Earlier this year, Telegram announced that it was abandoning the Telegram Open Network — reeling from the effects of a drawn-out legal battle with the United States Securities and Exchange Commission.
But because TON was an open-source project, with its entire code published on GitHub, the story was far from over.
Here, Ton Labs CTO Mitja Goroshevsky reveals how a “devastating” setback was transformed into a decentralized movement involving tens of thousands of people.
1. What happened after Telegram left TON?
A community came together and launched the Free TON network based on TON technology independently.
The first version of the Declaration of Decentralization was drafted. As others started contributing and adding to it, more and more members got involved — commenting, tweaking and helping it evolve — until things sped up like an avalanche.
There were people who were involved and interested in TON from the start. They became excited about launching the project as a community — spreading the word to their own networks. Eventually, it grew quickly from there as a community-driven project.
2. Does the messaging app still have any involvement in the project?
No. Telegram stated publicly that they have fully abandoned the project.
3. What inspired Free TON to be formed?
I think it was a natural reaction. When so many people spent so much of their time and effort on the project, just to have it suddenly yanked from their hands on the basis that money was raised in a way someone didn’t like, that’s devastating.
Suddenly, amazing technology would be taken from these people without a chance to continue developing it.
That was just too much to swallow. Nobody put it quite in those terms explicitly, but that’s what happened.
That is not how a free world should operate. Free TON proved that.
4. What makes Free TON different from the Telegram Open Network that was being planned?
I think the primary difference is a very strong community that drives development on both a technical and on a governance level.
The original TON did not have any explicit and public vision on how governance should work.
In the original design, governance was very naive. Validators would vote to approve protocol changes and that’s it. There was simply no vision about how to involve the community in the platform’s governance.
Free TON came with a much more open approach, because now it is all about the community. Many technical changes have been made and many more are coming as we move forward. The developers’ ecosystem and tooling look very different, and there are a lot of protocol changes.
5. When did the Free TON mainnet launch?
The Free TON network was launched on May 7 and it has been operational ever since. We called it a betanet, but there was never a planned restart of the mainnet.
It’s a gradual transition and the definition of the mainnet is somewhat vague. The more decentralized it is, the closer it is to the mainnet. With the current addition of almost 400 validators, I would say it is as good a mainnet as any other network out there.
6. It's a competitive space out there — how is Free TON setting itself apart from other blockchains?
Technically, Free TON is one of the fastest and most scalable networks in existence today. It has a unique design by virtue of a multi-threaded, sharded architecture. This allows it to have one of the fastest block producing times out there — currently an average of 0.2 seconds across the network — and virtually unlimited scalability.
One important note is that these numbers are achieved on a completely permissionless network on the public internet… not in a lab. It is operational now. It has very mature developers’ tools and it supports different programming languages and dozens of platforms.
But Free TON’s power comes from its community, where thousands of people are involved in governance activities. They’re involved in making hundreds of decisions, as well as building use cases for the network.
Usually, proof-of-stake blockchains begin with selling their tokens to future validators in order to create a starting point in this game economy. At Free TON, it was immediately clear to everybody that tokens are not going to be sold to anyone. The puzzle we had to solve is how to distribute tokens this way with game theory, but still as allowed through PoS.
Free TON has found a revolutionary solution to that problem in the Meritocratic Token Distribution model. It starts from the community proposing a contest in which all other members can participate. The contest is debated, and soft majority voting is used to decide whether a proposal should proceed.
Any member of the community can now participate by submitting their work for contests. In the end, a jury consisting of community members vote for those contest submissions and tokens are distributed to the winners respectively.
7. What have been the biggest challenges that Free TON has faced since launch?
The community faces new challenges every day, both technically and within the community. It is very intense and interesting.
We write a lot of software. We improve the protocol constantly, including the tools around it. We support and organize validators and developers. We discuss and adopt collaborations — partnerships essentially. There are dozens of contests running all the time. The community is very busy indeed.
8. How many people are currently involved in Free TON?
I don’t know the exact numbers and nobody really does — but there are hundreds of Telegram channels and tens of thousands of users, developers and validators. New collaborators are joining the community every day. The community members themselves are fantastic — they’re very open, helpful and engaged.
9. What are Free TON’s main goals for the future?
Free TON is a community-driven blockchain and the goal is to serve that community. This blockchain is designed to support millions of users and as such, it requires further development and adoption. Our decentralized governance needs to constantly evolve as we encounter new obstacles.
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