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….”.

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Oasis – Time Flies

And time certainly does fly, this compilation spanning the band’s entire career and my youth/teenage years/early middle age in one complete, 130+ minutes album. It’s like regression therapy for northerners.

In a fingerclick of time-travel, I’m back listening to Mark Goodyear running down the chart show in 1994, when “Some Might Stay” was at number one, and the world seemed to change a little bit. We’d all bought into “Wonderwall” and picked up “Live Forever” on the two or three cable music channels available at the time, but now the band were at number one, and back then, such things meant a lot. Now they let James Corden into the charts, fordaluvofgod.

A compilation like “Time Flies” is the soundtrack of all our years, all our friendships, and those milestones we use to measure the distance from childhood dreams to adult reality. The lads piss ups in provincial indie clubs, chanting “Wonderwall” inbetween its usual Charlatans/Stone Roses segue; we’ve all been there, and Oasis soundtracked every step of the way.

Theirs is not a career without problems, of course, in and out the recording studio. If we sidestep the headlines for now (as difficult a task as that is, and notably rare among the British bands today), the back-catalogue this compilation celebrates is the very definition of flawed genius. At their peak, Oasis – and at most points “Oasis” is euphemism for “Noel” – were the stellar songwriters and live act of their day; “Wonderwall”, “Roll With It”, “Shakermaker”, “D’You Know What I Mean”, “Masterplan”, “Champagne Supernova”…This is the soundtrack of Britain that the helped influence almost every other indie/rock band from the 90s onwards, and is the pension plan the Arctic Monkeys would die for.

Flawed points on the Oasis journey tie up with internal pressures, sibling (wibbling?) rivalry, and the shifting sands of taste among the British single buyer. “Go Let It Out”, “The Hindu Times” – how hard we try to lift these as high, to enjoy them as much, and yet time has not been kind. The struggle up hill by the time of “Importance of Being Idle” is the same result of artistic exhaustion that runs through the output from the Monty Python team to Ricky Gervais. All genius is exhausted, all careers grind to a puttered engine eventually.

“Time Flies” is not the first – I dare say it won’t be the last – compilation of Oasis singles (anyone buy the cigarette-packet special editions, or is my memory tricking me?). This is one of the most important compilations in the potted history of British music, the vanguard of northern souls which copied and was copied in equal measure. Liam’s voice grew weary, Noel’s lyrics more maudlin, the band ground out too much in the end; but through the window of nostalgia and memory everything this album awakens remains inexorably linked to our social, political and musical history.