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MSN Messenger: In Memorium

Saying Goodbye To Earliest Chat Client After 15 Years

It seems strange that the Internet and its services are now old enough for people to start feeling nostalgic about it. As the madeleine cake and tea are to Proust’s narrator in In Search of Lost Time, so too is the distinctive dial-up tone to a whole generation of the earliest users of the Internet.

Now one more aspect of that world has disappeared forever, gone the way of Ask Jeeves and GeoCities. MSN Messenger (known as Windows Live Messenger from 2006) was one of the first online instant messaging services, the means by which an era of children and young adults loved, played, and made and broke friendships. The unofficial rules and etiquette surrounding its use were a precursor to the intricate mores which inform modern social media, and no history of online interaction is complete without it.

While the service has been available only in mainland China since April of last year, Microsoft has announced that it will be completely shut down as of October 31st. MSN Messenger was launched in 1999, consisting of a basic contacts list and plain text messaging. While minor updates accompanied the release of Windows XP in 2001, it was with version 6.0 in 2003 that it became the digital hub for the social lives of millions of teens. That update introduced emoticons, personalised avatars, and options for backgrounds – all years before MySpace, Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, and all those other newcomers were a twinkle in a Harvard dropout’s eye.

With hundreds of millions of users throughout the first half of the new millennium, MSN Messenger defined communication for a generation. Things which are part of the most basic vocabulary of modern digital communication – statuses, emoticons, ‘lol’ – were forged in the white hot heat of clumsy adolescent flirtations and the posting of passive-aggressive song lyrics set as ‘away’ messages. It was there that we first experienced the lurching nausea of sending a personal message to the wrong person, the mounting tension of watching someone type out a message for slightly longer than usual, and the delicate judgement of timing a reply to make sure you didn’t seem like some loser with nothing better to do than sit on MSN Messenger all night.

And, bear in mind, all of this was usually conducted from a shared family desktop in the living room on a dial-up internet connection – the art of swiftly sending twenty blank messages to clear a chat screen when your parents walked in is a lost one.

In an era of Snapchats and Whispers and Vines, MSN Messenger seems almost quaintly clunky and straight-forward. But it was a revolution in teen communication; you could talk to people on MSN you would never dare approach in real life, you could get in touch with your crush without having to ring them and face the horrifying possibility that their father would answer, you could share photos and songs with friends (even if they did half an hour to send).

The beginning of the end came with the rebranding of the service as Windows Live Messenger at the end of 2005 – two years after the founding of MySpace and around the same time that Facebook opened its gates to everyone, not just college students. At the end of 2012 Microsoft announced that they would be merging Messenger and Skype, following their acquisition of the latter in 2011. This ‘merging’ was in effect a discontinuation of MSN Messenger; while one’s contacts were transferred to Skype, none of Messenger’s services remained. Only Chinese users kept the original client – until now.

And so farewell, MSN Messenger. Or perhaps it’s easier to say BRB.

Douglas is an English Literature graduate who has written about everything from music to food to theatre, now a content creator for Social Media Frontiers. No topic too large or too small. Follow him @DouglasAtSMF.

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MSN Messenger: In Memorium Reviewed by Anonymous on Tuesday, September 02, 2014 Rating: 5
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