Oct 28, 2022 - Economy & Business

Telegram is selling handles, creating demand for toncoin in the process

Illustration of an @ symbol shimmering gold like a trophy.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

Telegram has just created a big source of demand for the cryptocurrency built to collaborate with the hugely popular messaging app.

Driving the news: The company is going to start allowing people to buy and sell Telegram handles (user names on the app), but they have to use a cryptocurrency called toncoin (TON) to do it, as TechCrunch reported.

  • The minimum auction value for four- and five-character handles is 10,000 toncoin (about $16,000).

Why it matters: Names are the web's equivalent of real estate. Every website in the world is paying for the right to use its own name in its URL.

  • If "namespace" on Telegram proves popular, that would create a permanent demand source for toncoin.

Zoom out: Telegram has a reported 700 million users — more people than live in the U.S. But odds are, you aren't one of them.

  • It's sort of like all the weirdoes everywhere on Earth use Telegram, but normal people don't, really. So, it's very big, but its users still feel scarce.
  • Probably not a surprise but: Everyone in crypto uses Telegram.

By the numbers: Toncoin was up as high as $1.97 on Wednesday, but it fell as low as $1.59 on Thursday, after the news came out.

How it works: Interested users can go to Fragment.com to participate in an auction, but it's blocked in the U.S.

A screenshot of Fragment, on an iPhone, from October 27, 2022.
A screenshot of Fragment, on an iPhone, from October 27, 2022.

State of play: Telegram has pulled an end run on regulators, sort of.

Flashback: In 2018, Telegram did one of the first billion dollar initial coin offerings in an all private sale.

  • But the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission made them give all the money back in 2020.
  • Then a group independent of Telegram (at least that's the official story) launched a blockchain based on the open source work the Telegram team had completed to run the blockchain.
  • First called the Telegram Open Network, it later became "The Open Network."

The intrigue: Telegram's blockchain was interesting because it had the potential to reach hundreds of millions of people. It could have turned every copy of the Telegram app into a crypto wallet with a flip of a switch.

  • Copying the code independent of Telegram didn't seem that interesting, however.

What we're watching: That all looks different now, though, since Telegram seems to be embracing The Open Network.

The bottom line: Telegram has its blockchain despite friction from D.C., but the team probably also wishes it had those billion dollars.

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