On April 8, Microsoft will retire perhaps the best known instant chat program that has existed so far when Windows Live Messenger (or it’s former and still more common name, MSN Messenger) is discontinued. MSN Messenger has been there since everyone used dial-up right up until Facebook’s dominance and everything in between. It was helpful that it came with the Windows software package and all you needed with a Hotmail account, which everyone had before 2005.
With the discontinuation of MSN Messenger, it seems to mark the end of external software chat programs that aren’t directly linked to more personal methods of internet communication between friends and strangers. All you needed to do to chat with someone was give an email address that may or may not have any identifiable information that linked back to you. I had several MSN accounts, one for in-person friends and one for internet chat for people I knew from places like message boards or celebrity fan sites.
My own history with chatting programs goes back to the early days during my first weeks connected to the internet. I was eager to find new websites to visit and knew about internet chat rooms so I searched for one for teens. I think the one I used was Alamak or something. You had to refresh the browser to read new messages.
Next, ICQ became the big thing that everyone had. A program you had to download and were given a number that was your identifier. People would add that number to talk to you. I still remember my first ICQ number. The program was distinctive by the “uh oh” sound you’d get when receiving a message from someone – always exciting. Plus other sounds for friend requests – even more exciting. ICQ quickly died away around 2000 for me and my friends but it still seems to be a thing today.
While ICQ was a message-by-message program, it was essentially like sending instant emails, most of the other ones worked like private chat rooms and were instant in how messages were sent and received. AOL IM was big around that time too and I did have an AOL Online Messenger account but rarely ever used it. Perhaps my favourite instant messaging program was Yahoo! Messager. Mostly because they had the best emoticons and it ran smoother than any of the others I used.
I started using MSN Messenger, not really by my own choice but because it was the most widely used chat program. Over the years, I accumulated a lot of connections from friends in real life and online. One of the perks for a while was its group conference option that allowed multiple users at once. You could also send “offline messages” to people who would get them when they logged in again, depending on which version you had. I soon became that person whose MSN was online (or away) at all times. And it stayed that way pretty much until a few years ago when I got my MacBook. Then my MSN was online only when I was.
When Facebook introduced its own chat a few years back, I wasn’t really on board. While it’s easy and convenient, it didn’t have the options that any of the previous programs I’ve used had and it was limited to friends you had so, if you’re like me and only accept friend requests from real-life friends, it makes chatting difficult without compromising your identification to chat with people from the internet in general. Other than Facebook chat, sending text messages is always an option – or iMessage or BBM, for example. And Skype is serving as MSN’s replacement for its Live Messenger, which has grown in popularity in recent years as well thanks to its easy web cam option.
I haven’t yet decided what my replacement for the age-old, dependable MSN Messenger will be. Of course, now I don’t have much need to talk to people that I don’t already know in some way anyway so perhaps MSN’s retirement of its chat program is really more of a non-issue and a way for us to be nostalgic of the early days of online life.