The Telegram ICO has been creating quite a bit of buzz across the internet since news of it first appeared on TechCrunch last month. With a goal north of a billion dollars, the sale is being reported about as the largest ICO of all time.
However, the massive project has not arrived on the scene without skepticism–critics have decried the project as overly ambitious and technically unsound, and have accused Telegram of seeking to take advantage of the blockchain hype.
Is there any validity to these claims?
$850 Million Raised in Telegram’s Pre-Sale
Telegram has been operating since 2013, and although Pavel and Nikolai Durov (the brothers who founded Telegram) have made vague proposals on different methods of monetizing the platform in the past, none of them have come to fruition.
In fact, CoinDesk reported that there is some evidence to suggest that Telegram, with rather high annual operating costs to the tune of as much as $70 million (in 2017), has eaten up some of the Durov brothers’ personal fortune.
If all goes as planned, however, all of that will change–in a big way.
So far, the Telegram ICO (which finished its pre-sale early this week) has allegedly raked in a whopping $850 million. If the Telegram ICO manages to reach its ultimate goal of $1.2 billion dollars, there will be no shortage of cash to operate the system.
Telegram’s Usage Allegedly Grows By Hundreds of Thousands of New Accounts Daily
For critics who think that $1.2 billion is rather excessive, ICOBOX CEO Mike Raytsin says that the number is actually very realistic given the projected growth in Telegram’s usage: “$850 million is not that big if you are going to scale from 200 million users to 2 billion. Infrastructure doesn’t go cheap these days, and Telegram spends tens of millions on servers and traffic.”
Indeed, Pavel Durov claims that Telegram users are signing onto the platform in huge numbers–according to him, as many as 600,000 new accounts appear on the platform every day.
Telegram is back in the AppStore after being absent there since midnight CET.
Every day 500,000+ users download Telegram for Android and another ~100,000 download Telegram for iOS.
Check out yesterday’s update for both platforms: https://t.co/AVsELnpOGK
— Pavel Durov (@durov) February 1, 2018
The Largest ICO Ever? Not So
Raytsin added that although the Telegram ICO is being billed across the internet as the biggest and most ambitious ICO in history, there’s already another ICO on the scene that has far surpassed Telegram’s goal: “EOS has already raised a whopping $2 billion and counting. So that technically makes TON offering second money-wise, [although Telegram still has] the biggest amount of funds raised within one round.”
Raytsin explained that the ways that the ICO landscape are changing may have contributed to these astronomical amounts. “In both cases, we are not talking about classical token offerings–EOS is emulating the ‘mining’ process and TON so far had a private round with just a handful of big funds that we allowed to get on board. “
The TON Blockchain
The SEC notice of securities exemption that revealed the amount raised during the presale said that Telegram intends to use the cash for “the development of the TON Blockchain, the development and maintenance of Telegram Messenger and the other purposes described in the offering materials.”
As reported by Coindesk, the “other purposes” mentioned are mainly initiatives to expand Telegram’s capabilities as a messaging service–among other things, to develop a network for inexpensive and instantaneous payments, to build a platform for decentralized identity, a proxy service, and to make Telegram more capable of data storage.
Despite Success, the TON Project is Still Shrouded in Obscurity
Although $850 million have supposedly been pocketed by TON, it’s still very difficult to find any information that Telegram has published about the TON project directly–most of the details of TON have been shared by secondary news sources.
It’s clear that this is problematic–anyone who is interested in investing in Telegram’s blockchain tokens or becoming a user on the Telegram blockchain platform is entitled to have easy access to information about it.
Christian Catalini, professor at MIT, said in a Coindesk report that investors need to have full disclosure of information around any project so that they can “evaluate the capacity of any team to execute on their plan and vision, as well as the protections they have if things go wrong.”
We can only assume that Telegram will make informational and educational resources more easily accessible, but for now, interested parties can look at the TON white paper, which has been floating across the web as a Google doc.
However, intentional or unintentional, the lack of information surrounding the TON project may ultimately benefit the project, says Mike Raytsin: “The very private and obscure TON offering managed to create an enormous level of hype and expectations from both funds and retail buyers….That will definitely create a sound demand for Telegram tokens on the public sale.”
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Critics Are Wary of TON’s Claims: Bold–Yet Vague
While the Telegram project talks big, there are some serious questions from various sources in the crypto community as to whether or not it can walk its walk. Bitcoin.com writer Eric Wall came out full-throttle against the TON project:
Just looked through the Telegram ICO 132-page whitepaper for their TON Blockchain. Essentially a 100% premined, centrally issued, unbounded supply, PoS sharding shitcoin. One of the worst whitepaper I ever read. Full of blockchain armchair guessing and baseless estimates. 0/10. pic.twitter.com/nRv9yBxu46
— Eric Wall (@ercwl) February 18, 2018
There have also been questions raised as to the cryptographic security of Telegram as it exists currently. In a Gizmodo article entitled “Why You Should Stop Using Telegram Right Now,” William Turton wrote that “Telegram has a wide range of security issues and doesn’t live up to its proclamations as a safe and secure messaging application.”
In regard to the TON project, COO of crypto depository Saifu told Coindesk: “There’s a serious challenge to building the infrastructure. In my opinion, they are trying to take a swing at something with which they have a lack of competence.”
Additionally, some voices in the financial world have criticised pre-existing firms that have suddenly decided to become blockchain platforms because of the global crypto buzz–billions of dollars are flowing steadily into the space. These same voices are wary that Telegram simply opted for blockchain because it’s so hot right now.
In a Forbes report, STASIS founder and CEO Gregory Klumov said: “With growing user base, [they] would’ve eventually run out of money. Therefore [they] opted for an ICO as a mechanism to raise funds without getting outside investors into Telegram’s shareholder capital.”
However, although some other may not have qualms about Telegram’s technical capabilities, there are questions about whether or not the Telegram blockchain network will be adopted for use the way that it’s intended to be.
“I have little concern about Durov brothers’ ability to deliver the ecosystem described in their whitepaper,” said Mike Raytsin. “The only question is if there is enough demand for the real usage of their token or will it be used merely for speculation purposes.”
A Rash of Fake TON ICO Websites
Some in the crypto community have token an ‘approach with caution’ attitude toward the Telegram ICO, and perhaps rightfully so–myriad fake TON ICO websites appeared on the scene in mid-January, before Telegram had officially announced any sort of blockchain project.
— Ross Stokes (@bitcoinexpertz) January 15, 2018
Most of the websites were very typical of crypto scams–filled with spelling mistakes and poorly designed. However, with a beautifully designed website, one project (Gramtoken.io) was so convincing that even some experienced crypto users were fooled into sending in ETH tokens. Gramtoken.io even co-opted TON’s whitepaper.
The fake projects were boosted by the fact that although TechCrunch published an article about the upcoming Telegram ICO (which was actually happening) in early January, Telegram itself did not post any official announcements or informational materials about TON until mid-January. This left an opportunity for scammers to fill in the blanks.
Twitter had already been alight with rumors and questions regarding Gramtoken.io and other fake Telegram ICO websites for a few days before Telegram founder Pavel Durov finally declared that it was a scam on January 15.
This is scam. Be careful.
— Pavel Durov (@durov) January 15, 2018
By the time Pavel finally addressed the scam, however, Gramtoken.io had already managed to collect some hapless users’ ETH tokens in exchange for fake ‘GRAM’ tokens.
Gramtoken.io has since vanished from the face of the web without a trace, presumably taking the fraudulently acquired ETH tokens with it.
The World is Watching
One thing is clear–all eyes are on the TON project. If critics are correct about any of their claims of Telegram’s subpar technology or incapability of executing its ambitious goals, the cryptosphere is up for one of the largest I-told-you-sos in history.
If money is power, and if with great power comes with great responsibility, Telegram has certainly taken on quite a lot of responsibility. However, the game is only beginning–and it’s Telegram’s move.