Messaging app Telegram is currently experiencing a bump in downloads in Brazil thanks to a local court ruling forcing a 48 hour shutdown of WhatsApp, which started at 9pm ET on Wednesday. (More on the wtaf of that ruling here.)
WhatsApp is massively popular in Brazil, with some 93 million users — or 93% of the country’s Internet population. So what happens when you shut off a messaging service used by almost everyone in a nation who owns a smartphone? You just encourage them to route around the damage and find an alternative way to communicate, that’s what.
(There’s a parallel lesson here for politicians thinking that banning encryption will prevent terrorists from securely communicating.)
As of 12 hours ago, Telegram was saying 500,000 users from Brazil had signed up in the past three hours. Two hours after that it tweeted that 1M new users had joined from the country — “and growing”. One hour after that it said it had 1.5M new users and counting.
At this point SMS gateways started struggling to keep pace with demand, with Telegram urging Brazilians trying to sign up but not getting sent an SMS verification code to “hang on! Codes are coming”.
Depending on how well the verification snag gets smoothed out, Telegram should see that 1.5M+ figure swell a lot further as the 48hour WhatsApp shutdown is not yet even halfway through yet, and the network effect of friends getting friends to download the same messaging alternative spirals out. Update: Reuters reports that a judge from a higher court ordered a lifting of the WhatsApp ban after “several hours of suspension” — so Telegram’s Brazilian bump isn’t going to be as bountiful as it might have been.
It’s not the first time Telegram has garnered a WhatsApp-related downloads spike. Back in February 2014 news that Facebook had acquired the messaging platform pushed Telegram above WhatsApp in the App Store download rankings — as app users voted with their fingertips to express apparent displeasure at the platform being taken over by the social web’s 800-pound gorilla. Telegram also bagged users during a WhatsApp outage earlier that year.
Despite a few spikes in downloads over its history, Telegram’s user base has held relatively steady in recent times (current Brazilian bump notwithstanding). It reported 50M monthly active users this time last year, before going on to bag some 8M after WhatsApp was acquired early the following year. Then its MAUs were fixed at 60M between May and September this year.
However it has seen a significant increase in messaging volume over the same period this year, growing from 1BN daily messages sent in February to 12BN by September, so the engagement of its user-base has clearly been ramping up. Telegram will now be hoping WhatsApp’s Brazilian misfortune translates into some significant monthly user growth for it too.
Founder Pavel Durov likes to point out a laundry list of feature-set advantages for his messaging platform vs WhatsApp, as he sees it — from an end-to-end encrypted messaging feature, to cross-device sync capability, to the ability to send large media files/documents, and more expansive options around group chat, telling TechCrunch back in September that encryption and privacy are just “one of the things that makes Telegram different”.
Offering an available alternative to a super popular messaging platform that’s temporarily offline also clearly helps too, from time to time.