What Is TON And Where Is It Now? The Story Of Telegram Open Network And Its Founder
Remember TON, one of the most ambitious blockchain projects in 2020? The one initiated by Pavel Durov, founder of Telegram, a messenger with 500 million users? The project came to grief following a conflict with SEC, the independent Free TON was launched, and not much news has shown up since. What’s up with TON today? We’ll take a look at it, recall the story of TON, and discuss who Pavel Durov is and what mindset brought him to the idea of creating a platform for state-independent messaging and value exchange.
The Internet Totem
Pavel Durov is a Russian businessman, developer, and visionary. In 2006, he launched VK — Russia’s largest social network sometimes dubbed as “Russian Facebook”, and in 10 years, created Telegram — a private messenger with over 500 million monthly active users.
As Durov once said, he was lucky to become rich very young. That wasn’t an easy way, though — when the police knocked on his door during the protests in 2014, Durov had to flee the country to abandon VK and keep working on Telegram. The outstanding messenger’s user base has been collected from Saint Kitts and Nevis — a country whose citizenship is popular among Russians as it allows going almost anywhere in the world without a visa.
When Durov was asked upon graduating school who he’d like to become, he said “I want to be an Internet Totem.” No one got the idea back then, but that’s how it actually ended up.
Neo’s early days
Durov was born in 1984 in Leningrad (that’s what Saint Petersburg was called at the time). Pavel started to create his first games at the age of 11 — that’s when he realized his interest in programming.
After studying at various prestigious schools in Russia and abroad, he entered the Department of English Philology and Translation of Saint Petersburg State University. There, Durov demonstrated high intelligence and leadership qualities.
You may not have known, but there is also one more Durov. Nikolay, Pavel’s brother, is much more private, but considered by some even smarter. Nikolay was and is responsible for the core tech infrastructure of VK, Telegram, and further, TON (until 2020).
VK, the most used Russian social media, was founded in 2006. Conceptually, it originates from durov.com — a students’ database for preparing for exams. Everyone there was hiding behind the nicknames. When a Durov’s friend came back from the US and told Pavel about Facebook, the Totem realized that this is the chance — and that’s how VK appeared, a platform considered revolutionary at the time for having people with real names. It was criticized initially for its similarity with Facebook; however, many years later, VK showed a much lighter and intuitive interface than its American counterpart. In Russia, Facebook is 2 times less popular than VK as of 2021.
Throughout all this time, Durov was drawing inspiration from the mass culture. “The Matrix” movie has become iconic to him — with Neo fighting the system in the digital world and keeping the purity of his mind. It may seem that they only have physical resemblance — however, when we learn what happened next, we’ll realize a “freedom fighter” is not just a metaphor.
Fleeing from Russia. Telegram creation
In 2011, a protest movement erupted in Russia, and one day, Durov found armed people in front of his door demanding to shut an account of an opposition leader. Pavel refused and reported the case to the public, which followed with mass support for VK.
In 2014, police knocked on his door again after the protests broke out in Ukraine. Their request was the same, but this time, Durov’s outcry didn’t help, and he had to ultimately sell his share in VK and flee the country.
By that time, he did have new work to do. Being the CEO of VK, Durov founded the Digital Fortress firm which servers based in Buffalo could hold ⅓ of all VK traffic. In 2013, Pavel disclosed what they were designated for — the private messenger Telegram.
For its user-friendliness and following its privacy promises, Telegram has quickly become popular worldwide without any aggressive marketing. After this success, the team announced another world-scale ambitious project, TON.
TON, a platform for digital libertarianism
TON is a blockchain platform that was supposed to be built on top of Telegram. Its purpose was to enable its 400 million users to exchange value via the Gram token without any governmental influence. TON would allow up to a million transactions per second; the world’s top engineers, including Pavel’s old friends from VK, were working at it. In countries with strong censorship, TON would allow for free value and content exchange.
In 2018, TON raised a mind-blowing $1.7 billion from investors. Its mainnet was supposed to be launched in 2019 — and that’s when the team started to postpone it. First due to the ‘innovative nature of development’, but ultimately it became clear that the dream is not to come true.
TON vs. SEC
While TON devs were making plans, SEC wasn’t sleeping. It was watching, and they didn’t like what they saw. In October 2019, an emergency restraint order was put on selling Gram tokens.
“We allege that the defendants have failed to provide investors with information regarding Grams and Telegram’s business operations, financial condition, risk factors, and management that the securities laws require.” — said SEC. In other words, the authority claimed Grams should have been sold not as tokens, but as securities, so TON deceived its investors.
On May 12, 2020, Durov shut the project down. He explained why the decision was absurd, pointing out the dependence of the whole world on the verdicts of the American court (Gram was prohibited worldwide). Durov wished luck to everyone who fights for decentralizing the world.
TON was closed, but the community of devs around the project had already been formed. They launched Free TON in May 2020, stressing the independence of the project from its original. Free TON, however, was built on the same code: its transaction time is less than a second, it supports smart contracts, governance, and staking. Multi-level structure with a masterchain, workchains, and shardchains showed in tests the capacity of tens of thousands of transactions per second, and theoretically, up to a million. Decentralized file storage is implemented.
All this, however, can’t integrate with the 500-million Telegram user base, which was the crucial idea of TON. Free TON doesn’t show interest from investors, and currently, the Gram Crystal token is lost somewhere in the 3rd thousand on Coinmarketcap’s list.
Pavel Durov continues his work on Telegram. Recently, he raised $1 billion in bond sales for Telegram development and paying back to TON investors, some of which filed a lawsuit against Telegram in May 2021.
Telegram ft. Crypto
TON has never been launched, but crypto has found its place in Telegram in the form of crypto bots. Here’s what some of them do:
- Bitzlato — a crypto exchange bot for BTC, ETH, USDT, BCH, LTC, and DASH.
- Tracktxbot tracks transactions on your Ethereum address and notifies you whenever a new sum of tokens lands into your wallet.
- At ChangeNOW, we also seized this opportunity and created our ChangeNOW official bot. Here, you can swap 200+ cryptocurrencies right from your pocket, without even visiting the ChangeNOW website. Feel free to learn more here.
The digital prodigy
In May 2020, many crypto enthusiasts felt their dream was crashing after learning that TON’s not going to make it. For many who knew Durov, it looked like Neo surrendered in his fight with the system. But that should become a good lesson for us: besides technical stuff, there’s also a strong legal aspect in every venture that can ruin it all. That’s why when launching anything, we should think it all through beforehand. ChangeNOW hopes no more ambitious crypto projects will fail on things like that, being able to find common ground with the authorities of any country.
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