Free messaging and content sharing
Telegram is a free instant messaging app and content-sharing platform with a focus on speed and mass communication. You can use it to send messages to your friends, individually or in very large groups when connected to Wi-Fi or your mobile data. You can also create and follow Channels that broadcast mass messages to an unlimited amount of subscribers.
What is Telegram used for?
Telegram is an online messaging app that works similarly to popular messaging apps WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. You can message your contacts individually or create groups of up to 200,000 contacts to share text messages, voice messages, multimedia files, stickers, and GIFS. You can also make end-to-end encrypted voice calls.
However, Telegram is also a content provider; users can set up their own or subscribe to other people's Channels to send and receive public multimedia messages. Broadcasts through Channels can reach an unlimited number of subscribers and only admins have the right to post. Channel subscribers receive a notification to their phones with each new post.
As an encrypted messaging app, Telegram has been widely used as an alternative to WhatsApp due to its perceived higher levels of privacy. The platform has end-to-end encryption (although this is not applied by default) and cloud-based distributed messaging. Developers also claim they do not sell or share user data with third-parties, so there is no in-app advertising.
Cellphone users can also set up secure Secret Chats with messages that can 'self-destruct' (i.e. disappear after a set amount of time), giving you a new level of privacy. All users can also set their Telegram account to automatically destroy itself and all associated if they don't log in at least once during a set period (users can set this in the Privacy settings).
Telegram is available as both a mobile and desktop application, allowing you to sync your conversations and Channels across devices. Telegram has reliable, dedicated apps for all platforms including Android, Linux, iOS, Windows, and Mac OSX. It even has a web client if you don't want to download it.
How does Telegram work?
Downloading and installing Telegram is straightforward using the Windows installer. Upon first opening, you will need to register with your cell phone number by following the instructions. If you already have the app installed and set up on your phone, you can perform a quick login by scanning a QR code on your computer screen using the application on your phone.
It can be confusing to know where to begin with Telegram and new users will need to read online tutorials and articles to make the most of the app's rich features. Initially, however, most users will want to use Telegram for two things – one-on-conversations and group conversations.
More than a messaging app
What distinguishes Telegram from other instant messaging apps is its Channels, a form of one-way messaging where admins can broadcast messages to an unlimited number of subscribers. Channels on Telegram can be private or publicly available. Admins can set an alias and a permanent URL so that any user can find and join the channel.
Any Telegram user can create a Channel. Many people create channels that revolve around certain interest areas or subjects that they want to update their followers on. Increasing numbers of public and government bodies are sharing their content via Channels - these official accounts can gain a verification symbol for their Channels.
While Channels are a great way of both receiving and sharing information, for first-time Telegram users, it can be tricky to find Channels to follow.
There are three ways to find a public channel on Telegram; by looking for keywords using the global search function within the app, receiving a link to the channel in a forwarded message from another user and following the channel that way, or through online lists on websites that offer channel directories.
To set up a Channel yourself, simply click on New Channel under the hamburger menu. You'll need to give your channel a name, create an (optional) URL, and invite contacts to follow your channel. Then you can start broadcasting messages in the same way as sending a message in a private chat.
How safe is Telegram?
While Telegram has marketed itself as a more secure version of WhatsApp, it has been criticized by information-security experts who say its cryptography is untested. It's important to remember that conversations aren’t encrypted end-to-end by default. Instead, mobile device users have to select the Secret Chat feature to ensure only they and the intended recipient can read the message.
Other experts add that Telegram's encryption is not secure enough to be used by people transmitting highly sensitive information. As alternatives to Telegram Signal, Wickr and Confide all use end-to-end encryption, although they may lack some of Telegram's additional features like quizzes, educational tests, and stickers.
Messaging and content in one app
As a combination of an instant messenger app and a content-sharing platform, Telegram is certainly unique. Many users like the fact that Telegram puts a strong emphasis on security and doesn't share data although they should be aware that Telegram's privacy features aren't fail-safe.
Telegram also has a host of interesting, ever-developing features for users to find and get to grips with. These include bots for creating quizzes as well as educational tests. It can, however, be difficult to figure out these additional features: