MSN Messenger: 22 Things To Remember (Nostalgia)

Pretty much anyone who had the internet back in the 1990s and 2000s will likely remember MSN Messenger, AOL Messenger, Yahoo Messenger, and others. MSN Messenger was the Facebook Messenger of its day, only it didn’t have an entire social network attached to it; instead, it was simply a program you downloaded on your PC, adding people’s email addresses to your contacts list and waiting until they were online to chat to them. Released July 22, 1999, MSN Messenger was finally discontinued October 31, 2014. With many fond memories, we still remember this quirky, fun little chat program. Here are 22 things to remember about MSN Messenger.

1. MSN Messenger let you create emoticon shortcuts

Back then, what would now be termed “emojis” were called “emoticons”, and there were keyboard shortcuts to get them on MSN (as there are in many other apps today). You could go into MSN’s settings window and customise your keyboard shortcuts if you wanted to, so that typing certain combinations would give you emoticons. Most people didn’t mess with this because the standard shortcuts were perfectly fine, though.

2. You could spam your friends with “Winks”

Today, the concept of “Winks” sounds incredibly annoying and dated, but at the time, it was the height of hilarity. Basically, you could send your friend an animation that would play over their chat window, often with a sound. It’s just as irritating as it sounds, and you could spam them over and over again, which would probably lead to the person you were talking to blocking you forever. Good times.

3. MSN Messenger was created in 1999

The very first version of MSN Messenger debuted for Windows 98 all the way back in 1999. It was a pretty simple program; it featured a contacts list, plain text messages without any way of embellishing them, and a very simple user interface without many bells or whistles. The program improved significantly over time, but as you’d expect, this first version was barebones to say the least.

4. Version 6.0 added avatars and emoticons

You couldn’t actually use emoticons in MSN Messenger, nor could you change your avatar, until version 6.0, which debuted in 2003. This version’s life cycle also added improvements to the aesthetic of MSN Messenger, the ability to change themes, and the chance to add backgrounds to your chat window. The MSN Messenger many of us remember got its start here.

5. MSN Messenger had an “Appear offline” status

If you didn’t want to talk to people (except a select few), you could set your MSN Messenger status to “Appear offline”. Just like with modern chat apps, this shows you as offline, but still allows you to talk to people you want to chat with if you start the conversation first. We think a lot of modern chat apps could do with something like this; a lot of awkward chats could have been avoided!

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6. You could Nudge people on MSN

Along with Winks, one of MSN’s most annoying features was the Nudge. When you wanted someone to reply to your message, you could Nudge them, which would shake their screen. It was, to put it bluntly, infuriating, but people used to do it all the time in order to annoy each other. We like to think we live in a more civilised time now, but we’re probably wrong.

7. Custom fonts were allowed

You can’t use custom fonts to message your friends on WhatsApp, but MSN allowed you to do it. You could change the font you were using, and even alter the size and colour to some degree as well. What kind of font you were using said a lot about your personality and what you wanted others to think of you, believe it or not! A rule: don’t ever use Comic Sans.

8. MSN Messenger had built-in games

If you fancied doing something with your MSN chatting buddy other than just shooting the breeze, there were built-in games you could check out. One of these was Minesweeper Flags, a multiplayer version of the classic Minesweeper game that you could play with your friend. It was slightly more graphically appealing than classic Minesweeper, too!

9. You could send files over MSN

Back in the day, before music was easily available on streaming services, many of us would send songs to our friends, our crushes, and our family members. However, MSN Messenger’s file transfer protocol was painfully slow, and would often slow our connections (usually not fast to begin with) to an utter crawl.     

10. People could see the music you listened to on MSN

It was possible to show everyone what you were currently listening to on MSN. Underneath your name, you could display a status, and this status could be changed to show your music (or audio content of any kind). This was a big part of MSN culture; showing everyone your superior (or inferior) music taste and having them all bask in your genius.

11. People used to make relationships official on MSN

You knew a relationship was kicking off when you’d see a person’s name between two hearts on their MSN status. This was a major source of drama; you’d ask your friend about it, they’d confirm it, and you’d discuss it. Even more dramatically, you’d often see a broken heart in a person’s status, suggesting their relationship had tragically ended.

12. You signed up to MSN via email

When MSN Messenger was current, you’d ask your friends, your crushes, or whoever else you wanted to add on MSN for their email address. Getting their “addy”, as it was often referred to, was a victory; you could now talk to them whenever you wanted, which was a huge sign that they wanted to talk to you.

13. You got MSN notifications when people signed in

One of the strategies people used to notify their friends or crushes when they came online was to sign out, then sign back in again so that people would get the notification you’d come online. This way, they’d know they could talk to you and wouldn’t have to seek you out on their friends list.

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14. Talking to people on MSN hit different

Sure, you could really enjoy someone’s company in person, but the real litmus test of whether you could be friends was whether you could also enjoy endless MSN conversations together. If you found yourselves chatting on MSN late into the night, you knew it was a bond for life.

15. You could ask friends to check online statuses

Someone blocking you on MSN was considered to be the ultimate shame. If you wanted to know if an offline person had blocked you, then you could ask a friend to check whether they were offline or not. If the friend confirmed your worst fears, you’d be thinking about it all evening (or, at least, we certainly did).

16. People would install MSN on school computers

If you had the know-how, you could install MSN on school computers, especially if teachers hadn’t been smart enough to disable student accounts from installing programs. It was relatively easy to install and run MSN on school computers, and you could be surreptitiously talking to people for minutes on end before teachers would clock what you were doing.

17. The original MSN was 320KB in size

The original file for MSN was just 320KB. Nowadays, that’s the size of a relatively small image file, but in those days, it could contain an entire piece of software. Of course, the size increased as time went on, but at that point, you could install MSN, talk to your friends, and do anything else you wanted with the software without it taking up any space at all.

18. Psychologists have talked about MSN

MSN isn’t just a phenomenon among 2000s schoolkids. It’s also something psychologists have looked at in some detail. Technically, MSN is part of the early social media revolution; it’s something psychologists have said could lead to poor impulse control or fulfil a need for instant social gratification. When looking at apps like WhatsApp, it’s hard to disagree.

19. Microsoft’s original MSN launch message is still available

If you want a blast from the past, it’s worth checking out the original MSN Messenger announcement post, which is still available over on Microsoft’s website. There, you can see Microsoft discussing how MSN integrates with apps like Internet Explorer and Outlook Express. It’s worth it if you want to see a snapshot of what computing looked like in the late 90s.

20. You could chat on MSN via webcam

MSN eventually got webcam support, meaning you could chat to your friends and they could actually see your face. As you might imagine, this was something that occasionally got abused, but it was also a great way to verify that the person you were talking to was who they said they were.

21. MSN Messenger became Windows Live Messenger in 2005

MSN changed its branding to Windows Live Messenger in 2005, as part of a company-wide rebrand to the Windows Live name. It got offline message capabilities with the rebrand, as well as the ability to change colour schemes and lots more features. This rebrand coincided with arguably the height of MSN’s popularity, and many still simply called it “MSN Messenger”.

22. Windows Live Messenger shut down in 2013

In 2013, Microsoft shuttered the Windows Live Messenger (or MSN Messenger) service for good. Users could no longer use their Hotmail accounts to log into Windows Live Messenger; instead, the service would be merged with Skype, and any users who wanted to chat could use that platform. Truly, it was the end of an era.

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