Building Superapps with Web3
Originally, the term ‘super app’ was coined by BlackBerry founder Mike Lazaridis back in 2010, you could think of a super app as the operating system of your life, a one-stop shop for all of the digital services you would need on a day to day basis.
Perhaps the most famous Super App right now is weChat, it has touched over 800 million users in China, and is by far the largest social/messaging application in China. It started as a messaging application and has since expanded its services to various parts of your lives. Want to buy/sell products online? WeChat can integrate e-commerce stores into their application to facilitate buying and selling. Want to pay for coffee? You could easily scan a QR code to pay directly from the app, even roadside stores can be seen using WeChat’s QR code for digital payments. Of course, it also has social functions. Besides messaging, users can also post “moments”, write articles and run advertisements as well. It’s truly a phenomenon that such an application even exists
But okay, what does this have to do with Web3 and the blockchain?
One of the most important components when building a super app is its financial layer. With an in-house financial layer, digital transactions are made possible, which unlocks a whole array of different use cases. The application would also have the freedom to come up with incentive structures to attract more users or merchants. Thinking about an example closer to home, Grab and its wallet service Grab pay was able to gain market share by providing digital services to the unbanked population in South East Asia, empowering more people to participate meaningfully in their economies.
I think you can start to see where Im going here.
Of course, other messaging applications also understand the power of the super app. In this article, we will be looking specifically at Telegram and the open network, and why I think it has a good chance of becoming the first web3 super app.
Telegram and TON
Before we dive in, let us just acknowledge that most (if not all) of Web3 is still arcane and in its very early stages. Though things are rapidly changing, we are still years away from technology being ready for the masses.
So we’ll have to use a bit of our imagination here.
The Open Network (TON), also known as TON Blockchain, is a decentralized network created by Telegram and launched in 2018 (yes that’s 5 years ago). Though it was initially developed by Telegram developers, their progress was halted when the SEC deemed it security, it is now managed by the TON foundation, but seems to still have close relations to the Telegram application itself. For the sake of simplicity, we will be using telegram and the open network interchangeably.
I first came across TON when I was trying to build a telegram bot for a blockchain hackathon project, it seemed like a good idea to use telegram to onboard users to the blockchain since most people are familiar with telegram anyways. That’s when I realised that telegram already has its blockchain infrastructure, and there are tons of stuff u can do on telegram which interacts directly with the blockchain.
What can you do with TON now?
Of course, TON is still predominantly a crypto/blockchain project (for now), and it’s still in its infancy stages in terms of development and functionality. You are currently able to access basic DeFi applications like DEXes to trade tokens and there are some NFT projects on TON as well (though the adoption is much lesser compared to other layer 1s)
One thing that stands out to me is their wallet implementation with Telegram. TON has developed a wallet bot that allows you to view your assets, and deposit tokens all from telegram. It abstracts the process of wallet creation and maps a wallet to your telegram id. In that case, ownership of the wallet is verified using ur telegram identity and you won’t have to worry about your private keys.
This allows for a seamless onboarding process for new users, especially for those that have no experience in dealing with the blockchain
The most interesting protocol to me is Fragment. Fragment is integrated with telegram and allows users to buy and sell usernames on TON. For the first time, users can own their social media identity in a verifiable way.
“But nobody cares about that right, who would want to buy my telegram handle?” That’s a valid thought, in isolation buying a telegram handle is like a .eth domain name on Ethereum, quite cool to have but not essential. But here’s where it gets interesting.
Besides telegram handles, Fragment also recently started a marketplace for anonymous numbers. This means that users will no longer need a SIM card or a phone number to use telegram. Similar to Grab and Grab pay, Telegram will leverage TON’s blockchain infrastructure to provide users with easy access to Telegram’s services.
With a market for both usernames and phone numbers, telegram truly allows users to own their identity on the blockchain, and sets an important foundation for more services to build on top of in the future.
Super App potential
For the average web3 user, I guess it’s quite tough to imagine ever buying your shitcoins over a messaging app like Telegram. But there is an inherent benefit to using the blockchain. Due to its interoperable and open-source nature, telegram should be able to integrate more services into its platform more quicker (in theory). We also have DeFi, which could be the building blocks for simple transactions like buying and selling tokens.
Beyond that, if we can also see a future where the blockchain can be used as a financial layer, then telegram would already be way ahead of its competitors.
With the ability to obtain telegram identities onchain, I think TON and telegram have great potential in becoming the first SuperApp that can not only integrate blockchain services into a messaging app but onboard more people to their application by lowering the barrier to entry. Though I am privileged enough to have access to a phone number and the internet with no issues, I can imagine that there is a big part of the world that don’t. If we can reach these communities using the blockchain, we could further level the playing field.
Of course, its success will be dependent on the adoption of applications built on the blockchain. Only in that specific future, telegram could be well positioned as the interface for a multitude of services on the blockchain.
I mean, wouldn’t it be great if everyone can do everything from messaging to purchasing all in one application?