MSN Messenger RIP

And lo, another piece of the “old internet” is said to be coming to a close on March 15

In a part of the distant far-aways which seems almost unthinkable to us now, the use of MSN Messenger to keep in touch with people was ubiquitous. Amongst one of the first clients of its kind, MSN grew in size and popularity as one of the first ‘hits’ of the Internet, in an age where the predominate ways to meet and greet people were not examples of ‘social media’.

MSN launched in 1999,  a stand-alone programme which more often that not would pop-up or even automatically sign-in at start up. In its earliest days it was prone to some technical fubars – most infamously allowing people to look at other conversations to which they weren’t invited – and whilst it carried on using the same interface for its entire life, the rest of the ‘net began to run off to explore greater and more advanced services. Whilst the Internet started to lose interest in message-boards, chat rooms and the like, MSN Messenger was a slice of retro charm which began to struggle for relevance.

And it didn’t take long for the relevance issue to stomp its foot against the life support machine’s wires and tubes. It wasn’t just the launch of MySpace in 2003 or Facebook in 2004 which made the ‘real time chat’ elements of MSN seem unnecessary. It wasn’t just the availability of free texts on readily available, cheap mobile phones. The ‘core audience’ for MSN – and by Jove I was one of them- was not being replaced by enough younger people. Those who had grown up with the service, however were drifting off without being fought for by Microsoft or anybody else that matter. Those who liked to sit down to connect with friends (or indeed, back in the very, very early days, people picked up through the long-since killed off MSN Chat rooms, a/s/l and all) could see more than enough ways to stay in touch without having to converse through a small, squat pop-up box.

Attempts to keep dwindling users attracted inevitably meant using tie-ins to services which were killing it off, a sort of double-deal which would have made Shakespeare drool. Statuses could be linked to Facebook or Twitter, and dozens of colour-match games were added as well as links to Bing (!) related searches and showbiz stories. It had grown larger, but less useful, and on the Internet that’s no good at all.

The passing of MSN closes one of the oldest doors in the dusty annexe which is Web 1.0. It reminds us that we’re all getting older, the Internet is moving ever forward, and there’s never been as many options to sort out how to procrastinate. But it’s legacy does live on – Facebook chat uses the device “X is typing….”.

Google minus, feeling unlucky

So, how’s that ‘sharing information around your circles’ going?

Google ran adverts in the UK asking people to subscribe to the ideal whereby a well-to-do family of SEO copyrighters and Haggerston vintage shop owners watch the birth, life and death of someone (presumably related, perhaps adopted) inbetween sessions of eating spag-bol with red wine whilst watching Werner Herzog films. 

This advert was supposed to sell Google+, its social media service that’s not a social media service, and sell it as a place where you can involve yourself in the goings on of the day without feeling like you’re wasting time (Facebook), wasting effort (Twitter), or bandwidth (Pinterest). everywhere. 

These screengrabs were taken from across various sites at moments across the day, from new and old stories. “Share buttons” are ubiquitous footnotes across the Internet now, and without much poking or encouragement people use them to take pages from one site to across their friends lists even if they don’t necessarily agree with the content. In fact it’s often better to share something you don’t agree with to encourage discussion (no, this isn’t trolling. Well not under the current definition.)

If these examples are any guide – and they’re as representative as any – the Google+ success rate is right down there with the LibDems in Rotherham. Even at the most popular at the top, Google is running in three figures compared to Facebook at over 21,000.  Above you see from the Guardian – the target audience for the spag-bol-with-red-wine advert family – Google is closer to LinkedIn than Facebook, and that’s by no measure a social network.

AH!, you say, well Google+ isn’t a social network either, don’t you know. Well I do know, or at least I was told this by advocates of the service with whom I discussed this some months ago. They assured me that the big day for G+ was coming – once people realised you can read news on Google News, share it on Google+, and talk about it through Google Hangouts, then the drain from Twitter alone would be like a displacement of hipsters from an indie club when the music started. But if these advocates are accurate, and G+ just needs everything else Google provides to work in unison, then what’s the point of staying in the walled garden? Twitter is where most people seem to share news, never mind discuss it and create the odd headline themselves here and there. Facebook might be the most democratic of all, allowing people from the SPORT ARE TROOPS reactionary wing to raise awareness of the latest developments of day alongside those who know where to find BBC Four on the television guide.

Google+ has none of the attraction that these two established services enjoy, which for something with the name “Google” attached is pretty bad going. My newsfeed on Google+ is predominately taken up by  Mark Elgan, who I don’t know, and spam feeds labelled “What’s Hot”.  My friends list, whilst full of people, is active with just one person, photographer Ian Hex, who seems to speak the language better than I do.

Crucially though, Ian’s content is other Google+ posts re-shared, and not outside material brought in. Unlike Facebook, then, this is a highly insular network, a view underlined by the pitiful numbers of the “Share Button” scoreboards.

“Walled Gardens” aren’t rare on-line, though they are out of fashion somewhat. Google loves its son as any parent might, but any kid which is ordered to only play with itself won’t live to be a developed or popular individual.