WhatsApp. No, not what’s up, although that’s what you’d have heard back in the 90s before the phonetic-namesake app wriggled its way into virtually every handheld device (and PC). Okay, let’s be fair, free (data and wi-fi not withstanding) texting, image and video sharing, and now toll free calls to anywhere in the world, that really solves the problem of having to empty a fanny pack’s worth of quarters into a public STD phone (STD as in Subscriber Toll Dialling, not the other one).
But this TBT is not about WhatsApp. It’s about Instamessaging before WhatsApp took over and sent face-to-face conversations six feet under. This week, we’ll take a look at Windows Live Messenger, nee MSN Messenger.
MSN the start of something new
How thrilled were you in 1999, when you suddenly found that you could ping a message to your friend after school or work? How thrilled were you when you found that they could reply instantly so long as they were also online? Pretty stoked I’d imagine, wouldn’t see why not, because what it meant was you could spend hours chatting with someone without having to actually speak to them, I mean let’s be honest, a lot of people are more comfortable online than off.
The very first version of MSN messenger was nothing more than a simple plain text service with a contact list. So forget about profile pictures and high-level customisations, this was as good as it got back in July of 1999, but all things considered, it wasn’t all that bad, and that’s because the actual conversation seemed to matter more than the witty status updates to accompany a banal profile photo of you with your hamster.
At the time, MSN and AOL were battling it out for top dog in the chatting domain, and, much like Eminem Vs Machine Gone Kelly, I mean Gun, it was a hotly pursued tete-a-tete, which saw Microsoft engineer, David Auerbach, reverse engineer AOL’s chat system, allowing Messenger to sign into AIM, which as you would imagine properly ticked AOL off.
Back and forth they went. AOL stole in with some serious cuckolding, and Auerbach and co continued to find the loopholes. But then things took a serious turn, and then there was attempted espionage and all sorts of whacky shindigs before AOL delivered its version of the Rock Bottom, introducing a security bug into the AIM software, permanently shutting the boys at MSN out. Game. Over.
In its fifteen-year existence, MSN went through a series of transformations, most of which involved user interface and interactivity.
Fans of the service will recall features such as custom emoticons, getting your minesweeper on with friends online, a special ‘nudge’ feature that would shake your contacts’ screen when you vied for their attention, and those hate-it-love-it wink options that came in the form of giant animated emoticons.
What an incredible journey it was for MSN Messenger, eventually going on to become Mrs Windows Live Messenger in 2009, and remaining that way until its demise in 2014, coming to a fitting end as customers in China received that familiar email notifying them of the discontinuation.
MSN Legacy and today
What a time it was when you’d yell at the top of your lungs when your mother interrupted your flirtatious chat conversation with your high school crush so she could make a call to gran on the other side of town, or that charming three-tone message notification sound that became an integral part of your life.
Sadly, all that came to an end, although with the emergence of other messaging services, there really wasn’t much hope for MSN. A couple of rusty revival attempts, especially in 2013, have led to the emergence of Escargot, where you can download and use MSN versions 1 to 8 (8 being the start of Windows Live Messenger).
It does say it’s experimental, whatever that’s supposed to mean, but if you’re really desperate to bring back a shard from your childhood, then knock yourself out.
What were you favourite MSN moments?