Tech

An ode to MSN Messenger: The greatest instant messaging app of all time

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Gary Ogden
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Whatsapp is fun isn’t it? Someone just sent you a picture of the “world’s biggest chimney” and you spent ages scrolling down, only to discover that right at the bottom there was a naked man with a big boner. Pah! Your mates!

Really, this is exactly what Whatsapp is for, but it does do other things too: you’ve organised your night out; you’ve caught up with an old friend; you’ve informed your flatmate, who is upstairs, literally ten metres away from you, that Dinner Date is on. It’s great.

But it’s not the greatest. There’s something missing from Whatsapp, everybody’s preferred method of instant messaging. It’s not the full package. It doesn’t have that, excuse my French: I don’t fucking know

It’s not MSN Messenger.

MSN Messenger was, and will forever be, the best instant messaging app to ever have existed. Hell, it existed before people called things “apps”, it was just a “thing” that you used to speak to other people, and it was glorious.

Every day, after school, there was one thing on my mind: get the heck on MSN Messenger, immediately. Pop the old internet on, talk to the same people I’ve been talking to all day, and do this until bedtime. That, genuinely, was an evening well spent. Nothing wasted, there.

But why was MSN Messenger so good? What made it better than Whatsapp, AIM, Slack, Facebook Messenger et al? Well, the following things, clearly:

It had the single greatest notification sound of all time

Nowadays, my phone is nearly always on silent, or at the very least, on vibrate – I have forgotten what notifications sound like, they are not a part of my life, they are irrelevant. That is a shame, because the excitement I used to feel every time I heard this sound:

was like being hit up the arse by a pneumatic drill coated in popping candy. Especially when you were waiting for it: like when you’d messaged the peng girl at the school down the road and she finally replied after an hour. Yeah, all she said was “no”, but the rush of every single gland blasting a torrent of hormones throughout your body was impossible to replicate. I had to put cotton buds in my ears to stop undiluted testosterone dribbling out.

In the war-torn days of dial-up internet, it was a rationed treat

Remember a time when the internet wasn’t always on? A time when radiation didn’t fill your entire house, eroding your skull like a gobstopper in Diet Coke? A time when you actually had to “switch on” the internet? That time, for the most part, was MSN Messenger time.

As such, this wasn’t the stale, smart-kettle “oh goody, I’ve got another Whatsapp message” period we’re currently in, this was the precious “Shit my mum has to use the phone, brb” stone-age. Being on MSN was a privilege, one that your parents ostensibly held – meaning it was also in danger of being snatched from your sweaty fingertips at any moment. It was a scarce rarity and needed to be protected at all costs.

Sending/receiving a file was a far more satisfying experience than it is now

Related: dial-up internet was shit, and it took ages to send a file to someone, meaning when they finally fully downloaded Limp Bizkit – ‘Rollin’ (Air Raid Vehicle)’, that first listen was so much sweeter. Or when that girl I fancied waited a solid ten minutes to download a wav of me sitting in front of my PC microphone beatboxing, finally listening to it will have made her think I was an even bigger twat.

It was hugely customisable, enabling you to really show off your ‘creative spirit’

By “hugely” I mean that you could choose your name, a photo, the colour/font of your text, and even a wicked and criss quote that’d really impress all your mates. Unfortunately, that only meant that – instead of picking some cool song lyrics from, I don’t know, ‘Rollin’ (Air Raid Vehicle) – I’d write something like:

~~~ They call me MR FARTY PANTS  ¯_(ツ)_/¯ ~~~

You could actually use a microphone to speak to people, which somehow seemed way more futuristic than using a phone

Yeah, you could pick up the blower and dial someone, but that’s bullshit – this ain’t your mum’s medieval jamboree back in the Tudor times on dinosaurs, Ghenghis Khan. This is the two-thousands, and we speak through a tiny plastic microphone blu-tacked to the side of our screens. This is the future, like something out of Blade Runner, Marty McFly.

Also, using this feature enabled me to play my favourite practical joke. I would call someone, then speak really really quietly down the microphone. They would then reply that they couldn’t hear me, so I’d type “There’s something wrong with my microphone, you’ll have to turn your speakers up.” I would then continue talking quietly and asking them to turn up their speakers until I was sure that they were at a ridiculously high volume.

I WOULD THEN SCREAM AS LOUD AS I COULD DOWN THE MICROPHONE.

If you don’t think this is funny then you can chat to me about it over Skype because we’ve got beef now. Make sure you turn up your speakers though, there’s something wrong with my microphone.

You could pretend to be offline when your ex-girlfriend (the one you went out with for a day) came online

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The annoying thing about Whatsapp is that people usually know when I’ve read their messages. This is annoying and detrimental to my shallow, manipulative nature – LET ME APPEAR OTHERWISE ENGAGED DAMMIT.

There are ways around this (which I often, at great annoyance, employ), but MSN had it down – MSN knew that at heart, we are all callous, pre-meditative pieces of shit, constantly intent on damaging the feelings of others to our own gain, so it included the ‘appear offline’ function.

Yeah, you could be online, but not. To everyone else, you’re out doing something constructive – no time for this internet nonsense – but to a select group of mates you’re happily chatting away, calling Barry a “slug” behind his back and hiding from your ex-girlfriend Caroline who wasn’t actually your girlfriend but you told people she was anyway.

Of course, then you could pick the perfect time to “appear online”, and whoever you wanted to attract (Caroline), would hear the ding and see you pop up. She would still ignore you, but you could sit there in your pants, safe in the knowledge that she had noticed you, even for only a second. You were a real boy.

Nudging people was a wonderfully aggressive way of getting someone’s attention

It was like the digital version of throwing stones at someone’s bedroom window, only less likely to get you in trouble with their parents. Someone hasn’t replied within the required time, so you are reminding them that you are waiting. The answer to your question (“Do you want to go to the cinema for a kiss”) has not been answered, and it is imperative that you know. Nudging, of course, merely spurs them on to reply in the negative, but at least they noticed you again. The real boy, making moves in 2004. Macking chicks on the regular, catch you on the flipside.

You could connect it to Windows Media Player, and let everyone know what you were listening to in real-time

I never did this, because girls finding out that I was listening to Steven Seagal – ‘Songs From The Crystal Cave’ only added another layer to their disdain for me. But some people were cool, and if you were cool, you listened to cool music, and as everyone knows, the only reason you listen to cool music is to tell other people that you listen to cool music, so that they will think you’re cool; and the cycle continues.

So bang on some Johnny Cash, you liar, and wait until someone says something about it. I will not, because I possess the important knowledge that anybody, even now, that has their music choice broadcasted to the public is listening not for themselves, but for everyone else. 

It introduced us to the abstract yet incredibly appealing concept of “blocking” someone

Turns out that school was quite a drama-heavy place – beef was rife in the locker-lined halls of your local comp. Pars left, right and centre in those there cloisters. So what do you do if someone’s said that your “favourite food is cow pats”? Well, you block that gobshite, and then they can’t speak to you anymore, gutted. This is the online version of grandadding their leg – it hurts immensely.

It pre-empted the Whatsapp group chat

The best thing about Whatsapp is the group chat, obviously. A herd of L.A.D.S bantering to kingdom come, sticking two fingers up to the system in a group called  “The Shag Pad” or “The Banter Boyz”.

But all this could be done on MSN Messenger, waaayyy before Whatsapp came on the scene. Group chats of approx. 25 people? Yep, no problem. No problem at all. Utterly pointless, extremely annoying and nearly always abandoned within ten minutes, but: no problem at all.

It was a lot of idiotic singletons’ introductions to internet dating

In a way, MSN Messenger was a lot like Tinder. You’re chatting to someone you fancy, often who you haven’t even met yet and you’re exchanging flirty messages like “wot r ure favorite cats is it cats or dogs”. Yeah, you don’t have profiles with loads of pictures and details about you, but you can send pics to one another and ask things like “a/s/l” to get the required info. It was online dating before online dating was the thing it is today.

Of course, you never ever met up with anyone ever, because it was too scary, but at least you could hone your flirting techniques, like getting a girl to turn up her speakers really loud and then shouting down the microphone at her.

Love live MSN Messenger. Nudge or Die.

Illustration by Gogden

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Gary Ogden

Shortlist writer and "the least woke person in the office", Gary Ogden, likes horror movies, Cheestrings, tapping his leg under the desk, "having a drink", PDAs, not having eczema anymore, hiding from responsibility, screaming into the mirror whenever he is alone, and assorted other things. Mainly the eczema thing though. @garyblogden

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