diamond geezer

 Sunday, November 11, 2012

I shall miss Messenger when it disappears. That's Windows Live Messenger, formerly known as MSN Messenger, the online conversational service. I've been chatting to folk through the medium of words ever since 1999 when Messenger kicked off. But Microsoft have announced that their protege will be retired from March next year and all users urged to switch over to Skype instead, which they also own.

What I liked about Messenger, and its Yahoo/AOL variants, was the "instant" part of instant messaging. A sentence typed at my end could be off to the other side of the planet and a response back in a matter of seconds. It became very easy to have a decent conversation without actually talking, which is the main reason I liked it. I'm not one for picking the phone up and actually ringing someone, so text based chat has been a godsend, even a lifeline, for keeping in touch with various acquaintances.

Email's not the same. You can write more, indeed writing more's encouraged, but then the whole chain of communication becomes slow and is anything but instant. Twitter's not the same. The whole conversation's public, and I don't know about you but I'm not happy to broadcast my private thoughts like that. Texting's not the same. Even though you can only send a few words there's still a relatively lengthy delay between each message, and attempting to have any sort of meaningful conversation can take ages. Ditto most of the other browser-based messaging services that have arisen more recently. Once you press send it'll be at least a couple of minutes before the page refreshes and any response returns, and you can waste hours of your life hanging around that way.

The advance of mobile technology is also helping to make instant messaging obsolete. I blame smaller devices. Even if you're good at typing or tapping on a mobile, it's not as quick as using a full-size keyboard. Whereas people used to be able to dash off a long comment now they tend to write considerably less and so conversation dumbs down. And I blame always-on wifi. You'd think people would be more available to chat these days, but instead it only looks that way because mobiles stay logged on even when their owners aren't looking at them. And I blame apps. Mobiles and tablets aren't designed for multi-tasking, so attempting to watch a film or play a game or read a map AND manage an online conversation is doomed to fail.

I'm missing Messenger already. There used to be dozens of people I knew on there, and now there aren't. Indeed there were years when I only had to log into the system and some friend would pop up for a conversation, maybe several. Not any more. Now I can log in and nobody says hello at all, and nobody's there if I want to say hello back.

Let me quantify that sense of disassociation. I've checked out the 141 online Messenger contacts I've accumulated over the last decade, and how long ago it is since they last signed into the service. And it's quite a long time.
Signed in...
At 9pm last night: 2In the last year: 24
In the last day: 5In the last two years: 10
In the last week: 11In the last three years: 21
In the last month: 14   Longer ago than that: 54
Some of these people I can still chat to in other ways, but most just blipped out one day never to return. Maybe they blocked me because I was boring. Maybe they gave up because the interface became flaky. But more than likely Messenger just fell off the list of their priorities, and with it so did I.

I don't expect you to have sympathy, especially when alternative platforms are available. I expect you to say "Pull yourself together Granddad and get with the programme". You're probably better at keeping in touch with people than I am, and/or more embracing of modern forms of communication. But I'm sorry that something simple and effective is being killed off (if indeed it wasn't semi-comatose already) as a company ditches its past to monetise its future. Rest assured I'll still be sitting here, but I may not speak to you soon.

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