WUU2? NM, U?
For many of us, Windows live messenger, or as most of us knew it MSN Messenger, was our first taste of social media.
Who could forget rushing home from school after spending all day talking nonsense with your friends to promptly sign on to MSN messenger on the family computer, in order to spend the rest of the day talking nonsense with friends. Occasionally engaging in spats with siblings over who had the greater right to use that was meant to be the ‘family’ pc.
Hours were spent hammering out messages, logging in and out in hope your crush would notice your name pop up on the bottom right and adjusting your user name to some emotional song lyrics or listing your friends initials in order of importance.
MSN was the first introduction to social media, it utilised tools and patterns that would go on to influence todays giants.
MSN was primarily text based, connecting people through conversation but it had a broad range of features, from the benign, to the incredibly frustrating. In this article we will be looking at some of these features to see their influence (if any) on today’s giants, and which had sticking power and which faded out of existence.
Let’s start with emoticons:
As we all know a picture is worth a thousand words. So the efficiency of emoticons simply cannot be overestimated. There was also a time, before the emoticon when nuance was delivered through mangled punctuation that represented happy, sad or ecstatic faces. 🙂 🙁 xD
Thankfully MSN allowed us to elevate our conversations. No longer slaves to the English language, we could convey thoughts and feelings through, clear simple and unambiguous images.
Emotes and emoticons are still going strong in all mediums, it’s almost hard to imagine how we ever go along without them.
Only recently added to Facebook chat, theme colour was a staple of msn messenger, making the chat feel even more personal and unique. Having our own theme and colours for chats meant that each chat could feel special. We weren’t trapped by a corporate colour scheme and we had the freedom to make ourselves feel as edgy or cool as possible.
Facebook chat now has the same option, there are a variety of colours to choose from and each can make the conversation feel that little bit more unique.
The madness and joy of group chats on MSN were powerful, often there would be multiple conversations happening at the same time, as well as nudges and winks being spammed to bring our PCs to a juddering halt unable to process the load.
Facebook and WhatsApp both took features of the group chat and refined them. Unlike on MSN, group chats had permanence, they wouldn’t disappear when everyone left the chat for bed (though of course the option and ability to leave the chat still exists).
I could even go so far as to suggest that the legacy and chaos of the MSN group conversation exists in its rawest form in twitter. Here, there’s a whirlwind of conversations in the form of threads that anyone can join and add their input to. Without of course the constant nudges and winks taking up our whole screen.
Who can forget the ping of a new message appearing, the three notes that meant we’d received a reply, this coupled with the flashing name made it next to impossible to ignore a message.
But if a message was ignored we were given tools to ensure that wouldn’t remain the case for long. The wink and nudge. In case you’ve blocked these features from your mind; a nudge brought a chat to the fore of your screen and would shake the modal with a ringing noise. A wink was an animation that would take up the entire screen, and would often be accompanied by a noise such a smacking lips or laughter
In some ways MSN exercised the darkest dark patterns to ever grace the internet. Turning the platform into a crab bucket that was next to impossible to escape from. Just imagine the outrage that would occur if Facebook introduced such a blatantly manipulative concept.
It was possible to be a little more selective with MSN, the grouping tool was for many of us the first experience of organising contacts.
Creating neat little splits between best friends, friends, and usually right at the bottom to avoid an accidental click, family. These are something modern social media has less need for. Facebook is intended to keep us scrolling, so has a unified feed without the option to categorise contacts (though there are options to hide people from the feed).
In Facebook messenger there is a similar feature, not organised by the user but by an algorithm which ranks friends according to who is currently online and who’s had the most interactions.
Instagram too has introduced a level of friendship prioritisation. With the ‘Close Friends’ options, we can cleanly separate our followers into those that we want to see personal content, and those that we do not.
Something that could be both thrilling and anxiety inducing, four words followed by an ellipse “your contact is typing . . .” This was a nifty bit of feedback, especially if you were obsessively waiting on your crush to reply, with no idea whether the message had been seen or not. Those words meant that not only had the message been seen, but a response was on its way!
Unless, of course it wasn’t, and the words disappeared with no content to follow.
This is a feature that is implemented across a broad range of current IM services, from work chats to social. What has been added is a ‘Seen’ feature which lets you know if the message has been read, and on group chats who exactly has read it.
At it’s height MSN seemed unbeatable, it was hard to imagine a future devoid of nudges, but time marches on. Other services learned from MSN and improved on it, nostalgia and habit can only take a service so far without constant iterations and improvements. Though we may look back misty eyed, we were only too quick to ruthlessly cut it from out lives in favour of Facebook or WhatsApp – tools that did similar things, and fulfilled similar functions.
Keep your eyes peeled for an article ten years down the line, asking where Facebook and WhatsApp went wrong, and what we can learn from them.