• Signal now offers stories in its secure messaging app. 
  • Social networks are best conducted privately, through messages, not Instagram or Facebook. 
  • The Signal app even lets you blur faces in photos.

Someone looking at social media on their phone while sitting in front of a laptop with a cup of coffee.

Signal is now doing stories. Yes, that Signal. And it might be the best thing to happen to you and your friends in quite a while. 

There are two kinds of social networks. The ones that call themselves social networks, even though they're really just publishing platforms (Twitter, Instagram) or a news and advertising platform (Facebook). And the ones that are actually social—WhatsApp in Europe and much of the rest of the world, or iMessage in the US. Signal's new Stories feature brings the former's advantages to the latter's more private space. 

“I think a lot of people are looking for more ‘realness’ and genuine connectivity with their social media,” technology marketing adviser Trevor Sookraj “Most social media users are seemingly still unaware of Signal from what I’ve seen, so once it becomes more well-known, it will be interesting to see how well it’s received.”

Stories

Stories has been the most ridiculously insidious of all tech ideas over the past year or two. It has leaped from places where stories made sense, like Snapchat and Instagram, to places where it certainly does not (like PayPal renaming transactions as stories—check the app).

The thing is, stories can be pretty great. You might have no interest in Instagram’s stories, or any idea how they work, but the idea of stories is sound. They let you gather images and/or video clips and arrange them into a mini slideshow. Signal developer and blogger Nina-Signal puts it best on the Signal Blog. “Stories let you share your life with a select group of people in a way that doesn’t result in a new message notification,” she says. 

Screenshots from the Signal App.

If you're old enough, you can think of stories as photo slideshows. 

Stories shows up as a new top-level tab in the app, and it is surprisingly full-featured for a first release. You can add videos and images, write on them, draw on them, edit images and—because this is Signal—easily blur faces. 

Then you can share with either one person, a specific group of people, or one or more of your "viewers." Viewers, in this case, appears to mean anyone in your contact list who is also on Signal. As you create more stories, you can easily share with existing contacts or groups, making this a good way to manage several social networks. This brings us to…

Social Signal

The problem with all social networks is that you cannot trust them. They exist in order to discover, analyze, and exploit your social graph. Signal is different.

It started as an ultra-private, ultra-secure one-to-one messaging platform and has grown from there through group chats and now to stories. This lets you and your friends share these little self-contained slideshows completely in private.

Not only are the stories themselves private, but so are the details of the chat participants because Signal keeps no records on its servers—unlike other messaging services, which may be encrypted, but the vendor can collect all associated metadata like who you sent the message to, when and if they read them, and where you all are at the time. 

Closeup on a phone screen showing the Signal icon with other social media messaging icons.

In short, this could be the perfect social network for people who usually shy away from social networks. If you already send images and videos to friends, via iMessage or WhatsApp, for example, this is a nice extension of that. 

But there's one downside. Signal depends on donations for funding. On the one hand, it would be ideal if it was funded by paid users. On the other hand, good luck getting anybody to pay for a social or messaging service. 

“In theory, every social app wants to be highly private, show no ads, and include no tracking code, but actually doing so is a luxury. As a famous saying goes, ‘if you are not paying for a product, you are the product,’ and that’s true for any social media,” technology journalist Ahmed N.Khan told Lifewire via email. “I personally believe that an ideal secure and totally private messaging app would be the one that charges the customers a monthly subscription fee to keep it private. Anything else, and it’s just a ruse or hollow slogan of privacy before they have to shut down,” says Khan.

As it stands, Signal is already the best messaging service if you have even a passing interest in your privacy. And now, it's also the best way to create real, intimate social networks with actual friends.

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