Now that Whatsapp was bought by Facebook for $19B, many users are searching for a new instant messaging platform to use. Enter Telegram Messenger (link).
Telegram Messenger is the brainchild of russian technology magnate Pavel Durov. Pavel is rich enough that he can pretty much do whatever he wants and said he wanted to build an easy to use, secure and free instant messaging platform that he could share with the world.
After all of the Edward Snowden NSA revelations, tech users have been searching for a more secure non-US based IM system and Pavel believes his Telegram Messenger is the perfect answer.
Telegram is a not for profit organization
When a company says their product is free, we typically look at them very skeptically thinking that there must be some catch. Maybe they are tracking your usage or are trying to hook you in before they switch to a paid model.
Telegram is based on a custom protocol called MTProto built by Pavel's brother Nikolai. This protocol is used to encrypt messages end to end. This encryption means messages cannot be forwarded or can even be set to self-distruct.
The organization that creates and maintains Telegram is a not for profit and the company will make the source code available to researchers interested in reviewing the code. They hope that this model will help them win users trust.
The funding model will be based on donations and in-app purchases for additional features later on. These add-on services aren't available today but many believe they will be privacy enhancing features (think disposable email, disposable number, etc).
The founder has had issues with the Russian government in the past so his new initiative (aka Telegram messenger) rents datacenter space from various providers around the world to prevent a single government from flexing too much muscle. Because they don't operate in the most regulated regimes (USA, Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, etc) they don't have to comply with the tougher less privacy friendly rules in these countries.
Telegram says that even if they received a government request for access to a user's chat session, they can't provide it because the encryption key is generated and held on the user device and never stored in the cloud.
You can check out the Telegram Messenger source code (link), MTProto (link), Telegram Messenger API (link). If you are more technical and want to read more detailed technical information, read this (link).
They are so confident in their security that
"Anyone who claims that Telegram messages can be deciphered is welcome to prove that claim in our competition and win $200,000."
The Post Facebook Whatsapp purchase flood
Telegram says they were seeing a steady stream of new registrations daily then Facebook bought Whatsapp and everything changed. All of a sudden millions of users flocked to Telegram and the new service experienced some small controlled glitches.
4 million users joined Telegram within the last 18 hours. We're doing our best, but the service is getting unstable due to high load.— Telegram Messenger (@telegram) February 23, 2014
We temporarily switched off the possibility to share photos in Europe in order to keep up with high load. We will switch it on soon.— Telegram Messenger (@telegram) February 23, 2014
How does Telegram compare to Whatsapp?
Telegram describes the difference as such:
Unlike WhatsApp, Telegram is cloud-based and heavily encrypted. As a result, you can access your messages from several devices (including desktops!) and share an unlimited number of photos, videos and documents (doc, zip, mp3, etc). Thanks to our multi-data center infrastructure and encryption, Telegram is also faster and way more secure. On top of that, Telegram is free and will stay free — no ads, no subscription fees, forever."
It also has small improvements over Whatsapp like allowing 100 members of a group chat (instead of Whatsapps 50). It allows for video sharing of up to 1GB.
Once installed, it asks for permission to your address book and automatically identified contacts that are using Telegram. The problem is that this is a new an emerging client so many of your contacts may not be on Telegram Messenger yet.