Anyone who started using the Internet in the past 10 years may think that WhatsApp has always reigned absolute over instant messaging services, but that could not be more wrong. Long before the app came up, services like ICQ, MSN and mIRC fulfilled the task of connecting people around the world in real time, in private and group chats.
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These precursors, which emerged at the end of the last century, have completely changed the way people talk and share information. Twenty years ago, the dial-up connection allowed for a much smaller amount of data, but messengers at that time already brought many of the resources we use today. Know, or remember, the programs that everyone used in the early 2000s to talk to friends – usually after midnight.
Remember the messengers that everyone used in the early 2000s Photo: Reproduo / Raquel Freire
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Social networks that (almost) everyone has used
First great messenger of success, ICQ lived its moments of glory in the early 2000s, when it reached more than 100 million registered users. Whoever lived that time certainly remembers the iconic "uh-oh" sound that comes out of the PC box every time a new message arrives. If several contacts were sending text at the same time, the noise would extend and generate a quick "uhoh-uhoh-uhoh".
The software interface, created in 1996, was as striking as its sound effects. The flower cone is one of those characteristics that comes to mind. When it was green, it was a sign that the user was online and available. But it was possible to change the icon to absent, unavailable, free to chat, busy, do not disturb, invisible, on the phone and out for lunch.
ICQ marked a time as a messenger full of functions in the early 2000s Photo: Divulgao / ICQ
The chat showed the entire process of writing the message, in real time. If someone typed something wrong and then erased it, the friend on the other side saw exactly what had been written – which often resulted in a tight skirt. The feature was eventually disabled, but remained in the memory of those who used the messenger in dial-up dawns.
Although old for Internet parameters, ICQ has inspired many other messengers, including WhatsApp. Many of the functions present in the Facebook app were inherited from ICQ, such as finding contacts by adding a number, entering a status phrase and popular group chats.
MSN Messenger appeared in 1999, already on the ride of the success of the MSN portal, launched by Microsoft four years earlier. In its first version, the program presented only a list of contacts for exchanging messages and the possibility to change the status. The economy of functions left it behind the competitor ICQ, but it had the advantage of the reduced size of the installation file, just 320 Kb. Microsoft messenger has gained more and more functionality. Possibility to customize the interface, sending files, video conferencing, anti-spam protection and animated "emoticons" were some of the features introduced over time, following a modernization of the visual.
The popularity was almost immediate. In 2001, MSN already had 29.5 million users. In 2009, already under the name of Windows Live Messenger, the platform registered more than 330 million active users per month. The version launched in 2010 brought integration with some of the popular social networks today, such as Facebook and YouTube.
MSN gained many features over the first decade of 2000, including integration with YouTube Photo: Reproduo / MSN
The success of mIRC is even difficult to explain to current generations. To start, the platform – born in 1995, peaked in 98 and active until today – is an IRC client, an acronym in English for Internet Relay Chat. Roughly speaking, he connected individual or group chat rooms that used the IRC protocol.
Unlike the other messengers, its interface was not very intuitive. The base program had an all white look, with a standard black font. It was up to the user to customize the windows by means of commands, using their own programming language. To make it easier, there were scripts with pre-defined settings to download. Compared to what the user understands is easy today, even these automations were complicated.
The software also did not support a profile photo. The identification was only by nickname, which often ended up becoming the person's nickname in the offline world. Despite its simplicity, mIRC has extremely innovative features for the time, such as the possibility of opening several chat rooms in the same window. In addition, he could perform file transfers, and in some versions, he even had an MP3 player.
mIRC connected group and individual chats in one window Photo: Reproduction / Imgur
Its peculiarities made it the type of program that has real fans as users. It is true that his popularity started to decline with the arrival of more intuitive messengers, such as ICQ and MSN, but he has for a long time maintained a base of people passionate about channels, and for this niche, the absence of sudden changes in the interface was and a great advantage.
4. AOL Instant Messenger (AIM)
AOL Instant Messenger, also called AIM, was America OnLine's initiative in the world of communicators. As one of the leading dial-up Internet providers in the 1990s, AOL achieved great success when launching its own messenger in 1997. The biggest success was in North America, where the program was the market leader for much of the first decade of the 2000s. – this excluding ICQ, which was also from AOL.
The interface resembled MSN, also its main rival, even in the icon. While the Microsoft application was represented by two dolls, the AOL application featured a running doll. Like the competitor, he started offering text messaging and file exchanges, later receiving features like video calls and playing with friends online.
AOL Instant Messenger, or simply AIM, was one of the main messengers of the early 2000s. Photo: Divulgao / AOL
One of the outstanding characteristics of AIM was the presence of chatbots for different purposes. SmarterChild was the first to appear, being a great reference for artificial intelligence. In the chat with the robot, you could have funny conversations (sometimes meaningless) and still have quick access to news, movies, know the score of games, and so on. The success made the messenger incorporate several other chatbots and, eventually, other messengers adopt the feature.
With the overwhelming arrival of social networks, especially Facebook with its integrated Messenger, AIM lost ground, but it was officially among us until recently: AOL deactivated the service in December 2017, five years after ending active development from the program.
The explosion of popularity in Gmail also brought Google Talk. Launched in 2005, GTalk was to the left of the email service, being an almost natural tool for exchanging messages with contacts.
The fact of being linked to Gmail and being born in the age of social networks made the Google messenger take on a vocation for work. There were the people with whom you exchanged electronic correspondence on a daily basis, and it was a faster and more informal way to connect with them.
In the chat, in addition to chatting via text, it was possible to send a voice message, call and make video calls. GTalk was never the champion of features, nor was it popular as ICQ or mIRC, but everyone who had a Google account ended up using it. The platform was disabled in 2017, giving way to Hangouts.
Google Talk worked inside Gmail Photo: Divulgao / Google
Launched in 1998, Yahoo! Messenger was a messenger with many users, although he never achieved iconic status like the rest of the list. Its popularity came about because of the success of Yahoo !, another major Internet provider in the late 1990s.
The messenger was following what was being done by the others. Ability to be invisible, make voice and video calls, transfer files and play music: all of this was, at some point, a feature of Y! M (which ended up being typed as YIM).
In 2010, surrendering to the success of Facebook, the platform even incorporated the chat of the social network. Simply login using Mark Zuckerberg's network credentials to chat with contacts from the messenger. Its definitive end came in 2018.
Yahoo! Messenger even gained integration with Facebook before it was closed Photo: Reproduo / SnapFiles