In the age of tweets, tags and check-ins it’s easy to forget that a few years ago the internet was a different place. Many of us were using Yahoo as our primary search engine, everyone was forced to endure a 20 second screech from their modem before they were permitted internet access, and once you were online, all that effort could be dashed in an instant when someone decided they needed to use the landline.
These memories of a time long ago were a staple of my teenage years. I would get home from school, hurriedly scrawl out my homework and wolf down my dinner. Then after that magic moment when the clock hit 6pm, and 'peak' would transform into 'off-peak', I'd dial up on my 56K US Robotics modem and join my friends and classmates on MSN Messenger (or MSN for short). MSN was our ‘afterhours’ schoolyard where jokes were traded and friendships strengthened and shattered.
Often people who wouldn't share more than a passing glance during the day would open up in an arena of garish fonts, emoticons and the tireless jingle that indicated a new message. As my sister grew older we would clash over who would use the computer. We ended up each being allotted 'computer time' by our parents.
In A Time Before Facebook
As the years passed and different computers came and went, MSN remained. When schools ended we used it as a means of keeping in touch, and through university it continued to serve its purpose. To date I have personally used the software for over a decade - not something to be sniffed at in this age of disposable technology.
Before Facebook or Twitter, when texts cost 20p each and an email wasn't instant enough, there was always MSN. The last decade has seen multiple innovations and overhauls of the service, some paving the way for successors and others drawing vitriol from the online community.
Initially MSN did what it said on the tin - it messaged. It wasn’t unique in that regard, sharing the IM space with other clients such as AIM and ICQ. As the software entered the 21st century it introduced file transfers, contact groups, customization and advertisements (nothing in life is free). As MSN gained traction it became an integral component of Windows, installed on XP as standard. It implemented group conversations, voice communication and video chat, ideas we take for granted today. Not all of its additions were necessary - 'winks' and 'nudges' were playful afterthoughts. Games and music sharing made the program popular with my teenage self.
Goodbye MSN, Hello Skype
In 2005 the program was rebranded Windows Live Messenger and it continues to hold a large portion of the IM market. To many ‘connoisseurs’ the old ways die hard and Windows Live Messenger still occupies a special space on our toolbar, but the end is approaching.
Within the next few months Windows Live Messenger, will be retired and all existing users will be upgraded to Skype - software now owned by Microsoft. The original switchover date was April 8th however due to technical issues that date is being pushed back a few more weeks, giving us a bit longer with our old IM friend. In many ways it could be argued that MSN Messenger was the architect of its own demise, Skype offering a more refined and ambitious flavor of software that MSN inspired.
Technology is a fast-moving world, and while few would contest that Skype is the superior product I’m sure I won’t be alone in shedding a virtual tear when MSN messenger is retired.