Telegram, the encrypted messaging app and longtime drug-dealer haven, is planning to monetize in 2021, founder Pavel Durov said on Wednesday.
The announcement comes as the app nears its eighth birthday and “approaches 500 million active users,” according to the statement that Durov put on his Telegram channel. Every new user that comes flooding in, he explained, brings more server costs for the company to deal with. “A project of our size needs at least a few hundred million dollars per year to keep going,” he said.
All the currently free-to-use parts of the platform will remain free, he said, adding that in the new year, Telegram will be adding a few new paid features for business teams or “power users.” He didn’t go into the specifics of these new features would be, aside from mentioning that Telegram would be bringing its own ad platform onboard. (In a separate post Telegram announced it would be building out a Clubhouse-like persistent voice chat function—though again, this may or may not be one of the aspects being monetized.)
Per the post, the idea isn’t to serve ads in private one-on-one or group chats specifically, since, in Durov’s words, “communication between people should be free of advertising of any sort.” Instead, he pointed to what he called Telegram’s “one-to-many” channels that have their own dedicated posse following one specific Telegram poster. These act more like a Twitter feed than an SMS conversation, and like Twitter, they’ll be getting the ad-serving treatment.
Thus far, the platform’s largely been floated by Durov’s own personal savings. Back in 2018, it pulled in $1.7 billion dollars from private investors in the hopes of developing its own blockchain token that would potentially monetize the platform. But after two years and a significant amount of pushback from the SEC, Durov announced back in May that he’d be shutting down the effort and refunding a good $1.2 billion back to the investors behind it.
As for what these potential ads might look like, that’s still a bit unclear. Twitter’s ad systems, as we’ve noted in the past, have their own issues, and as Durov’s post correctly points out, getting ad swapped into your usual scroll can feel kind of shitty, especially when they replace regular posts the way Twitter’s ads tend to do. Then again, any ad on any social media platform is generally an unwelcome experience at best, even when they’re not hideous to look at. Plus, considering how creepy in-app ad platforms tend to be, you can imagine why this wouldn’t be the most welcome news for Telegram’s more privacy-minded users.
Durov, for his part, promised that Telegram’s impending ad-serving systems would be “user-friendly” and respect Telegrammers’ privacy. But considering how we’ve heard that exact promise from just about every player in the tracking and targeting game, it might be worth taking Durov’s word with a grain of salt.