Last week, Telegram, a relatively lesser-known app made the news for scooping up nearly five million new users when WhatsApp, the similar and market-leading messaging app, went down for a few hours due to a router outage. The Telegram messaging app is the brainchild of Russian brothers Pavel and Nikolai Durov, and boasts about 400M monthly users.

Telegram

WhatsApp was recently acquired for an eye-popping $19B by Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB). Strangely, the acquisition gave a leg-up to Telegram – it saw 8M downloads after the news broke and catapulted it to No. 4 position in iOS chart rankings, ahead of WhatsApp.

Zuck and Pavel Durov could lock horns again

Pavel and Zuckerberg have been rivals before in the Russian social media scene. Vkontakte (usually referred as ‘VK’), built by the Pavel brothers, is a prominent Russian social network that stood its ground against Facebook, thwarting its ambitions to become the top social site in Russia.

Unfortunately, it appears that through a series of typically Russian political and financial machinations, Durov had to sell out his 12% stake in VK, leaving the network owned by two feuding groups.

These developments freed up Durov to concentrate on Telegram, the messaging app launched in 2013, and again, founded, funded and designed by the Durovs. Moreover, the sale of the VK stake also adds untold hundred of millions of dollars to his cash arsenal for taking Telegram into the big league, offering fresh, determined and perhaps serious competition to Zuck’s newly-acquired WhatsApp.

Telegram’s USPs – security and speed

Durov brings with him an anti-establishment aura – the result of his brushes with Russian authorities during his operation of VK. Not surprisingly, Durov built in extra security into his fledgling messaging app, and has claimed he did this to deny access to Russian security agencies.

This sounds good to users concerned with the recent alleged snooping by the NSA into social networks and moves by the US Army to launch surveillance on Facebook and Twitter users.

Telegram’s app site also claims that “it is the fastest messaging app on the market because it uses a decentralized infrastructure with data centers positioned around the globe to connect people to the closest possible server.”

Telegram – hack me if you can

In fact, Durov has thrown down the gauntlet to hackers, offering to pay $200K to anyone who can crack Telegram’s encrypted protocol.

For users obsessed with ultra-security, Telegram offers Secret Chats, messages that are encrypted end-to-end, are not logged on the company servers, and are programmable to self-destruct, Mission Impossible style, so there is no record of them, ever.

Non-profit

“Telegram is free and will always be free. We do not plan to sell ads or introduce subscription fees,” says the app’s site.

“Pavel Durov, who shares our vision, supplied Telegram with a generous donation through his Digital Fortress fund, so we have quite enough money for the time being. If Telegram runs out, we’ll invite our users to donate or add non-essential paid options,” claims the website.

That’s another challenge – again to Zuckerberg and Facebook – who might be nurturing ambitions of monetizing their brand new toy.