Yahoo Messenger: 22 Things To Remember

When people talk about instant messenger apps, there are two that pretty much always spring to mind. The first is, of course, the inimitable MSN Messenger, which accompanied many of our childhoods and was a mainstay for our social relationships. The second is AIM, or AOL Instant Messenger, which relatively fewer of us used but which was still immensely popular. Yahoo Messenger doesn’t get quite the same amount of love, and we think that’s a real shame, because it was a great little piece of software. Here are 22 things you’ll remember if you’re nostalgic about Yahoo Messenger.

1. Yahoo Messenger began as a chat room

The very first iteration of Yahoo Messenger was a chat room, appropriately called “Yahoo Chat Room”. It allowed users to sign in and talk with one another. This initial iteration of Yahoo Messenger wasn’t actually a separate piece of software; rather, it was built into browsers, and you could hop into a chat room simply by visiting the website. Those were the days, eh?

2. Yahoo Messenger launched in 1998

After Yahoo Chat Rooms proved a success (despite the proliferation of spam bots), Yahoo Messenger got its start way back in 1998. Initially, the program was called Yahoo Pager, but the suits at Yahoo quickly realised they couldn’t keep that name, as pager technology would soon be obsolete. Instead, they renamed it to Yahoo Messenger in 1999, and the rest is history.

3. You could change your chat backgrounds

Yahoo Messenger came complete with a feature called “IMVironments” (the era necessitated bad puns like that), which allowed you to customise your chat windows in a number of ways. One of the things you could do was change your chat backgrounds, with lots of different options available depending on how you wanted to customise your window.

4. Some chat backgrounds were official tie-ins

Remember the Dilbert Yahoo Messenger tie-in? How about the one based around Monday-hating orange cat Garfield? Yahoo Messenger allowed you to customise your chat windows not only with different backgrounds, but also with official tie-in content. The aforementioned properties were popular, but there were others too, and it was fun just to play around with these pop culture backdrops.

5. Yahoo Messenger let you integrate your address book

If you had an address book on your operating system, Yahoo Messenger would allow you to import contacts from that address book. This circumvented the need to constantly ask people for their contact information; instead, you could just see if they had a public Yahoo Messenger account, and add them that way. It wasn’t a bad way to accrue friends!

6. You could set custom Yahoo Messenger statuses

Like other IM software, Yahoo Messenger allowed you to set your own custom status messages. You could tell your friends you were away, sure, but you could also tell them you were wrestling crocodiles in the jungle or shredding on stage with Metallica if you wanted to. This added an extra dimension of fun to proceedings and allowed you to make the Yahoo Messenger experience your own.

7. You could “BUZZ” your Yahoo Messenger friends

Remember MSN Messenger nudges? Remember how desperately annoying they were? Yahoo Messenger originated this feature. If a friend hadn’t seen your message or wasn’t replying to it, you could “BUZZ” them, which would make their window shake. It was just as irritating as it sounds, but it was a fun way to prank your friends if you felt like your message wasn’t getting due attention.

8. Yahoo Messenger let you show off your taste

Before MSN Messenger and other similar apps allowed you to do it, Yahoo Messenger featured a way to let others know what music you were listening to. You could show off your superior taste simply by firing up a music file in Winamp or other music software, and it would automatically alter your status to show what music you were currently enjoying.

9. Yahoo Messenger had some pretty nostalgic notification sounds

Doors opening, doorbells sounding, and that inimitable chime are just some of the sound effects you would have heard if you were using Yahoo Messenger. This app had some very “tactile” sounds; you could almost feel the environment in which you were hanging out with your friends while using it. Of course, you could always disable them if you weren’t feeling them, too.

10. You could block other Yahoo Messenger users

Today, blocking users on apps like Twitter or Facebook is a mark that you don’t want to engage with them anymore. The same was true back then; in many ways, IM apps were progenitors of modern social media. If you didn’t want to talk to another user, you could add them to your Yahoo Messenger block list. This became a highly charged source of drama among certain communities.

11. The band Garbage gave Yahoo Messenger users a song

When the IMVironments feature launched in 2001, the rock band Garbage gave users a way to share a special song with one another. The band’s single “Androgyny” was given to Yahoo Messenger users to share freely in order to promote the new feature (and the single, of course). It’s well worth going back and listening to the song, as it’s something of a hidden gem.

12. Yahoo Messenger had video call support

Even in its initial 1998 release, Yahoo Messenger had support for video calls. However, this support was extremely primitive; users could only make video calls at 1 frame per second (yes, 1) at a resolution of 160×120. After a 2002 update, though, that resolution was increased to 320×240, and you could now make video calls at 20 frames per second, which actually looked like a moving image.

13. There was a Yahoo Messenger for businesses

Back in 2003, Yahoo introduced a business-exclusive branch of Yahoo Messenger. Named “Yahoo Messenger Enterprise Edition”, it debuted at a price of $30 for a year’s subscription, and there was no way to buy it as a one-off package. This version was actually available as early as 2002, but it became widely available for all corporate consumers in 2003.

14. Eventually, Yahoo Messenger got avatar support

Though this may have been some time after the app was in the prime of its popularity, Yahoo Messenger would eventually receive support for user avatars in 2004. You could customise how your avatar looked in an early version of concepts like Nintendo’s Miis or Microsoft’s Xbox Avatars, and many used this service to express how they wanted to come across online.

15. Yahoo Messenger got a big voice overhaul in 2005…

The Version 7.0 update of Yahoo Messenger was renamed to include the word Voice in its title. This update emphasised various voice communication features including voicemail, VoIP (voice over internet protocol), and lots of other useful additions. This version was marketed heavily as a competitor to the Skype voice communication app, although Skype would eventually emerge victorious.

16. …but this change was eventually reverted

As of the 2006 update for Yahoo Messenger, the name changed back to simply “Yahoo Messenger”, dropping the “Voice” part. However, support for the Skype-competitor features remained, so you could still contact your friends using voice and send files using the new drag-and-drop interface. Yahoo Messenger is a much stronger brand identity than Yahoo Messenger with Voice!

17. Yahoo users couldn’t create their own chat rooms after 2005

Back in 2005, Yahoo discontinued the ability for users to create their own chat rooms. There are suggestions that this was done because many user-made chat rooms weren’t focused around appropriate content, and advertisers were getting spooked by what they saw as a lawless internet wasteland. It was the end of an era, but for many, it was a nice reprieve from the pressures of user-made chat content.

18. Yahoo Messenger discontinued chat rooms entirely in 2012

After user-made chat rooms were shut down in 2005, the Yahoo Messenger service discontinued its chat room functionality entirely in 2012. This meant you could no longer visit public Yahoo chat rooms and discuss music, current events, sports, or any of the other things for which chat rooms existed. By 2012, the chat room in general was long dead, but it was still sad to see them go.

19. Yahoo Messenger had Zynga integration

In 2011, Yahoo introduced Zynga integration, allowing you to play Zynga games from within the messenger client itself. Now, you could hang out with buddies and play Words With Friends and various other Zynga casual games. This version cycle also added tabbed instant messenger windows, so you could easily switch between chats without needing to open separate windows.

20. The Yahoo version of spam was called “SPIM”

Have you ever received random messages while you’re on MSN or AOL (or, indeed, Yahoo Messenger)? This version of spam was called “SPIM” as a play on both “spam” and “instant messenger” (or IM), and many users of Yahoo Messenger constantly received unsolicited messages from spambots (or perhaps that should be spimbots) and other users.

21. Yahoo Messenger relaunched in 2015 after three years

Technically, Yahoo Messenger was shut down in 2012, but it was relaunched under a new design in 2015. This new design was available primarily via mobile, accessed through your browser. Eventually, a desktop version was also released, but this 2015 version of Yahoo Messenger also turned out to be ill-fated, shutting down in 2016.

22. Yahoo Messenger closed in 2019

After another ill-fated rebrand, Yahoo Messenger closed its doors entirely in 2019, likely supplanted in the public consciousness by social media and apps like Facebook Messenger. The relaunch focused on the family and group experience and was called “Yahoo Together”, with many similarities to productivity and team apps like Slack. Unfortunately, this iteration was also not to be, so Yahoo Messenger is no more.     

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