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The History Of Telegram

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Since its launch in 2013, Telegram has gained immense popularity around the world. Messenger app downloaded 1 billion times. India, Indonesia and Russia are the countries with the most installs. During the 2022 Russian invasion, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky took to Telegram to address his country. Even for terrorists, Telegram has become their ‘app of choice’!

But how did Telegram get so big? Here’s a brief history of Telegram, explaining the idea, popularity and relevance of Telegram today.

Who founded Telegram?

Pavel Durov and Nikolai Durov are the founders and owners of messaging app Telegram. The two brothers still live in Russia, they founded Telegram in 2013. Famous as Russian Mark Zuckerberg, Pavel Durov, like the Matrix character Neo, is known for his unique sense of dress, as he only wears the color “black”. We are on a mission to provide the world with safe and anonymous communications. But his techno journey to his utopian dream wasn’t always easy.

A little inside story

The year is 2006. Pavel Durov fresh out of St. Petersburg State University designed VKontakte, a social platform, also known as VK, which means “in touch” in Russian. Originally conceived as a platform for college students, VKontakte became popular among the general public and began welcoming all users. Seeing this, Nikolai Durov, Pavel’s older brother, joins as Chief Technology Officer. The Durov brothers work together to achieve one goal. In other words, create a version of Facebook for Russian cyberspace, but only faster and better.

VK had all the features that a typical Facebook user would be familiar with: user profiles, direct messages, a wall for posting content, and most importantly displaying a user’s personal information. Pavel considered this website a non-anonymous extension of the university forum spbgu.ru (also created by him), available only by invitation from other users. As VK quickly became popular, the app removed the invitation requirement and user numbers began to skyrocket.

VK gains momentum

In less than a year, VK has overthrown domestic rival Odnoklassniki to become the most popular social network in Russian cyberspace. Odnoklassniki founder Albert Popov attributed this sudden explosion of popularity in part to his VK’s willingness to tolerate explicit content and piracy. While Odnoklassniki focused on connecting middle-aged people with former schoolmates, VK has evolved into a one-stop-shop platform catering to young people and hipsters. Users visited his VK to connect with old friends, find new friends, and look for jobs. It was YouTube, Facebook, and Spotify all rolled into one.

Trouble begins with VK

By the early 2010s, VK had over 100 million users. Its wide range attracted the attention of the Russian government. In December 2011, a wave of protests against the results of parliamentary elections swept the country. In an attempt to save the situation, the Federal Security Service has asked VK to shut down groups and pages that use the site to coordinate and rally protests. Pavel responded to their request by posting a photo of a dog in a hooded jacket sticking out its tongue.

Mail.ru Group, a Russian tech conglomerate and one of VK’s main backers, meanwhile sought to take full ownership of the company.

Durov was the subject of a media smear campaign and was accused of misusing company funds. A video circulated in April 2013 showed Pavel at the wheel of a white Mercedes, running over a police officer’s leg, and fleeing the scene, although Pavel claimed he was not driving. Shortly after, law enforcement raids Pavel’s home and his VK office. A few days after the incident, United Capital Partners announced that it had purchased 48% stake in VK. In January 2014, Pavel sold his remaining 12% stake to his Mail.ru, took off his hat as CEO, and left Russia.

The rise of Telegram

In August 2013, Pavel pulled a rabbit out of his hat and entered Telegram, an encrypted chat service. iOS was released on August 14, 2013 and Android on October 20, 2013. Pavel provided funding and infrastructure for the project because he reportedly left Russia with $300 million after the acquisition of Vkontakte. His brother Nikolai devoted himself to coding and created his MTProto protocol which is the basis of Messenger.

Telegram began as an encrypted messaging system, essentially allowing the Durov brothers to communicate with each other without being intercepted by Russian security services.

Telegram was originally based out of a small office in Berlin. Telegram’s servers are distributed around the world, with 5 data centers in different parts of the world and an operations center in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Telegram milestone feature

  • Bot: In June 2015 Telegram released the Bot API. We created a platform for users to create and publish their own bots. Bots exist to add functionality to Telegram and make life easier for users. Bots can process payments, moderate groups, retrieve emails, and more.
  • Channel: In September 2015, Telegram introduced Channels, a mass-market broadcasting tool. Channels can have unlimited followers, provide a view counter for each post, and only allow admins to post.
  • Supergroup: As WhatsApp increased the group user limit to 1000, Telegram introduced “supergroups” that support up to 5000 members. In September 2015 Telegram introduced a channel for broadcasting messages to the masses. The supergroup size increased from 1000 to 5000 members in 2016. The group he leveled up in June 2017 and the maximum number of members he increased to 10,000. In January 2019, the maximum group size was increased to 200,000 members.
  • Secret chat: In July 2017, Telegram introduced Secret Chat with end-to-end encryption and added self-destruct timers for photos and videos, allowing users to send disappearing media.
  • Passport: In July 2018, Telegram launched Passport as a unified endorsement service for ICOs, financial services, and other platforms based on real-world identities.
  • Video call: Telegram, with 400 million active users, has added end-to-end encrypted video calling to Signal and WhatsApp.
  • Move chat history from other apps: In January 2021, Telegram allowed users to import old messages and media from other apps such as WhatsApp, Line and KakaoTalk.

Telegram: the best app for ISIS

In September 2015, when asked about the use of Telegram by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), Pavel Durov said:

“Ultimately, I think privacy, and our right to privacy, is more important than fear of bad things happening like terrorism.”

ISIS recommended Telegram to its supporters and members, doubling its official channel followers to 9,000 by October 2015. In November 2015, Telegram announced that it had blocked 78 public channels used to spread ISIS propaganda.

Still, it does not respect “politically motivated censorship” based on “local restrictions on free speech” and allows “the peaceful expression of alternative views.”

Telegram premium

On June 21, 2022, Telegram launched an optional paid subscription called Telegram Premium. This unlocks additional exclusive features while supporting Telegram app development. This is part of a sustainable funding initiative driven by users, not shareholders or advertisers, as Telegram likes to call it.

“While contributions from our premium subscribers will help us improve and expand our app over the decades to come, Telegram will remain free and independent, maintaining our values ​​of putting users first and being a technology company. Redefining how to work.”

Telegram vs. WhatsApp: Public Competition

In early January 2021, WhatsApp announced an update to its privacy policy asking users to allow data sharing with its parent company, Facebook. This sparked a new wave of criticism and online trolling, especially on his Twitter. Telegram didn’t hesitate to join in and posted the following meme.

The criticism was furthered in a blog written by Telegram founder and CEO Pavel Durov on his Telegram channel. He wrote: Imagine dozens of employees working full time. We’re happy to share our secret to saving Facebook tens of millions of dollars and respecting our users for free. Durov continued the post, explaining an ongoing story about WhatsApp’s new privacy policy.

On October 6, 2022, Pavel sent a public message on his Telegram channel warning people to “stay away from WhatsApp”, “We are not forcing you to switch to Telegram here. With over 700 million active users and over 2 million daily signups, Telegram doesn’t need any additional promotion. You can use it, but stay away from WhatsApp, which has been a surveillance tool for 13 years.”

telegram key statistics

The annual number of Telegram users since 2014-2021:

date Monthly Active User (MAU)
March 2014 35 million
December 2014 50 million
September 2015 60 million
February 2016 One hundred million
December 2017 180 million
March 2018 200 million
October 2019 300 million
April 2020 400 million
January 2021 5 million
July 2021 550 million

source: (telegram, Statista, feedough)

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