Windows Live Messenger – a short history

Windows Live Messenger – a short history

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Hi, my name is Jeff Kunins, and I am the Group Program Manager (GPM) for social networking across Windows Live. In other words, I’m totally focused on partnering with and connecting to social networks and other web services that you already love, allowing them to light up Hotmail, Messenger, SkyDrive, Photo Gallery, etc. with your friends and their online activities. And of course, vice versa, we're also working to make Windows Live help you to get even more engaged with the social services you already love.

My teammate Piero Sierra is the GPM for Messenger and our Windows Live Mail client, and together we are going to be writing a series of posts about Messenger and social features across Windows Live.

Let’s start at the beginning.

Early days

The instant messaging category got going in earnest around 1996 with the debut of ICQ, around the same time that Hotmail was founded. Over the next two years, each of what are now the leading IM services launched in rapid succession: AIM, Yahoo! Messenger, QQ, and our own MSN Messenger. 

Messenger 1.0 (1999) and Messenger 14.0 (2009) The original MSN Messenger Team, circa 1999
Messenger1999 and Messenger today The original MSN Messenger team


Over the following six years, instant messaging services as a category enjoyed explosive, viral growth, ultimately reaching well over half a billion active users sharing hundreds of billions of messages every month. 

Like every major new communications paradigm over the past 20+ years, the thirst and demand that people have to connect, communicate, and share with one another is nearly limitless.  E-mail didn’t disrupt or reduce phone usage – it added to it.  IM didn’t disrupt or reduce e-mail – it added to it.  The same goes for mobile phones and text messaging, and the same too, for social networking over the past 5 years.

Messenger Monthly Users 1999 to 2009 

That’s interesting to keep in mind – especially for readers in the United States, where the IM trends (and particularly Messenger’s popularity) have been somewhat less positive.  On the one hand, as users ourselves, we’re all daily participants in the rise of Facebook, MySpace, QQ, and the overall "social" category of web services around the world, and it’s awesome to see our partners’ successes. Today, social networking services as a whole drive a similar number of minutes as e-mail or IM. Even though globally, e-mail and IM have basically peaked and leveled off, people continue to spend roughly the same amount of time using them, while social networks have grown to match. And even with all of that new activity, those same people are still connecting, communicating, and sharing more than ever with the people they care about via IM.  And yes, it really is mainly the same people – for example, globally, 44% of people who use Facebook in a given month also use Hotmail or Messenger in that same month, and vice versa 66% of monthly Messenger users also use Facebook, according to Comscore.

The original social networks

IM services really were the original "social networks." They first popularized the notions of viral invitations and social graphs, real-time and asynchronous messaging with friends, sharing of status messages and other content, online activities and casual games to enjoy with your friends, and rich personal expression—from the humble emoticon Smiley, to winks, nudges, and more. IM services have always been optimized for sharing among a close circle of friends, and really pivoted around online presence and real-time conversations more than connecting you to your content and activities from the rest of the Web.

Combining the social focus of instant messaging with the fact that IM clients are installed by default on the vast majority of PCs and are generally "always on" means there's a great opportunity for collaboration and integration between traditional IM services like Messenger and the wide range of social networks and other sites that our joint users are already on. You’ve already seen Windows Live and other leading IM services come out with social networking features like our What's new feed, and there is much more to come.

So given that basic context, let’s walk through some fun facts about Messenger…

People still IM… a lot 

  • More than 300 million people in 76 countries and 48 languages use Messenger every month  they say “I (L)you” and “LOL” not only in English, Spanish, German and Japanese (the first 4 languages we offered) but also in Chinese, Estonian, Thai, Catalan, Hindi, and many more.
  • Messenger users now represent:
    • 65% of all Internet users in Brazil
    • 48% of all Internet users in Canada
    • 48% of all Internet users in Spain
    • 47% of all Internet users in France
    • 40% of all Internet users in Italy
    • 39% of all Internet users in UK
  • People use Messenger for 163 billion minutes every month, which is about 9.4% of all time consumers spend on the Internet worldwide.
  • More than 40% of our users sign in each day (more than 130 million daily users)
  • Every day, those users share over 1.5 billion conversations and send more than 9 billion messages.
  • And at peak times, that drives more than 40 million “simultaneous online connections,” (the number of people signed in at the same time).

Graph showing Messenger users as percent of Internet users in ten countries 

Status messages, profile pictures, and other personal expression

Messenger and other instant messaging apps really were the first places that hundreds of millions of people started updating their status messages for their friends, and including emoticons and other kinds of fun personal expression online. Messenger users still do that a lot, right alongside more recently popular activities like social networking and mobile text messaging.

  • Messenger users share over 1 billion status updates every month
  • Those users often click through from the Messenger client to the Web, helping drive more than 300 million users to Windows Live Profile, Home, and SkyDrive every month.
  • With the Messenger application on Facebook, you can use the “always on” Messenger client on your PC to automatically update your Facebook status.
  • Likewise, with the Windows Live web activities partnerships with 74 sites around the world like Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Digg, Hyves, and more, you can share your status updates and activities on those sites with your Messenger friends, in the What’s New feed in the main Messenger window.
  • Just like ring tones and phone skins, people love emoticons and other forms of personal expression they use to adorn Messenger and their IM conversations– sharing tens of millions of profile picture updates each month, purchasing millions of emoticon packs, and using other fun features like Messenger scenes that add a personal touch to how their friends see them in Messenger.
Windows Live Messenger main window and conversation window, using different scenes Creating a dynamic display picture in Messenger
Messenger windows with different scenes Dynamic display pictures


Looking ahead 

Like Hotmail, Messenger is one of the largest scale communication and sharing services in the world, with a strong 10 year history of reliability, performance, and innovation. We're particularly proud of Messenger's role in the history of helping people connect, communicate, and share online with the people they care about most, and we're working hard every day on new ways for Messenger to keep playing that role as a great partner to the modern web ecosystem around us.

In upcoming posts we’ll talk more about how Messenger is built, how people are using different Messenger features, and how we’re thinking about the evolution of our role as a social application. Until then, I hope you’ll continue to use Messenger and to keep the feedback and comments coming!

- Jeff Kunins 
  Group Program Manager, Windows Live social networking

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  • @Isaac -- thanks Isaac, we appreciate it, as all as all the constructive feedback from everyone who is passionate about using Messenger in the diverse ways that is most useful for them.

  • Windows Live Messenger is THE best IM client. People that say that it is "too busy" just don't know how to use it. It takes 2 seconds in the options to turn off the adds and social features and simplify it.

    Keep it up guys!

  • @thomass -- thanks much for the feedback.  We don’t have any dates to announce about the upcoming beta yet, but we’re working hard on it, and you should definitely keep an eye on this blog for an announcement as soon as it’s available. Of course, we’d love to get your feedback on the beta once it is out and you’ve had a chance to play around with it a bit.

  • thomass
    1 Posts

    Does anyone have any idea when windows live messenger 10/ wave 4 will be able to download? or even the beta? I would really like to know because i have seen the leaked images and though it looked really nice. I would love to give my feedback on the program. Will someone please get back to me. Thanks


  • Hey Piero Sierra, thanks for the response. I understand that developing a program used by 300 million people is tough work. One feature I think could stand out is creating a "pro" mode, or even a "pro" version of messenger. This would remove all the smilies, winks, scenes, sounds etc and would be ideal for business and people who want a simple, light weight program to chat with friends, family and co- workers. Much like Windows messenger was on Windows XP, but for todays world. Sure Windows messenger never took off and it was basicly MSN messenger 4.6, but it comes down to what I said earler, and alow users to remove certin features or simply turning them "off".

    I'm looking forward to a beta soon, followed by the final.

  • @obiwantobi, odegaard & Guest Attendant

    Thank you for your feedback.  We really value folks taking the time to write comments.  I can assure you, we read them all, and we’ll try to answer as many as we can.  In your posts are some feature suggestions (e.g. appearing online to subsets of your friends etc.), as well as a shared theme around the need to simplify.  In general we won’t comment on the feature suggestions, but we love hearing these and everything you suggest will be considered.

    With regards to simplifying the experience, this is something we take very seriously.  We try to make Messenger cleaner and easier to use with each release, while balancing the varying needs of our very large user base.  This is not always easy, since Messenger is used by so many different people in different geographies, with different needs.  

    Firstly there is a cosmetic angle to this: with each release, we try to simplify the interface by removing unnecessary icons & widgets.  We bury more advanced functionality 2 clicks away to unclutter the top-level experience, and of course we update and polish the visual presentation.  

    But there is also a functional aspect to simplification. Every release we analyze our feature usage statistics.  If a feature is not heavily used or is falling out of favor, we look hard at whether we can remove it from the product and simplify our offer.  One recent example is when we removed the largely unused ability to completely “skin” the Messenger UI (and replaced it with the simpler and more engaging ‘scene’ feature.)

    The features we phase out were loved by many.  With a user base of 300M, even a feature used by a small % of the total is still used by millions.  But they were not popular enough to justify the complexity they introduced in our experience (and in our code).  So we do not do this lightly, and there is more we should trim down still, but this is something we look at regularly.

    With regards to our competition, there is a rich and vibrant ecosystem of Instant Messaging providers.  Some of our competitors have chosen to offer fewer features, with a correspondingly simpler UI.  We definitely keep an eye on what our competitors are doing, but we try to find a path that is uniquely suited to our customers and their needs.

    I do want to stress that this is a path though, not a destination.  We do not think Messenger (or the IM category) is “done” by any stretch.  There is much innovation coming in the way people use computers to communicate, and we hope to continue to push the envelope and deliver new & compelling scenarios, while not cluttering or overloading our experience.  Please look for future posts from Jeff and me on this topic.

    -Piero Sierra

    Windows Live Messenger

  • I hope the new messenger will change the way we think is instant messaging. Being able to update everything at once in a simple clean and mordern UI.I've been using messenger since 4.6

    the new messenger should alow you to turn off features, as well as removal of ads. The facebook like thing is nice, but leave that for the webpage. keep it out of messenger.  Let me set status updates via select contacts as well as letting me chose to appear on line to CERTAIN contacts and off line to others.

    As I said I agree the UI NEEDS to be simpflied (like your windows 7 ads say) Its now been 10 years, going on 11 since messenger first came out. Let this new one (version 10) be the iceing on the cake

    It may be messenger 15, but i still will call it 10 because thats what it is.

  • I specially like the friends updates provided. also option of chatting with yahoo friedns is awesome.

    I love to write on blog using windows live writer, it is really cool and a innovative software. using this i can easily share my views with world.

    Don't know when i will be able to add my gmail friends to it and will say good bye to gtalk :)

    overall the messenger package is awesome 10 out of 10 from me.

  • I agree that the interface has just become WAY too busy.

    In the earlier versions "A-Patch" allowed you to customize all the UI and remove the stuff you didn't need (which granted was most of it). With the tweaks it made MSN an awesome IM. Unfortunately it is not able to tweak the UI in the recent versions much, and MSN is back to its ugly messy UI. I wish that these great customizations could come back. If not built-in through the preferences dialog, then at least through a 3rd party tool like A-Patch or custom registry keys.

  • @sambeckett - Hi sorry you are having trouble with Messenger. I suggest you delete your friend from the options/privacy dialog. You can do this by right-clicking on his name/IM address in the list and selecting "Delete".



    Windows Live Messenger

  • Quite informative mail. I experienced some difficulty in using windows live messenger. it is some what difficult to use

  • I have been turned off by Windows Live Messenger in the past few years. I preferred using "Windows Messenger". The ads are tacky, the interface is busy and quite annoying.

    Google Talk's client by contrast is quite different. No ads, quite plain. The VOIP is wonderful, requires no elaborate setup like Windows Live Messengers. File transfers are fast and traverses NATs just fine.

    Microsoft needs to simplify. Google Talk is simple, AOL has an AIM Lite client that is quite beautiful.

    I have no doubt it is used quite a bit, but I also have no doubt that many would prefer a simple functional client. 90% of the time, all I need is text, voice, and file transfers.

  • That is great and all, but I still can not delete my dead friend from my address book.  worst feature ever.  He is dead, he can't remove me - so I can't remove him ?