release the source on GitHub. Who knows, your base might attract the interest of the community.

#6 Raghav on 04.22.15 at 15:05

Make the project available to community.I am sure everyone would accept it and with the help of whole community we can make Hemlis a reality. Everyone who invested or not wants it.
Let the community help you. That will surely make it a success and I am sure it will benefit you too. No one will mind investing a little more if it comes alive. And to bring it to mass market is not so difficult as everyone of us can share it. My friends are also eagerly waiting for it.
Come on man, dont stop now. Take the help of community, we are ready to help. Bring it alive. We want to see Hemlis on our phones.

#7 André on 04.22.15 at 15:06

Opensource all the code? Let us build something 🙂

#8 Dannluciano on 04.22.15 at 15:14

Please release your work.
Maybe someone has no interest in continuing.
Thanks for the hard work.

#9 Jan on 04.22.15 at 15:33

Sorry to hear. What about the money from the donations? All gone?

#10 johnson on 04.22.15 at 15:34

very disappointing. wait two years getting noting back. not even a beta test. screw you.

#11 Mikael Nordfeldth on 04.22.15 at 15:36

Or maybe you could just have avoided the centralized structure in the first place, giving more security and confidence to end users and also removing lots of the costs involved in running and administrating any kind of infrastructure since it could be used on the XMPP network.

Or maybe you could’ve just skipped the Apple iOS platform entirely, which in itself is just a bunch of costs. It’s per Apple’s closed platform design impossible to produce the kind of software you wanted to do under iOS anyway. ChatSecure has written about it for example: https://chatsecure.org/faq/#q-why-cant-chatsecure-for-iphone-stay-connected-in-the-background

But I guess you never cared nor bothered to actually listen to arguments from the community. Just happy faces and Apple logos.

#12 Sicherer Messenger: Projekt Hemlis ist tot on 04.22.15 at 15:48

[…] Bekanntmachung, Blogpost von Peter Sunde, danke an […]

#13 tom on 04.22.15 at 15:49

Very sad to hear that the project was closed down, for what reason ever.

#14 peter on 04.22.15 at 16:02

Thanks for all the comments (even the really bad ones – I had to delete some that was kind of just offensive to everyone). We’ll release the usable parts of the code as free software with the most free license we can. It belongs to the community (and the community paid for it). The beta testers seems to like the UI/UX and so on, so hopefully that will be re-used in other projects.

#15 Amir on 04.22.15 at 16:14

This may be the saddest thing I read in a long time. I’m a very active person online (more than 10 hours/day) and have many friends in many countries that I communicate with on daily basis. Aside from Email, due to privacy concerns, I avoided any messaging platform (whether on FB, TW, Whatsapp, Viber, Skype, and any other platform) since 2003. I was eagerly waiting for the moment to introduce Hemlis to all my friends who have been complaining about my presence in online messaging platforms for more than a decade!
Some of the issues you raised for the closure are very valid while I believe this project was more than just a secure messaging app. Its about an extremely respectable group of people (with spectacular track record on creating a better, open and free internet for everybody on this planet) start to work another project for the same better internet for all idea.
I’m absolutely sure you all have thought about these points for a long time and all I want to say is even though I’m extremely disappointed, I will be the first one to support you on any other project that you guys are a part of (I really hope there is one soon) and I’m sure you did your best to prevent this from happening.
Good luck to all of you:)

#16 peter on 04.22.15 at 16:18

Mikael: we’d love to avoid centralisation, but it was not feasible if the de-centralised structure included new problems: sociograms. We wanted to avoid those and could do that with a centralised “darknet” overlay structure. Less bad than current situation. It’s not only about what people communicate about, but also between whom communication is going on.

Avoiding the biggest platforms in the world also means protecting fewer people. That’s excluding design and we’re not into that. We face reality here, and most people are unfortunately on closed platforms. Realism makes it impossible to ignore and work with. Otherwise, valid points taken.

#17 Magnus on 04.22.15 at 16:27

No hard feelings osv. Det här projektet har kört med öppnare kort än många andra jag stött.

Men, kan ni rekommendera någon befintlig app som i stort gör det ni eftersträvade?

#18 Ger on 04.22.15 at 16:53

Sadder and wiser, after waiting such a long time. Understand your decision. Advice for your own choice of alternative(s)…?

#19 John on 04.22.15 at 17:33

As a backer I am very sad. However I think that since the project is dead, Hemlis’ source code should be released to the public as a token of all the hard work you all put into making this platform. Moreover, by showing what was achieved through your hardship, it will shield you from people that will undoubtedly try to cast a shadow over this work by either doubting any code was ever produced or that it was a scam from the start.

#20 Wilfried on 04.22.15 at 17:37

Very sad to read this message, although as I was already afraid hemlis was losing its momentum I still hoped it would prove itself someday.
A sad but very brave decision, my sincere respect!

#21 J. on 04.22.15 at 17:52

Hej Peter!

Seems like valid reasons to close the project. Hope this will leave you some space and time to breathe. I think you play a role as a catalysor and easily end up aggregating energy and kicking off more projects than what is realistic to finish. Some might say that would be irresponsible, bad planning, disrespectful to the community etc, but truth is, without people beeing entuhsiastic, unrealistic, sparking and kicking ass really not much interesting would happen. ofcourse catalysors need support of others to realize and make stuff actually work out in the end, but thats what teams are for… 🙂

Thanks for your good work. I whish you some good rest, inspiring meetings and look forward to the next stunt of yours… 😀

#22 Jonatan on 04.22.15 at 18:25

Looking forward to hear about your next project (big or small), whenever you’re ready for it!

#23 unkr3ativ on 04.22.15 at 18:27

Because of people like you, there will be fewer people funding stuff. I hope you are happy.

#24 Vanderpoopen on 04.22.15 at 18:41

I’ve backed almost 100 crowd-funding projects and this is the first that flopped – 1% failure is pretty good. Sad to hear about the project result but I hope you can release the as-is code to the community so we can take it onwards.

#25 jype on 04.22.15 at 20:59

Thanks for trying. It’s more than most people do.

#26 Denis on 04.22.15 at 21:46

I’m very dissapointed how you’ve run the project. Your communication skills are terrible. We never new the real status of the project and you’ve never asked for help. Many people offered help.

Sorry, but you’ve failed! badly!
Open source the code, maybe someone will make sense out of all this.

#27 Brandon on 04.22.15 at 22:08

Welp, thanks to this I’m never backing an emerging technology with my hard-earned money again. Kim Dotcom can somehow create MegaChat while facing charges and going to court all the time, and doesn’t charge the end user a dime.

#28 Jason Grossman on 04.23.15 at 00:31

Thank you, not just for your work on the Hemlis applications, but also for your many contributions to public understanding of communication privacy, and also for all your broader contributions to political debate.

#29 Mohammed on 04.23.15 at 02:21

I’m one of the people who contributed money to this project. I’m so sad to know that this project is no more. However, I can only imagine what kind of difficulties you guys had to go through. I’m very thankful for your efforts and looking forward to help with your next project. Thank you guys for all the trouble you go through for the internet community around the world. keep it up .

#30 Peter Sundes meddelande-tjänst Hemlis skrotas - Array.se on 04.23.15 at 04:46

[…] Källa: Peter Sunde […]

#31 Gregor on 04.23.15 at 07:51

Oh man! I was really hoping for something great like Hemlis.. I have already told many. But I respect and support your decision.

#32 Nador-Sin on 04.23.15 at 09:24

Well i am backer … now to hear that you close the project is not very satisfying which means i threw money to the trash can. Im very sry for what happened to you but on the other hand i am quite angry. I think you already knew much earlier that you won’t be able to accomplish the task … To keep the community waiting on purpose is not very nice. You could had been open to us execpt of letting the community wait on facebook and other plattforms. Me and my community in germany were very eager and waited for this nice project to be finished since we all supported you with money. So the least thing you can do is to publish the apk for android and let ppl use whats already there.