Messaging Migration – Part I

Back in the ancient days of dial-up internet 1 I went out and picked up my first modem, a 14400 baud “winmodem.” I didn’t have the cash to “splurge” on the then-dominant 28800 speed. Inside the modem box were several trials for internet services so, of course, I took a trial run on AOL Online 2.

It was then I discovered chatrooms.

I loved these things. Loved them. The idea that a bunch of people could be in a shared space online and communicate in real-time amazed me. I found science-fiction chatrooms, Christian chatrooms, sports chatrooms, and I even hung out on the ACLU chat room to see what was going on there 3. It amazed me.

My sojourn on AOL didn’t last long. By the end of my senior year in college I’d figured out how to dial into the campus’ internet connection from my dorm room for free. After I graduated I moved on to a real ISP, Philly Online, and connected directly to the WorldWideWeb. I remembered how much fun chatrooms were, though, so I ended up getting an IRC client 4 and joining in the fun there. Eventually, IRC lost it’s appeal for me. It was too easy for people to come into a room and ruin it through sheer force of trollishness. I also found there were probably only two or three people in the rooms with whom I wanted to chat. I wanted something more direct.

Right as I was loosing my interest in IRC AOL came out with AOL Instant Messenger. This was what I was looking for. It showed me a list of contacts with whom I’d agreed to chat, listed their current online status, and even allowed people to list a current status message on their whereabouts or mental state 5. It was phenomenal. When other providers began offering IM services I signed up. By the end of IM’s run I had AOL IM, Yahoo IM, GoogleTalk, and even a couple of private Jabber accounts all set up in my Instant Messaging client of choice. I even set up an IM client in the church office so the Secretary could contact me at a moment’s notice without having to pick up a phone 6

Then I got a smartphone.

Suddenly most of the people with whom I wanted to Instant Message I could text with relative ease. We weren’t bound to our computers any more, nor did we have to install a battery draining Instant Messaging client to say in touch. IM held on in my workflow for a while, eventually dwindling down to only one GoogleTalk account – when I got my iPad it was easy to leave my client on and see who was available for a chat. Eventually, however, IM phased out of my general workflow. Three things happened to cause this shift.

First, Apple introduced iMessage. Suddenly all my texts between iOS users showed up on all my devices. It didn’t matter if I was on my Mac, iPad, or iPhone – the messages found me.

Second, Google killed GoogleTalk and reintroduced it as Hangouts. Hangouts is more versatile than GoogleTalk ever was, and it’s a lot more like iMessage than my old IM clients. When it arrived a friend of mine messaged me, “Let’s face it, IM is dead.” The nice thing about Hangouts is it also follows me everywhere. I can message on all my iDevices and my Google Nexus 7. If my family ever gets a ChromeBook messages will follow me there as well.

Third, Apple introduced Continuity. This allows for tasks to be passed seamlessly between devices in Apple’s ecosystem, including plain SMS texts. With the arrival of iOS 8 and Yosemite I no longer have mobile friends who are in the camps of “Apple Users” and “Everyone Else.” If I want to message someone from my Mac, I just do.

These three factors have caused the virtual dust to settle on my venerable IM client. I launched it last week for a chat and thought, “Man, I haven’t seen this window in months.” I just don’t need it in my workflow anymore.

Tomorrow I’ll write about how this shift has changed the way I think about, and use, messaging.


  1. Otherwise known as 1995. 
  2. Don’t you dare laugh. 
  3. It was on the ACLU that I read the single strangest comment I’ve ever seen in a chat (and given that I hung out in Christian chatrooms quite a bit, that’s saying something). Someone came on claiming Jesus was the original non-conformist because he always went around with long hair and sandals. When I explained the sandals thing was what everyone wore the person shot back, “Are you trying to tell me Jesus was a CONFORMIST?” You can’t make this stuff up. 
  4. Internet Relay Chat – it’s older than AOL’s chatrooms, but I didn’t know that at the time. 
  5. These messages were, by the way, the inspiration for Twitter. 
  6. I am not a big fan of phone conversations. 

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