When the recent Twitter fiasco started, I created a chatroom with a few friends, so we could watch it burn together. We've been sharing screenshots, links, commentary - it's been a lot of fun. Even better now that Reddit has joined!
But besides a few giggles, I wondered whether I could use the chatroom itself as an archive. If I wanted to go back to it, say, in two years and have a few laughs at Elon's expense again, could I?
It doesn't really seem feasible within Whatapp itself. It does keep your entire history, yes - at least as far as text is concerned. But it's not easy to export, and their export feature is very limited - you can either have all the text from a chat, or only the latest bit of text with a few attachments.
Matrix doesn't have these limitations, but of course, none of my friends actually use Matrix.
Not a problem! I've been bridging all the chats I actually use - mostly WhatsApp, with a bit of Signal and FB Messenger - into Matrix. I've done it ever since I first tried it, which the blog tells me was way over 3 years ago.
ℹ If you need a refresher: Matrix is a federated chat network, and I host my own server. (I'm @zblesk:zble.sk). And "bridges" are a thing that connect other chat services to Matrix. For example - a WhatsApp bridge pretends to be a WhatsApp client, accepts incoming messages, sends them to Matrix - and posts my replies to WhatsApp.
This is completely transparent to the people I chat with, so they're not inconvenienced - while allowing me to have all the chats in a single client. Yay for adversarial interoperability!
So while the "Twitter is falling, make a wish!" chatroom is on WhatsApp, I've been using it from Matrix the whole time. Today, I tried the "export" feature of the Element client, and voilà - it just worked. I had the option of exporting as JSON, plaintext, or HTML; and with or without attachments. Selecting HTML + attachments did exactly what I needed it to: gave me a bunch of files I can just open on my computer, and immediately have a formatted webpage with the entire chat history available, with inline images.
I've also tried it on chat history with a friend, going back 6 years - i.e. way before I ever found Matrix. Since I had the bridge copy the history of the chat when I first started it, I got an export of the entire thing. I've spent many hours trying to force WhatsApp to give me the same thing but failed.
So this experiment is a success. It enables me to set up chatrooms with the intent of using them as collaborative archivation spaces, or explorations of a topic, et cetera. Not all chats need to be archived - but it's nice to have the option when I want to.