The State of E-mail
Mailpile is written by a small team of open source veterans and privacy advocates, based in Reykjavík, Iceland. We believe the world needs a better free software web-mail solution.Edward Snowden's recent leaks were a wake-up call, confirming what many had long suspected, that the troves of e-mail stored on our behalf by Google, Microsoft and others are irresistable targets for those who would like to invade our privacy, be they criminals or overzealous government organizations like the NSA.
These companies base their businesses on controlling our data and communications and are never going to do the one thing that would protect our mail from the snoops: encrypt it. So, if we want to take control of our e-mail, if we want privacy and encryption, we have to do it ourselves.
Mailpile is free software, a web-mail program that you run on your own computer, so your data stays under your control. Because it is free software (a.k.a. open source), you can look under the hood and see how it works, or even modify it to make it better suit your particular needs. Mailpile is designed for speed and vast amounts of e-mail, it is flexible and themeable and has support for strong encryption built in from the very start.
We need your help to make it a reality!
Who are we?
The Mailpile core team consists of three people: Bjarni Rúnar Einarsson, Brennan Novak and Smári McCarthy.
Bjarni is tech lead for the project. He has been hacking code and slinging networks since the mid-90s, including 6 years fighting spam and viruses and 3 years behind the scenes on Google's site reliability team (SRE).
Brennan Novak thrives on solving challenging interface design & user experience design problems, he has contracted for large companies like Nike and Intel, but he prefers contributing his design & engineering talents to interesting startups like LittleBird & meaningful open source movements like the IndieWeb. Fixing email is right up his alley.
Smári McCarthy is our privacy and security expert. He has spent the last few years working as the director of the International Modern Media Institute, working with activists, NGOs and governments on information security and network policy issues.
We are all passionate about Free Software, we all have a great deal of experience working with the web and e-mail, and we all spend a lot of time in our Inboxes. We know how important e-mail is.
What We Need & What You GetOur goal is to fund two to three man-years of full time work on Mailpile, with our first milestone in January 2014, when we will deliver an alpha version with the following properties:
- A modern, open source web-mail application which runs well either on a personal computer or in the cloud
- An intuitive, beautiful user interface that is a joy to use
- User-friendly support for both OpenPGP and S/MIME encryption and signatures
- A very fast, scalable search engine
- Internationalization support, so Mailpile can speak your language
- Sensible defaults that improve your workflow and help you handle incoming mail
- A platform developers can customize and build upon, including a plugin architecture, support for themes and alternate user interfaces and of course good documentation
We also have some stretch goals which we will work on later, if we raise extra money:
- A simple installer for non-technical Windows and Mac users
- A plug-and-play distribution of Mailpile for USB keys
- Build-in support for XMPP (Jabber) chat
- A multi-user version of Mailpile for use by families, groups of friends or small businesses
Following our alpha release, we will spend another 6-9 months fixing bugs, fleshing out features, responding to user feedback and getting the user interface translated to languages other than English. Our goal is to have a stable 1.0 release ready in the summer of 2014.
If we are not fully funded, we will still work on all of these things and deliver as many as we can, but it will take more time if we have to take on other jobs to pay the bills and put food on the table. We will be using an iterative, open development process which means you won't have to wait long to see results. The project already exists and you can check out what we've done so far on github.
The Mailpile Community
Members of the Mailpile Community (contributing $23 or more) get to have a say in the long term direction of the project. When we aren't sure what features to work on next or need to make some other major decision, we will seek input from the Mailpile Community. To this end, we will set up a forum dedicated to this conversation. After all, you are the ones funding the work and your voices should be heard.
This is the Mailpile business model. As long as members of our community are willing to fund development (we will ask you to renew your membership in a years' time), we will dedicate ourselves to Mailpile and build the secure web-mail client you want.
No ads, no spying. Just powerful software backed by a community of people who care.
At the very least, this project will create some cool new software and advance the state of the art of free and open source software. However, if successful, we hope to accomplish something far more important: strike a blow for privacy on-line.
By making secure communication understandable and less prone to human error, we hope to improve the security of human rights activists, journalists and whistle-blowers the world over and do our part to make the world a better place.
Finally, even if only a fraction of the general public switch away from the proprietary web-mail providers, the mere possibility will put pressure on these big corporations to take more care and respect the privacy of their users. Competition is good for everyone.
Other Ways You Can Help
Even if you can't afford to support us with your hard earned cash, please tell your friends! Share this campaign and talk about it. Follow us on Twitter (@MailpileTeam) and give the software a try when it is ready.
And if you are a hacker or designer, check out our code and join the community. Send us a patch or a bug report. The more, the merrier!
Frequently Asked Questions, Answered
Q. Can I use Mailpile on my Mac? Or Windows?
Mailpile is initially being developed and tested on Linux and the Mac. Making sure it runs well on Windows is one of the things we will work on if the project is funded.
Q. Can I access my Mailpile remotely, even if it runs on localhost?
Much like any other self-hosted website, you can make your local Mailpile accessible over the Internet by using port forwarding or a tunneling service like PageKite. Of course, you will have to run it on a machine that is usually switched on if you want frequent remote access.
Q. What technology does Mailpile use?
Q. Why Python? And why not notmuch, xapian, lucene, ... ?
As mentioned above, one of the main goals of this project is to make software we can distribute to non-technical users. This will be much easier if we carefully limit our external dependencies.
Python is not only available on all the major platforms, but also happens to be one of the most accessible programming languages in common use today. This lowers the barrier to entry for new contributors or people who just want to understand how the software works.
Q. Is my e-mail secure if I run Mailpile on a VPS?
That depends on who you are keeping it secure from and where your VPS is located. Law enforcement can still subpoena the contents of your VPS's hard drive, and malicious hackers may be able to break in. The technicians of your VPS provider may have access to your data.
For these reasons, most security professionals would strongly advise against storing your encryption keys or processing sensitive data on a VPS. But it really depends on your "risk model", as the cryptogeeks like to say.
Also note that when you host your e-mail on a VPS, your attacker has to target you specifically and make a dedicated effort, which is very different from the kind of wholesale mass surveillance enabled by centralized proprietary web-mail.
Q. Will Mailpile be an SMTP server? Or an IMAP server?
Eventually, that is quite likely as it will help people be even more self sufficient. But for the Alpha in January, we are only focusing on the mail client aspect of the project, Mailpile will download your e-mail from a mail server much like Thunderbird or Mail.app and process it locally.
Q. So can I ask for anything at all at the $4096 level?
No. :-) First of all, we are focused on building free software for everyone so we are not willing to spend time on anything proprietary. We will only write free software we can share with the entire community. We also have to take care to keep our promises to the other backers, so if your feature is very different from what we had planned already, we can only spend a limited amount of time on it (1-2 weeks). However if your feature is generally useful to everyone and in line with our mission, we will just make it part of the road-map.
Q. Why do you need $100.000?!
We're asking for a lot of money, so of course you should know why. $100.000 means paying two people $4166 a month for a year, including all taxes, insurance and other fees. After all costs and taxes, that's about $2091 each. Renting a small apartment in Reykjavík costs around $1000 a month and a beer is about $7 at a bar, so you can see how fast this money slips away.
And of course some of it will be spent on fees relating to the campaign. Indiegogo take their cut and then we need to have shirts made and letters mailed - but that's all good, right? We also want to spend some money on doing usability studies and attending conferences to learn new stuff and connect with our community, so that'll factor in as well.
Because we believe in the project, we're willing to work a little bit harder and earn a little bit less than we could at a "normal job".
Q. What if you raise over $100,000?
We will spend the money wisely! But seriously, this is happening thanks to your amazing support. We have given the matter some thought and discussed in a blog post.
Q. I detest credit card payments. Got a BTC address I can donate to?
You are in luck. We do happen to have a Bitcoin address: 13z55AGS14pSPiPpMqAAFHb576tSmSmR77
Q. I have more questions!
Just ask and we'll do our best to answer. :-)
Our e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org and we will do our best to answer every inquiry we get. It may take us a few days, but we will answer!