I Trust Telegram
How I’ve used Telegram as the ultimate cross-platform Universal Clipboard, file sharing service, and more.
Believe it or not, I, too originally sought the Russian-owned, cross-platform-as-hell messaging service for “privacy” – or perhaps solitude would be more apt. It was in 2017, amidst the shock that the Tump Presidency was actually going to happen [^1], that I happened to hear about his pick for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, whom had just 18 months prior led myself and some twenty thousand other poor souls in a most capitalist prayer to the Christian God for prosperity at her pyramid scheme’s ultimate “superbowl” gathering in Cincinatti. I had decided to “infiltrate” AMWAY under the ridiculous assumption that I might be able to contribute some new insight in writing critically about what I might witness. (In truth, I found my experiences that summer so utterly traumatic, existentially, that I never was able to do so.) I don’t know what consequences of her ascension to the Lord of American Schooling I expected to happen, but I was pretty hysterical about it – that is, more unhumorously alarmed about some grander world happening as I’d ever been by a long shot. For the first and only time in memory, I felt compelled to take some sort of malicious, obscured action – to organize somehow for a purpose other than to be publicly critical of this person, and to use my knowledge about digital media to the fullest possible extent to scrutinize her administration’s every movement and to be prepared, even, to take some sort of real action if she… well, I don’t know. I didn’t know anything, really, about anti-government organization, generally, but I was not acting rationally in the slightest.[^2]
I’m bringing this up for a few reasons, and the fact that the very first digital decision of my personal hysteria was to set up a private Telegram channel is telling, though I can’t recall just how much or how little I actually knew about it at the time. I launched myself back to the channel’s very beginning (easier to do with regular URLs than in any other service I’ve ever encountered,) but was only able to bring myself to dig just long enough to grab the utterly absurd photograph above… Though I certainly did not consider myself actively interested in automation at the time,[^3] Telegram’s infamous bot ecosystem proved so prevalent (and accessible,) that I was able to configure at least three bots on that channel within days of first establishing it: a repeater hooked to DeVos’ Twitter account, an RSS-powered bot watching the main feed of a website set up by Senator Elizabeth Warren called DeVos Watch, and another republishing everything from the Department of Education’s press releases feed.
got called on telegram to be shown a big tub of worms pic.twitter.com/vCik1IgETv— AHHHH!!mmnontet (@ammnontet) October 17, 2021
Was any of it genuinely useful in helping me maintain Action Readiness in hypothetical defense of American education? Most certainly not. It was, however, genuinely comforting to have such diligent, automated minions keeping watch – to have a centralized, private, reliable, and purely-chronological feed of information in a super-handy location, regardless of whether or not it was usable. As I began to unconsciously integrate Telegram into my day-to-day online life on both of my PCs and my iPhone, the usefulness of my private channel for other applications became rapidly apparent. On iOS, not even dedicated file managers like DEVONthink are capable (or willing might be a more accurate term) of handling the diversity of data Telegram will happily pass on for you, especially through the Share Sheet.
honestly I don’t think Telegram’s Share Sheet has changed since it was first implemented, and for very good reason. this is how quickly one can share a URL, but the thing is… you can also send literally any file or text the same way, which is definitely unique. pic.twitter.com/QA4FCqLgB7— ※ David Blue ※ (@NeoYokel) September 27, 2021
I have used this “flow” so extensively for so long that it has come to define the whole of the abstract method in my muscle memory. Observe me browsing the web on my phone in an exhausted or particularly distractible state and you’d probably catch at least one or two completely irrational, inexplicable instances of sharing to my “Saved Messages” Telegram channel, which would be problematic for just about any other link-saving service. Add too many links to Safari’s Read Later list and you’ll end up crashing the browser on your Mac. I don’t even feel comfortable sending links willy nilly to the brilliant bookmark managing/curatorial service Raindrop, these days, after finding out that my Reading List feed has actual daily followers, but there are zero consequences to sending ultimately-worthless or duplicate links to my personal Telegram channel, which has no content limit and is instantly and competently searchable.
Over the years, I’ve discovered a bunch of other uses for the Saved Messages channel. As demonstrated in the screenshots embedded above, the Send to Telegram Action for my writing app, Drafts, utilizes Telegram for iOS’ Universal Links support (in the format
tg://…) to instantly send the whole text of the current document in Drafts to a Telegram channel of one’s choice. I suspect this was intended to streamline posting for admins of public channels, but I’ve used it to quickly “back up” work as well as to transfer edits directly to my (Windows-running) PC. By adding
&to=+[my phone number] to the end of the action’s URL, I was able to remove the single, unnecessary step of choosing the destination chat. Because text messages are automatically split at 5000 characters, though, I usually depend on the Share as Markdown File Action (the output of which I also send to Saved Messages through the Share Sheet) for the latter function. Anecdotally I’ve also used this method literally just to inspect unknown content passed to the Share Sheet because it’s often faster than Quick Look to share to my Saved Messages channel and then immediately open it in the app. (Hilarious, I suppose. Mostly sad, these days.)
I found my inspiration for this Post in replying to a thread on the Automators.fm Discourse forum regarding a Windows equivlalent to the same Mac/iOS/iPadOS app Drafts mentioned above. I suppose my reply was a bit off-topic, in retrospect, but still worth including:
I have been using Telegram, of all things for years. Notably, if you hit Ctrl + 0 from anywhere in the Windows client, you and your cursor are taken to the compose field beneath your personal “Saved Messages” channel, which is searchable, has an extremely high per-message character limit (after which it just automatically splits,) and is ridiculously reliable in saving “drafts” live as you're typing. As in... I have actively tried to lose characters by killing the application and then logging in on my phone and have yet to accomplish losing a single one (among other advantages: zero formatting added to plain text by default – not even line breaks – no total file limit and 2GB per file limit uploads, absurdly cross-platform, literally more reliable than SMS in poor network conditions.) You can immediately reenter a sent message with
↑to edit, copy it, escape with just
Escand then paste to start a new revision.
The feature within Telegram that makes this whole usecase worthwhile was introduced in June, 2016, and is entitled – appropriately – “Drafts.” Unlike the Drafts function in Twitter’s various native clients, for instance, Telegram’s really is impossible to fool, though it’s not perfect. Markdown formatting support is inconsistent across Telegram clients – the iOS app being the most woeful – and the few keyboard shortcuts the app supports on iPad are not supported whatsoever on iPhone.
Users familiar with the MacOS + iOS + iPadOS ecosystem should be well-acquainted with “Universal Clipboard,” which instantly synchronizes clipboard content across Apple devices. More recently, Android + Windows users have supposedly had access to an equivalent functionality. To my knowledge, though, truly cross-platform clipboard sync has yet to be realized.[^4] As someone who’s used iOS and Windows regularly – along with Linux, occasionally – for more than a decade, now, I’d put my full weight behind Telegram as the best available solution from (far too much) personal experience.
When first entering a new system, real or virtual, regardless of OS, my very first step upon completion of its setup process has for years been to install Telegram, largely because all of my passwords for any/all given services are huge – 30+ characters, at least – and complex enough that typing them out is both tricky and absurdly time-consuming. Authorizing a new Telegram client, however, is as simple as entering a one-time numeric passcode or scanning a QR code. Managing logged-in sessions (see: the far right screenshot embedded above) is quick, reliable, and includes a handy button to kill all but the current session. Thanks to these considerations, I feel quite comfortable sending myself passwords in Telegram, including .csv exports of whole password vaults, when it’s appropriate, even when working on systems I do not own. For this function, I can’t think of any other service/software capable of replacing Telegram.
For day-to-day hyperlink sharing across my platforms, a variety of alternatives continue to come and go. The “Send to [device]” features represented throughout the palette of available web browsers – Firefox, Opera, Edge Chromium, Chrome, etc. – aren’t exactly reliable, in my experience. Most recently, I discovered a service specific to Hewlett Packard machines called “QuickDrop,” which – along with its accompanying iOS app – does indeed allow me to send files, links, and text between my iPhone and Big Boy HP tower, though even my brief testing was filled with inexplicable prompts to reauthenticate and intermittent hangups, neither of which lend easily to regular use. I still maintain high hopes for Snapdrop, which allows devices to share files and text over a local network from within any web browser, but it, too, is prone to frustrating hangups.
File Transfer & Cloud Backup
Amidst the saga of my failed move to Portland spanning 2017-2019, I ended up losing all of my physical file storage – my old desktop and its hard drive, as well as 3 external drives containing a bunch of raw video I probably wouldn’t have gotten around to using, anyway, site backups for Extratone, and who knows what else. This loss taught me many grand, metaphysical life lessons (I hope,) but more practically, it affirmed a (admittedly gluttonous) truth about digital assets: if one truly wishes to make a file permanent, they must back it up in as many different places as possible.[^5] Perhaps the single most durable of these in my own computing life to date has been Telegram, which still has no per-account file upload limit and a per-file size limit of two gigabytes. The amount of pre-2019 work I’ve recovered solely thanks to Telegram is too great to enumerate here, but a rough draft of my 2018 Thankful for Bandcamp Mix comes immediately to mind.
How exactly the service is able to maintain this virtually unrestricted storage, infrastructurally, borders on don’t want to know status. My own net server impact as a user is fairly difficult to estimate, but I’d bet real paper currency it’s between 50 and 100 GB, the vast majority of which I uploaded several years ago. Within any mainstream cloud file storage service – Dropbox, Google Drive, Box, iCloud, etc. – the cost of storing that amount over time would have added up to a not-insignificant chunk of change. I don’t want to advocate for Telegram as a cloud storage replacement for loaded cheapskates, but for working-class users on a $0 budget, it can be counted upon to keep large files in a relatively shareable, ultra cross-platform, and super-accessible manner. Students, especially, should take note.
At this point in my life, I must acknowledge to both readers and myself that I am completely inept at community organization. Especially when it comes to grand suggestions about how I suppose online communities might be ideally-run or just better served by particular software environments and configurations, I have literally received zero positive feedback, and not because I haven’t spent significant time positing publicly within the space. I spent the first half of my twenties trying to Peter Pan an independent online music magazine into existence, written by fresh-minded youths on the fringe at 140% throttle and managed to accomplish startlingly little for my all my invested time and gumption. The relevant component of that tale was a significant and all-out commitment from the beginning to run the whole project entirely within Discord.
The one absent activity throughout my years of Telegram use – save for intermittent correspondence during one relationship – has been messaging other users. I managed to find and participate in a few group chats – “Telegram iOS Talk” and It's FOSS' official channel, notably – in my preparation/research for this post. I’ve discovered plenty of new clever bits, like the button to jump to one’s nearest mention in a chat. I’ve also done my best to actually apply some much-needed administrative attention to my years-old attempt at creating the definitive location-based local group chat for the Mid-Missouri area where I live. Truthfully… It hasn’t exactly gone as I’d hoped, but the failures have been all my own. I have yet to find a satisfactory balance in terms of moderation bots, so I’ve (as of this writing) resorted to manually removing the (significant) spam bot traffic by hand. Also, I must admit that I’ve never had to do so more than once or twice on Extratone’s public Discord, despite how much more circulation its public, open invite links have received.
In the past few weeks, I’ve had the privilege of watching MacStories relaunch their premium membership program, Club MacStories, on their incredible bespoke CMS. Part of this launch included their first exclusive community space, on Discord, which has been deeply rewarding for me, personally, but has also highlighted some serious limitations of that service which I not-so-long-ago advocated so heavily for. Namely, hyperlinks to specific messages within Discord are a hopelessly problematic endeavor. Even for a public server like Extratone’s, navigating to a message link like this example will require any and all users to log in to Discord on the web, which – on mobile devices, especially – seems to struggle to navigate to the precise position of the subject message after you’ve successfully done so. Slack’s public message links are smart enough at least to prompt users to open them Slack for iOS, but Telegram’s system for message links in public channels and groups makes both services look daft.