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Telegram booms as Russia’s digital landscape shrinks

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Telegram messenger blocks Russia opposition bot during vote


Telegram’s Russia-born founder Pavel Durov said he was following Apple and Google, which “dictate the rules of the game to developers like us” – Copyright AFP/File Jason Redmond

Thomas URBAIN

The Telegram messaging app has become a go-to platform since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, despite concerns over its data security and defenses against misinformation.

It has benefitted from the gap left by Russia’s blocking of Facebook and Instagram, offering a platform for mass messaging in a way similar to social media.

The platform also provides one of the last windows on Russia, but also an open channel to the horrors facing an under siege Ukraine.

“Our main hope is connected with Telegram channel,” Galina Timchenko, director of the independent news site Meduza that Russia has moved to block, told the Committee to Protect Journalists.

According to daily figures provided by Telegram, the app has been downloaded over 150 million times since the beginning of the year, with the official figure of half a billion active users dating back to January 2021.

Prior to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, Telegram benefitted from not using the same economic model of the big American platforms that generate revenue with data on their users.

Downloads jumped in 2021 when a report from ProPublica investigative journalists claimed that Facebook teams were viewing messages sent via WhatsApp, contrary to company assurances.

At the same time, Telegram has benefitted from the image of its creators, brothers Pavel and Nikolai Durov, Russian citizens who left their home country in 2014.

Under pressure from the authorities, Nikolai sold his stake in VK, which he had created, rather than hand over the personal data of activists to the government.

“Telegram is now a very nice revenge story, and we all love a good revenge story,” said Enrique Dans, a professor specializing in information systems at the IE Business School in Madrid.

“Will that be enough to make Telegram the world’s favorite messaging app? That’s a whole lot to say. The app still has a lot of things to demonstrate in areas such as security, encryption and business model,” he added.

While the platform run from Dubai claims to be secure, it does not encrypt messages by default, as does the Meta owned WhatsApp says it does.

In addition, “Telegram’s profile has grown enormously in recent weeks, and that has raised the stakes about the impact of misinformation on the platform, said Jamie MacEwan, a media analyst at Enders Analysis.

Messaging platforms in general have long faced criticism over their capacity to combat misinformation.

Contacted by AFP, Telegram said it employs “several hundred professional moderators to keep the platform safe for users”, a team that is “constantly growing”.

“Meta employs tens of thousands of moderators and huge problems still slip through the net,” said MacEwan, “It is unclear how much investment in moderation Telegram can support on its current funding model.”

The company’s model was fully funded by Pavel Durov until 2018, before raising $1.7 billion from investors, with the hope of launching its own cryptocurrency and becoming an alternative to Visa and Mastercard.

But the project fell through due to lack of regulatory approval in the United States, and the company repaid most of the funds.

Entirely free, Telegram started advertising last year, but with a reduced, highly regulated offering, and guaranteeing that it would not use users’ private data for targeting.

In April 2021, the Russian business daily Vedomosti reported that the company was preparing to go public in 2023, and was aiming for a valuation of between $30 billion and $50 billion.

“The value that Telegram could eventually reach if it goes public depends strongly on its monetization strategy and Durov has not been very clear on that yet,” said Dans.



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LinkedIn Announces Expanded Roll-Out of New ‘Focused Inbox’ Format for InMail

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LinkedIn Announces Expanded Roll-Out of New ‘Focused Inbox’ Format for InMail

You may have noticed a change to your LinkedIn messaging tab this week.

Today, LinkedIn has confirmed that its new ‘Focused Inbox’ format, which re-routes less valuable messages into an ‘Other’ tab in your LinkedIn message stream, is being rolled out to all users in the app.

Initially announced by LinkedIn back in September, Focused Inbox provides you with two separate InMail tabs – ’Focused’ and ‘Other’. In this context, ‘Other’ could just as easily be labeled ‘Spam’ – but the purpose, essentially, is to filter out the junk, and highlight the most important outreach in the app.

As explained by LinkedIn Product Manager Deepan Mehta:

We’ve heard from many of you that you want a better way to organize your LinkedIn inbox. So I’m excited to share that we’re now rolling out a new and improved LinkedIn messaging experience to make it easier for our members around the globe to find and respond to the messages that matter most. Focused Inbox offers a dual-tabbed experience that categorizes your incoming messages into “Focused” and “Other.” Focused contains the most relevant new opportunities and outreach, while Other contains the remainder of your conversations.”

Mehta also notes that ‘conversations’ on LinkedIn are up nearly 20% year-over-year, with many people increasingly turning to messaging to connect and engage with each other in the app.

‘Conversations’ is a bit vague, but LinkedIn’s generally pretty unclear with its engagement stats. As a reminder, LinkedIn has reported ‘record levels’ of engagement pretty much every quarter since 2018, shortly after Microsoft acquired the professional networking app.

Microsoft is actually the originator of the new Focused Inbox approach, with the functionality originally launched for Outlook, before making its way to LinkedIn.

How much it improves the experience will come down, mostly, to how many messages you receive – though it’ll be interesting to note where LinkedIn’s paid InMails end up.

You would assume that LinkedIn will still be pushing paid promos into your main inbox, though a promotion from LinkedIn got filtered into my ‘Other’ folder this week. Just one aspect to note.

Mehta says that LinkedIn is gradually rolling out Focused Inbox to all members globally, so if you don’t have it yet, you will soon.

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