When it comes to keeping in touch, we're now spoilt for choice. If we’re not absorbed in our WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger chats, there’s always Twitter, Snapchat and Google Hangouts to keep us busy. And that’s just the tip of the message-heavy iceberg.
There only used to be one choice though. Well, at least one choice worth considering: MSN Messenger.
Launched back in 1999, a full 18 years ago, MSN Messenger was a pioneer. Sadly, despite its addictive, message-sending, memory-building ways, it was switched off for good in the UK and US four years ago today, on March 15 2013.
Yes, time has passed, and new, arguably more superior services have launched in its place, but MSN Messenger will forever hold a special place in the hearts of many. Facebook and WhatsApp might dominate our current online chat sessions, but MSN Messenger was the instigator for many of the features we now take for granted.
More than that though, for any noughties kid, it was a new means of keeping in touch with mates without your parents knowing what you were up to. It was a lifeline to the outside world – assuming your mum didn’t need to use the house phone and kill the dial-up connection.
It might now be a long-distant memory, but there’s still plenty that MSN Messenger could teach the current cream of the instant messaging crop. And, with the Nokia 3310 having made a triumphant return in recent weeks, fingers crossed that this nostalgia-inducing group of MSN Messenger features are due for a comeback too.
Here are nine fond MSN Messenger memories that Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter and the other pretenders owe their bread and butter to.
1. Changing your status to moody song lyrics
Most of the time, progression is for the best. Occasionally, however, it kills something special. That’s the case with instant messaging status updates. Facebook and WhatsApp have gone the Snapchat route in recent months, letting you set your status as a short video or collection of images.
It’s slick, yes, but also just another way for us all to be inundated with the trout pout sporting vanity of the selfie obsessed. MSN had its own, slightly more subtle alternative, the ability to set your status as whatever you wanted. In most cases that meant moody lyrics from the likes of Green Day and Papa Roach. They say a picture paints a thousand words. What they don’t add, however, is that if those words are teenage angst-filled song lyrics, then they do just fine on their own.
2. Sending attention-seeking nudges
WhatsApp’s double blue ticks are both a blessing and a curse. They show you when your mate has read your message, but cause endless frustration when they fail to be backed up by a prompt response. MSN Messenger’s ‘nudge’ button should make a welcome return then. Letting you tab a button to make your mate's device fill the room with a shrill buzzing noise.
Yes, this was a largely abused feature, used for some heavy handed teenage flirting or to get your mate’s still active computer buzzing at 2am, but it served a purpose then and could still do so today. Now answer our WhatsApp, yeah?
3. Status switching abilities
With WhatsApp and Facebook, you’re always on. Whether you’re looking at your phone or not, your friends have ever-present access to drop you messages. That’s great, mostly, but it does remove some of the thrill of being able to chat to someone. A power MSN not only afforded you, but let you abuse.
Quickly switching your visible status from ‘Online’ to ‘Appear Offline’ and back again would send a pop-up to all of your friends who were currently chatting at the time, making you center of attention. You wouldn’t drop this switcheroo at any old time though, oh no. Instead, you’d wait till your secret crush was online before pulling the move, hoping that they’d respond with a ‘Hey, what’s up?’. Don’t roll your eyes, c’mon, you know you did it.
4. Enjoyable emoji
MSN Messenger might not have invented the emoji, but it certainly brought them into public consciousness for an entire generation. Yes, we’ve now got more emoji than ever, but while the selection might be broader, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s better.
MSN’s emoji selection was more simplistic, sure, but it was more honest too. No, there might not have been gender neutral career options such as astronaut and rock star, or racially and sexually diverse family figures, but what there was a couple of different green nauseous faces, a devil smiley, sexually suggestive winky face and a cool dude with sunnies and a sole patch emoji. Radical.
5. Creating your own emoji shortcuts
It wasn’t just the range of emoji that MSN Messenger offered that made it so good, but how it let you drop them into conversations. In a pre-touchscreen world, there was no swiping back through hundreds of the little pictograms to find the smiley with the perfect hint of sarcasm, instead, you could simply type out your own shortcut codes.
Customisable at will, a couple of brackets here, a triple tap on the letter ‘A’ there and you could fill chats with just the right levels of emoji-based snark and smile all without breaking stride on your keyboard caressing ways.
6. Minesweeper flags
Before the likes of Club Penguin become massive online multiplayer hits, browser-based online gaming was a more simplistic affair. It was no less tactical and intense though, especially when a mate suggested a game of Minesweeper flags in the middle of a Messenger chat session.
It might not have aged particularly well in terms of excitement levels, but in its day, this was peak PC gaming. Popping up in a side window you could go back and forth with mine-dodging moves and tame trash talk simultaneously. You can play a few games in Facebook Messenger now, but nothing this intense.
7. The excitement of speaking to people
Who remembers spending all day at school with your mates only to rush home so you could chat to them on Messenger? Everyone, right? With the likes of Facebook and WhatsApp offering instant chat options anytime, anywhere, this might seem daft now, but at the time, it was essential.
MSN Messenger was something new at the time, so chatting instantly over the internet felt exciting. Given than WhatsApp and Facebook are now more services of convenience than enjoyment, this has, to some extent, been lost. It’s time to bring back the fun factor, somehow.
Like nudges, MSN’s Winks weren’t exactly subtle. They were effective though. A page-dominating animated image, they couldn’t help but raise a smile and boil your blood in equal measure, they were an unblockable, inescapable risk of chatting to that mate who thought the dancing pig Wink was the height of humor.
WhatsApp and Facebook have emoji, they have GIFs, they’ve got stickers and video embeds, but nothing to quite match the undignified power of a screen-encapsulating animated face that will stick its tongue out at you and make raspberry noises.
9. Show what I’m listening to
Like endless chat options, music is more accessible now than its was in MSN’s prime. If typing out emotionally driven lyrics was too cliched for you, there was an alternative way to express your musical individuality – before simply sharing Spotify links was a thing, the ‘Show what I’m listening to’ status ruled.
Reacting in real time to your synced music player, it displayed to the world just how cool you really were. The pressure was huge though. Having the wrong song pop up on your play bar was a social faux pas of the highest order. Such a feature now would at least give us all a break from the endless selfie exposure.