Telegram launches collectible usernames secured by blockchain

The popular messaging service Telegram announced today that users can buy and sell valuable handles for Toncoin on a dedicated marketplace build on top of TON blockchain.

Telegram is living up to its promise to add “a little bit of Web 3.0” to the platform — starting from November 11, users can participate in auctions of rare Telegram handles on a dedicated marketplace Fragment.com. The ownership of collectible usernames is secured by TON, a fast and scalable blockchain that emerged from the ashes of the original Telegram open Network project.

“For the first time in the history of social media, a fair, transparent market for usernames is established. Finally people will have ownership over their social media addresses, secured in the immutable ledger of a decentralized blockchain network,” Telegram CEO Pavel Durov wrote in a post on his personal channel.

According to the official announcement, collectible usernames will work just like the common ones, except that they can be less than 5 characters long, enabling users to get unique handles like @news, @bank, or @game. Moreover, auctioned usernames can be temporarily deactivated without losing them forever — a feature unavailable for the basic handles.

The idea of the on-chain ownership of Telegram usernames was first voiced by Pavel Durov in August after a massive success of a similar auction held for TON domain and wallet addresses. The wallet.ton and casino.ton domains alone earned Telegram $260,000 and $244,000, respectively — while the overall sale generated more than $3 million.

“If TON has been able to achieve these results, imagine how successful Telegram with its 700 million users could be if we put reserved @usernames, group and channel links for auction,” Durov wrote enthusiastically at the time.

“Other elements of the Telegram ecosystem, including channels, stickers or emoji, could later also become part of this [Fragment] marketplace,” he added.

However, there’s also a hidden unpleasant detail behind Durov’s big words about the power shifting into users' hands. Namely, the platform confiscated for auction all public Telegram addresses linked to channels that were empty or inactive for the last year, a move said to be the only fair way to distribute usernames from “cybersquatters from Iran” to ordinary users.

“We will gradually reintroduce 99% of these addresses into public use, this time with algorithmic and geolocation limitations so that more users, and not just a select few, can benefit,” Durov stated.

While there’s no doubt that organized cybercrime in Iran exists and is doing well, the controversial move puts into question Durov’s declared commitment to libertarian values and concern for the good of the community. Furthermore, there’s a chance that cited “algorithmic and geolocation limitations” would affect innocent users from certain regions.

For context, TON — short for “The Open Network” — is a community-driven blockchain that emerged from the failed Telegram Open Network project that was abandoned by Telegram after a prolonged legal battle with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Although some question — and not without grounds — whether the TON team is truly independent from Telegram, Durov insisted that there is no connection between TON and the messenger. Apparently, the close cooperation between them is solely due to TON’s supreme technology.

“When it comes to scalability and speed, TON probably has the best technology to host such decentralized sales. Our team can write bullet-proof smart contracts for TON (since it was us who invented its smart-contract language), so we are inclined to try out TON as the underlying blockchain for our future marketplace,” Durov explained.