Since the rise and fall of MySpace, social media outlets have been in an arms race to produce innovative and interesting features for their users. Many services start out as a simple messaging service without many bells and whistles and carve out space in the digital world with features their users need.
And now with blockchain and cryptocurrency gaining so much attention, Telegram has announced the Gram: a cryptocurrency with a partially decentralized infrastructure that will use its 180 million active users as a proving ground.
The blockchain technology used by Gram is based on an improved version of the initial blockchain technology -- like all new cryptocurrencies, Gram will live or die by its ability to keep up with its promises of efficiency and scalability. With an immediate user base of up to 180 million, the potential for slow transaction speeds is tremendous.
The observation that 180 million people will have an active TON wallet is a bit cheeky -- though Facebook has 2 billion active users, it's safe to say that not all of them use its integrated money transfer application. But that doesn't change the fact that Telegram's model is an interesting step forward for cryptocurrency at large. It marks a new evolution of the genre. Telegram's unique internal currency is an attempt at something entirely different than other cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum. The value of the currency is for Gram users to quickly and safely make transactions and create a stable economy that doesn't respond heavily to market forces.
Gram is coming with a huge ICO, with a $500 million ICO pre-sale. ICOs are great for investors and for companies, but they are the absolute lifeblood of cryptocurrency markets. Without an initial trading value, there would be no way for Gram to catch up to existing coins. However, Telegram's founder Pavel Durov's influence has generated tremendous interest and set a massive potential entrance for TON. Telegram is a more enticing investment opportunity than other "startup" cryptocurrencies because it already has inherent value: its 180 million user reach. If the service can be implemented seamlessly and Gram can get some real world weight behind it, it has a much greater chance of becoming a usable and scalable commodity.
The consequences of an entire economy that is backed by a blockchain owned by a messaging app are uncharted territory for a world with economies historically backed by states. Fiat currency has always been successful because the owners of banknotes know that they are guaranteed by the state. Much of the value of cryptocurrencies is that they aren't tied to a state market, and therefore can rise and scale unbounded by size and (ideally) remain unaffected by regulations and policy changes.
Telegram's wallet will allow users to hold both Grams and other fiat currencies. It also comes with the same encryption guarantee that has been provided to its users for its entire lifetime: Durov has promised that he would never sell user data or the company, even if the price point went up to $20 billion.