A decade-and-a-half ago Yahoo! Messenger and MSN Messenger, both PC-based, internet-enabled chat services, were the gold standard in instant messaging (IM).
At its peak, MSN Messenger, later rebranded Windows Live Messenger, had 330 million users—to put it in perspective, that is three times the total number of Snapchat users and more than half the WhatsApp user base today.
So, it is indeed a mark of the tectonic shift in IM, from being computer-based to mobile-based, that after 15 years of existence, the last few of which it spent on life-support, that MSN Messenger is shutting down. In China, home to the last loyals of the service, MSN Messenger will cease service from October 31. The service had remained alive in the country so far, even though its retirement had been announced in 2013, thanks to a widely-criticised partnership with Chinese media company, TOM—the partnership became controversial as Microsoft allowed modification of its products to serve China’s oppressive censorship regime.
In many ways, tropes in the instant messaging world, such as the use of emoticons, photo exchanges, video chat, were all technologies pioneered by MSN Messenger. With the Facebook Messenger-, WhatsApp-, Viber-like IM apps flooding the mobile/tablet platforms, MSN Messenger and other PC-based and e-mail/user account tied messengers found user interest declining.
It is only fitting that the service is being seen off by Skype, Microsoft’s 2013 $8.5 billion acquisition. Skype, mostly used for internet-enabled video calls, had been the death knell for Messenger. Now, existing Windows Live Messenger users have been prompted in an e-mail from Microsoft to switch to Skype.