REDMOND, Wash., July 20, 2000 — Judy and Doug Sande live in Bellingham, Wash. Their youngest daughter, Kirsten Thompson, and her family live in Okinawa, Japan. Half a world separates them, but it doesn’t feel nearly as far since they all began using MSN Messenger.
The instant messaging service allows them to type comments back and forth across thousands of miles in real time, without the delays of email. They are so well connected, in fact, that Judy Sande knew the gender of her next grandchild before her daughter’s husband.
“It’s like they are right here,”
“I can keep up with what they are doing every day, and I can communicate with them in real time.”
But one thing would make Messenger better for Sande. Her two grandchildren in Japan are too young to type. She’d love to hear their voices regularly — and let them hear hers — without adding to her $100-a-month long-distance phone bill.
Now she can. MSN today announced the release of Messenger 3.0, the first instant messaging service that lets users around the globe make phone calls via their computer to friends and family in the United States and Canada without a charge showing up on anyone’s bill. PC users in North America can do the same within Canada and the United States. The free software is immediately downloadable at http://messenger.msn.com/.
Along with the real-time chat features of previous versions, Messenger 3.0 lets users conduct PC-to-PC voice conversations over the Internet to almost anywhere in the world. And, again, it doesn’t cost a penny. Other new features include instant text messaging to pagers and mobile phones through MSN Mobile, transfer of personal files, and
playful icons that express emotions graphically. (Click here to see a screenshot.)
And take note, PC users tired of juggling multiple online identities, there’s no signing up for new accounts or user names with Messenger 3.0. Users can employ the same email name and address they’ve always used — no matter which online service they’re using.
“The thing we continue to hear from consumers is that they want to be able to personalize their experience on the Internet,”
said Deanna Sanford, lead product manager for MSN.
“With MSN Messenger 3.0, people have seven different ways to communicate from one interface. They can talk or type messages to friends in real time to virtually any device, with none of the costs or inconveniences of other instant messaging services.”
Changing the Way People Communicate
Instant messaging is rapidly changing the way many people use their computers to communicate. Rather than send email into cyberspace, unsure how long it will take to get a response or even if the receiver is at his or her computer, instant message users hold virtual typed conversations. Ask a friend a question and you get an answer in the time it takes the friend to type it. On-screen notifications let you know if your friend is there before you send a message.
MSN Messenger makes instant messaging easier, Sanford said. Or as she puts it:
“MSN Messenger took instant messaging out of the hands of the computer geeks and put it into the hands of consumers.”
The only setup is a small, quick download of free software. Press a few onscreen buttons and you’re instant messaging with friends and family.
Since its launch in July 1999, Messenger has amassed 18 million regular users, with more than 7 million starting to use the service since March. This growth has outpaced that of other instant messaging services such as America Online’s AIM, with MSN Messenger adding almost twice as many new users between August 1999 and May 2000, according to Media Metrix, which tracks use of online and other media.
To put MSN Messenger’s growth into further context, the 18 million users could fill the new Olympic Stadium in Australia 163 times. How does this compare to other noted trends? It’s 18 times more people than bought “Tickle Me Elmo,” when the red fuzzy toy was all the rage in 1996, and equivalent to the combined U.S. sales of the first three Harry Potter novels.
Messenger 3.0: Keeping Up with Harry Potter
MSN is confident Messenger 3.0’s new features will allow the service to reach another plateau of popularity, similar to the sales of the latest Harry Potter novel.
“Previous versions of MSN Messenger delivered on the opportunity to easily and conveniently instant message with friends and family,”
“With Messenger 3.0 we have taken a huge leap forward in delivering unique benefits to consumers.”
MSN predicts free long-distance calling will be the new service most warmly embraced by users. After downloading Messenger 3.0, users will be able to make PC-to-PC calls via the Internet by choosing a person from their
list of preset Internet addresses then clicking the on-screen
button. The calls are free regardless of whether the user talks with a friend across town, within the United States or Canada, or on another continent.
With the PC-to-phone service, calls are routed over the Internet to a phone line near the location of the person receiving the call, essentially creating a local, toll-free call. Unlike some other Internet calling services, there is no service charge or need to prepay minutes with a credit card number to receive service, Sanford said.
Nate Munson, a real-estate analyst in Portland, Ore., is eager to try the new voice services on Messenger 3.0. He uses instant text messaging to keep in touch with his mother in St. Louis, Mo., and his sister in Pocatello, Idaho. But he still feels the need to call his mother on the phone once a week.
“When I’m on the phone, it’s a lot easier to tell a story,”
“Plus, it’s more personal when you hear someone’s voice.”
But to keep his phone bills down, he rarely calls his sister or friends in other parts of the country.
“Now, I will be able to talk to them more often,”
said Munson, who avoided other instant voice messaging services because he’d heard they were complicated and offered poor sound quality.
“Messenger 3.0 sounds very easy and convenient.”
Sharing Documents, Saving Time
Messenger 3.0’s file sharing capabilities allow users to send documents, photos and other files while they are instant messaging. A bride-to-be, for instance, can make changes to her wedding invitation and get instant input from her maid of honor who lives in another state, Sanford said.
What if the bride-to-be wants to get her fianc
‘s OK before the printer’s looming deadline, but her fianc
is away from his computer and home telephone? She can page his cell phone using Messenger 3.0’s PC-Pager capabilities or send him an email via Messenger 3.0’s integrated link with MSN Hotmail.
Sande, the woman whose daughter lives in Japan, looks forward to combining some of these new services in other ways. She’ll be able to receive the latest photographs of her grandchildren from overseas and talk to them at the same time.
“When I can hear their voices and see their pictures on the screen, I’ll feel even more connected to them,”
Maintaining Your Online Identity
When Munson asked a long-distance friend to sign up for Messenger 3.0, she initially balked. She uses a different online service and didn’t want to create a new email address or online account. She doesn’t have to.
Messenger 3.0 is the first instant messaging service that allows users to use their pre-existing email addresses.
“People are tired of having to give out several different email addresses to friends and family,”
“They now have the ability to keep the same ID and email address that they always use, like a name tag, instead of having to create a new email account just for MSN Messenger.”
Munson has friends who work at a prestigious technology company. They always use their work email address for personal correspondence, partly for convenience and partly to remind people where they work. Another friend, long out of college, refuses to give up the address she received from her university because it allows old classmates to easily contact her.
Munson’s reason isn’t as complex:
“For me, it’s just easier not to have to give out another email address.”
Messenger 3.0 users who can’t find the right way to express themselves through writing or talking can try emoticons. The 24 tiny icons, created by typing specific combinations of letters and parentheses, convey universal messages in a direct or playful manner.
Want to show your sweetheart some affection? Send him or her an emoticon of puckered lips or a flower. Angry when he or she stands you up on a date? Send an emoticon of a broken heart.
Sande began using them on a test version of Messenger 3.0. Now when a coworker asks her what she thinks of a job candidate, she sends them a thumbs-up or thumbs-down emoticon. When Friday afternoon approaches at work, she sends out the emoticon of a martini glass.
“It’s time saving. It’s visual. It’s fun. And I think it sends the message more clearly than writing,”
“Like they say, a picture sends a thousand words.”
Sande looks forward to finding additional uses for the emoticons. She’ll soon have another reason to use one in particular — a symbol of a female character — when instant messaging Japan. Her daughter’s next child will be a girl. She’s due in November.