Telegram: Chat Encryption for the Masses
Audience: 62 million monthly, active users
Top Markets: Iran, India, Iraq, Uzbekistan, Spain
Demographics: Users with high privacy concerns, often in countries where government monitoring and security is a concern
Key Features: Channels allowing broadcasts access to an unlimited number of users; open source code and bot API; seamless syncing across mobiles, tablets, and PCs; ability to send multiple file types, including docs, MP3s, video, images, and compressed files of up to 1.5 gigabytes.
Telegram is a messaging app that focuses on speed and security. Its creators, brothers Nikolai and Pavel Durov, also founded the Russian social network VK. Telegram shares more similarities with WhatsApp than the Asian chat apps WeChat and LINE.
There are a couple of significant areas, through, in which it's distinct: The company prides itself in building what it describes as a highly secure app. It also has a completely open source code and API, allowing developers freedom to create their own versions of the app or build additional services on top of it.
Most recently Telegram announced the launch of channels,30 which are broadcast lists similar to those found in WhatsApp but without the limitations on the number of contacts that can be added. This has been a major difficulty for many news organizations trying to run push-news services on WhatsApp, wherein the 256 broadcast-list limit makes any initiative very labor intensive and difficult to scale. In contrast, Telegram has a full desktop version and the same account can be managed from multiple devices at the same time, rendering the ability to scale broadcast activity considerably easier.
Another innovation in the messaging space that Telegram spearheaded is the launch of the Telegram Bots API,31, which allows developers to build custom services inside the app, link with external platforms, and “do almost anything.”
A number of Russian news organizations have already started experimenting with the API, creating their own news bots.
The launch of bots has likely played a big part in the huge increase of daily messages inside the app. At a TechCrunch Disrupt event in September 2015,32 Pavel Durov reported that the number of daily messages exchanged on Telegram had risen from one billion in February to 12 billion in September, a staggering increase in just seven months. The number of monthly, active users—currently around 62 million—hasn't grown as quickly, so the increase in messages clearly suggests a big jump in activity among the app's existing user base.
It's probably not surprising that the secure nature of the app promotes a big uptake in areas where government monitoring and security is an issue. It has been the most frequently downloaded app in countries like Uzbekistan and Iran, just as it has courted controversy as the messaging app of choice for the Islamic State—an issue Durov also addressed at TechCrunch Disrupt: “I think that privacy, ultimately, and our right for privacy is more important than our fear of bad things happening, like terrorism.”
BBC World Service, which runs news operations in 28 languages, has been the first international news organization to take advantage of Telegram's popularity in certain regions of the world. Its Persian Service recently launched a channel that acquired 80,000 direct subscribers within its first week, with some posts reaching as many as 320,000 users. Jacqui Maher, an interactive journalist at the BBC's News Labs, has been working on Telegram's bots platform to develop services to reach people in countries where the BBC is blocked:
Being encrypted but also open source, it's understandable why Telegram is proving to be popular in countries like Iran and Uzbekistan. The code we've been working from Telegram has so far proven to be very stable and easy to use. It's allowing us to open up secure news services in parts of the world we haven't been able to access before.