“ Though it has a public-facing Twitter feed, it has not posted since 2016 and often does not inform users of outages. It also has an official “WhatsApp Status” account that once tweeted about issues and when they would be fixed, but that has not tweeted since 2014 — despite a series of high-profile outages since then.”
— ‘WhatsApp Down, App Not Working as Chats Breaking on iPhone and Android’, Independent, January 22, 2019
Let’s face it. WhatsApp will die out sooner or later. Either because Facebook shuts it down itself or another instant messaging app catches up and displaces it. The only reason why we are still using it is because all our friends are on it too. It’s one of those tech startups that starts to lag in innovation after a massive acquisition (like LinkedIn).
The former seems more likely since Mark Zuckerberg himself has ordered the technical integration of Facebook Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp. Although sources within the company said they will remain stand-alone apps, does it make sense?
The integration will allow users to “communicate across the platforms for the first time”. Once that happens why would anyone use all three if they could connect and interact with all their friends and followers on just one?
One may argue that each of them serves a different purpose. But do they really? As it is, several key features on Facebook Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp already overlap. Most users also have at least two out of the three on their phones.* If they shared the same underlying tech infrastructure, does it still make sense from both a user and business perspective to keep them separate?
Furthermore, the same New York Times article that broke the integration news said that both the WhatsApp and Instagram founders quit last year due to disagreements with Zuckerberg over the integration. Now that the three companies are effectively under one leader, separation is really just in form and not in spirit.
*In the NYT article, it said that WhatsApp itself had done a study showing that its users mostly overlaps with Facebook.
In early 2018, Telegram refused to bow to Russian government pressure to give them access to users’ encrypted messages, leading to a ban on the app. At a time when Facebook was facing severe public backlash over privacy issues, Telegram’s brave stand probably gave it the best PR for recruiting users it had ever had.
Ironically, the technical integration news for WhatsApp raised even more concerns over user privacy for Facebook. Although it was revealed that Zuckerberg ordered his staff to enable end-to-end encryption for all three apps upon integration, cybersecurity expert Davey Winder immediately wrote a piece in Forbes questioning this move. He felt that not only is this technically very difficult to accomplish, it also works against Facebook’s basic business model which relies heavily on data visibility.
On the contrary, much has been written about why Telegram is growing in popularity besides the company’s pledge to user privacy. Briefly, some leading features include:
The ability to set up groups with up to 100,000 members
Channels that users can set up to broadcast messages to followers
A cool self-destruction timer that deletes messages after being read
Telegram is fast in sending messages and viewing external links
A payment API that enables users to conduct e-commerce transactions directly within a chat window
Open API’s for developers to build chatbots with transactional functionalities
So in short, Telegram is becoming an all in one messaging, social media and e-commerce platform (Something Facebook Messenger has been trying to dosince it bought WhatsApp in March 2015…). While these sort of mega apps have been slow to develop in the West, it is already thriving in the east. I wrote about this in an article on the future of mobile apps which went viral.
But what do all these have to do with cryptocurrencies?
Telegram and cryptocurrencies could be the perfect marriage
BUTTON Wallet is a mobile wallet for cryptocurrencies built inside Telegram as a bot. Safonov says they have about 82,000 users. As far as I can tell, they also seem to be the only Telegram based crypto wallet supporting multiple coins (six types) and 11 different languages.
With technical perspectives from Safonov and his co-founders, Kirill Kuznetcov and Nick Kozlov, I was able to gain a deeper insight into why Telegram was a superior platform for building their mobile wallet.
Cost of user acquisition is very low since Telegram users tend to share useful bots with their contacts, groups and channels.
The User Interface and transition logic is simple and intuitive, making both development and adoption easy and fast.
It’s an open source, free platform with highly scalable architecture and compatible with all devices.
BUTTON Wallet in action
Initial Coin Offerings (ICO’s) have been banned on most of the other major social medias, so Telegram has become a shelter for enthusiasts and those looking to raise funds using cryptocurrencies. Telegram itself is funded by a private ICO which raise it $1.7 billion.
Bot mobile wallets like BUTTON will add a new and very convenient way to moving cryptocurrencies around between friends and for e-commerce. Up until now the bulk of the interest in cryptocurrencies have been for speculation or illicit activities.
Telegram’s open source, anti-authority and anti-ads mantra also resonates with the spirit that blockchain and cryptocurrencies were built on, attracting the technology’s ballooning supporters to it. The combination of the two just might push the use of crytocurrencies for online transactions into the mainstream.
Telegram’s new generation of users
Recently a friend who runs a business matching teenagers and undergraduates with part-time jobs told me she communicates with all her part-timers through Telegram. I was surprised. I had always thought Whatsapp had an unshakable position because all your friends were on it.
I asked my 23 year-old staff if she used Telegram. She said that other than her mother who still uses Whatsapp, she communicated with all her friends on Telegram. She was polite enough not to mention the fact that I too text her on WhatsApp… (Admittedly I am nearly old enough to be her Dad.)
Telegram is a platform that is positioned to capture a whole new generation of users growing up with a completely digital lifestyle. It pitches privacy, favors cryptocurrencies and offers features which enable it to be an all-in-one app — a strategy already proven to work in the East.
To be sure, Telegram still has a long way to go. It only has about 200 million users and ranks #9 globally among competitors. Geographically, it also covers very little regions compared to other messaging giants.
Source: Statista, as of October 2018
But I’m betting that the technical and legal challenges ahead for the Facebook trio of Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram will indirectly boost the rise of Telegram, in turn supporting mainstream use of cryptocurrencies as a store of value and e-commerce transaction currency.
If it happens, it wouldn’t be the first time in the world of tech where David triumphs over Goliath simply because, the bigger they are, the harder they fall, when they do stumble.