WhatsApp’s acquisition by Facebook surprised everyone last week as it became perhaps the largest startup acquisition in history with the company valued at US$16 billion. Unfortunately for WhatsApp, as if almost on cue, the service went down the day after the announcement for roughly two days delivering at best intermittent connectivity for all 450 million users of the app. This, however, proved to be a boon for other messaging apps, especially Telegram, an open source clone of WhatsApp.
Following WhatsApp’s perhaps first major service breakdown since 2009 – certainly not a good start for the Facebook acquisition – millions of people have signed up to Telegram. The service’s Twitter account noted that today it saw roughly five million new users.
Previously, Telegram noted 500,000 new users on the day of the announcement, and two days later it saw 800,000 new users in four hours for a total of 1.8 million on that particular day.
Telegram had to increase its server capacity to handle the flood of new registrants and its SMS gateway failed over the weekend, having to handle 100 new requests per second.
The company recorded over 800,000 new users just in the Netherlands last weekend and according to app tracking service AppAnnie, it reached number one overall position in 49 countries on App Store, although its performance on Google Play is far less impressive. On Google Play, Telegram reached the overall top 10 list in only six countries, reaching number one in four of them.
Security issues plaguing WhatsApp and Telegram I first came across Telegram in October last year when TechCrunch wrote about the app. The premise of Telegram was to provide a properly secure and private messaging service in light of the revelations about America’s National Security Agency gaining backdoor access to almost all communications channels across the world. Apparently, WhatsApp’s security protocols fail to address critical vulnerabilities and has been repeatedly criticised about it over the years.
Built with WhatsApp in mind, Telegram’s founders took a jab at the lack of security systems implemented within WhatsApp in the company’s FAQ page. It even set up a challenge for those who claim to be able to decipher Telegram’s encryption with a prize of $200,000.
However, Telegram’s claim isn’t without criticism. The blog Crypto Fails explained how Telegram’s encryption “needs to be scrapped” and even offers assistance to fix it. The claim had also been heavily questioned on Hacker News.
In any case, for the majority of consumers who aren’t that concerned or worried about their conversations being picked up over the air, all they care about is making sure their messages get through to their intended recipients, and WhatsApp’s extended service interruption last week gave people enough reason to pick up another service as an alternative or as a backup.
What’s interesting is that despite having LINE, WeChat, KakaoTalk, Facebook Messenger, et al, millions of people still pick up Telegram as an alternative to WhatsApp. The most likely explanation to this is because Telegram offers an identical service to WhatsApp which requires almost zero effort on the consumer’s part to add their friends on the service because Telegram and WhatsApp tap into people’s contact lists to identify those who have signed up to the service and put them on a separate list.
A fun fact about Telegram is that it was created by the duo who built VKontakte, the Facebook clone that is huge within the Russian-speaking world. With Telegram, they’re on track to have their second major Facebook competitor once the WhatsApp acquisition is finalized.
In Indonesia, Telegram has today managed to break into the top 10 free social networking apps on App Store since its debut in August and it’s currently number 58 overall on the top downloaded apps of the day. On Google Play, it’s perched on number 227 among all Android apps and 21st among the top free communication apps.
WhatsApp on the other hand is third among free social networking apps on App Store and second on Google Play. Still a long way for Telegram to catch up but it’s adoption has been quite rapid so.