When Telegram Is the New Medium

The decade has seen a few rising stars in the social media world from blogs to Facebook, and from online media to Twitter. But a new star is born that goes by the name of Telegram messenger. In some countries, it is successfully replacing blogs, online media, Facebook, and Twitter with an added bonus of a conventional instant messaging service — all right from the medium of choice, i.e. your good old smartphone.

The early 2000s and even the first half of 2010s were the heydays of weblogs in their primary meaning of being a way to share personal thoughts and photos with the world. Facebook was still in its infancy when WordPress et al. gave users free opportunity to showcase their writing talents in a much better way than the previous GeoCities generation of clumsy personal web pages. You only needed to register, choose a theme, and start posting — a new type of social action.

Soon blogs gained weight by sheer mass. They became fashionable channels of self-expression reaching any potential audience for free and with minimal technical investment. Though you could always invest in private domain and hosting, most were happy with the basic service provided by the giants of blogging technology. Then, traditional media started opening blogs on their web pages, while journalists found a means of expressing themselves beyond the boundaries of editorial control.

Then, came Facebook and Twitter. Facebook was and still is more of a social network with publishing content as a side dish on the table of friendly interaction. Twitter, on the other hand, is more of a publishing tool however limited by the character number. None compares to blogs in terms of presentability of your writing or photography, but Facebook/Twitter often have a wider reach and better interaction statistics. They could also be useful tools to drive more traffic to blogs, although to some extent only.

At some point, the most advanced blogs with most readers, most potential, most allure became online media of a higher level, sometimes even on par with traditional media. There came a time of strictly online publications and syndicated blogs. WordPress still provides quite a versatile blogging platform, but Medium allows users to easily build a virtual reading room with broad access to articles. Another phenomenon is in the form of collective blogs/media with staff journalists/bloggers, editors, and dedicated websites. All of these forms still heavily rely on social networks like Facebook and Twitter for reach, interaction, and distribution.

And here comes a new player — Telegram messenger. It wasn’t the first instant messaging app, but it surely occupies additional niches that make it a versatile platform for varied user connections and interaction. Not only can you chat with your friends and colleagues (after all, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger have a bigger audience), but also read and author blogs right there in the same app. It is all in your hands — smartphones are successfully killing desktop computers when it comes to at least reading content if not creating it. There is no denying that people might still prefer desktop reading with bigger screen and convenience of operating a keyboard and a mouse. But we spend a lot of time away from computers when our only connection to the world is through smartphones. That’s what gave a push to responsive web design and apps, which make reading content on the small screen more convenient.

Telegram provides a way to reinvent blogs, only now on mobile. You can use their desktop app or even Telegra.ph with its almost Medium-style user interface. But you can also write on the go in the mobile app, where you can then read other blogs or channels in Telegram parlance. Other messaging apps either lack this functionality completely or have it in some primitive forms.

True, Telegram is No. 1 messaging app only in two countries — Iran and Uzbekistan. There it plays the role of alternative media when the official ones are hugely censored and lack independence whatsoever. Half of Iranian population (up to 40 million people) use Telegram. 11,000 out of 170,000 Iranian channels have 5,000+ subscribers each. Several Iranian channels enjoy from 1 to 3 million subscribers. With censorship in the state-controlled media and blocked foreign social networks, Iranians turn to Telegram both for entertainment and news spending more time on this messenger than on state TV.

The same is somewhat true for Russia where Telegram is quickly becoming the alternative source of casual reading, political opinion, government criticism, news, and self-education. The number of channels is growing fast to the point when you can often choose from a dozen or more writers covering the same topic.

So far, 6 million Russians use Telegram (slightly over 4% of total population, compared to 40–50% in Iran), but this has already triggered the influx of all sorts of political sides from pro-Kremlin to anti-Kremlin to who-cares-about-Kremlin. Suffice to say, StalinGulag — probably the most popular channel, which ridicules current regime — has 150,000 subscribers, while a number of other channels can boast the readership of over 30,000.

Telegram has also become a platform for political gossip, leaks, and influence. It quickly covered the distance from peripheral to mainstream blogging environment. Traditional bloggers and media open their own channels along with the ones that exist only on Telegram. Lack of conventional titles and rich formatting doesn’t stop anyone, while embedding content is available. For more embedding options, titles, and rich formatting Telegram created Telegra.ph service, with links to posts easily embedded in Telegram. On the other hand, authors can write without losing time and effort on formatting.

What gains do the readers and writers have with Telegram?

  • It is easy to read (and write) from the messaging app on the smartphone.
  • It is a convenient way of building your personalized reading list by picking the right channels.
  • Its anonymity gives writers constitutional freedom of speech neutralized in all other media.

It all comes at some cost:

  • Limited formatting options.
  • Somewhat limited distribution on other platforms.
  • Strictly feed-like blogs with no front-page options.
  • Very limited categorization (only hashtags).
  • Low social features (no integrated likes, sharing buttons)

With all the shortcomings, Telegram blogs provide two huge opportunities. One is good for writers anywhere — blogs are right there on a device that more and more people have/carry with them at all times. Another benefit is for the freedom of speech and citizen journalism — Telegram allows the free press rebirth in the most oppressed societies. That is why this messenger must be lauded as a progressive tool for the benefit of social progress.

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