MSN Messenger: Tech Trailblazer, Not Millennial Memory


Jessie Bland

23 Oct 2019

The emoji-riddled screen name. The most unsubtle of nudge features. The rush to chat to your school mates after an entire day of talking to them.

If you ask any twenty or thirty-something (me included), likelihood is MSN Messenger was their coming-of-age technology.

But not only is MSN a pocket of millennial nostalgia, it was a pioneer in instant messaging. Launched back in 1999, MSN defined many of the features and functions of modern messengers. In fact, it probably had a few that we’d like to see on WhatsApp right now.

Five reasons to fangirl MSN

Here are five features and trends that MSN Messenger kickstarted way back when that paved the way for tech and messaging today.

  1. Democratisation of communication

For the very first time, we were connected to our friends in one place, for free. Liberated from the character guardrails of SMS, we were empowered to write what we wanted and when we wanted it (bar when mum and dad needed to use the home phone, that is). Who knows, with the recent launch of Instagram’s Threads app, we might see a return to the closed network.

  1. Interoperability

Soon, users will be able to chat across Facebook Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp. This type of interoperability was originally trailblazed by MSN Messenger. The press release announcing its launch draws particular attention to its interoperability with MSN Hotmail and AOL Instant Messenger. Now, it’s something we take for granted – back then, having your contacts into one place was a revelation.

  1. Privacy

Who can see our content and access our data, has become a hot topic of recent. But some 20 years ago, MSN allowed us to control who could see us online and who could send us instant messages. This type of bespoke privacy is now being flaunted by Facebook in their recent ad campaign as if it’s an innovative step, when our beloved MSN was the true trailblazer.

  1. Self-expression

Before the selfie, the Story and the #VSCOgirl, MSN allowed teenagers to express themselves in a way they hadn’t been able to before. Screen names that showcased our mood, favourite lyric or who we were in love with (that week), and the option to showcase the latest Limewire download you were binging.

  1. Status-setting

In our always-on world, it’s hard to believe we used to set our status to indicate if we were available or busy. The average under 25-year-old today spends over 32 minutes a day scrolling through Instagram. That said, in the past year or two, conversation about reducing screen-time has increased and we’re clearly more interested in the benefits of social media detoxing. Could we soon a return to messenger statuses, rather than our green ‘dot’ giving us away?

Here’s hoping that like all good 90s trends – Friends, Spice Girls, Pokémon – MSN Messenger makes a comeback. And if it doesn’t, then at least we treasure it for its messaging legacy.