REDMOND, Wash., July 22, 2009 – About 12 years ago, Danny Glasser was heads down dealing with a problem. Users of Microsoft NetMeeting, an audiovisual communication client, were having trouble finding the people they wanted to talk to. This wasn’t exactly ideal for a service that billed itself as a collaboration tool, so the team set out to find a fix. The proposed solution: enable NetMeeting users to maintain a list of the people they cared about, to be able to see when those contacts were online, and to be able to easily initiate NetMeeting calls with those contacts. It was dubbed the “Buddy List” project.
NetMeeting is no more, but what the team came up with ultimately became the world’s leading instant messaging service. Ten years ago today, MSN Messenger made its debut. “It definitely felt like we were working on something special,” said Glasser, a partner development manager with Windows Live Experience. “I don’t know that I could have predicted accurately the number of people who would use it, but we had a feeling it would be a big thing.”
Big thing, indeed. According to comScore, six out of every 10 instant messenger users chat with Windows Live Messenger. The service has more than 330 million active users who send roughly 9.4 billion messages every day. That puts it behind only Windows, Office, and Hotmail in terms of Microsoft consumer products used around the world, said Dharmesh Mehta, director of Windows Live product management. But more interesting than the sheer volume of messages being exchanged is the passion people have for Messenger, Mehta said. “The number of users is massively impressive, but the amazing thing for me is to hear about the ways it has changed people’s lives.”
In honor of Messenger’s 10th anniversary, a call for stories was put up on the Messenger blog. Anecdotes quickly flooded in from around the world about romances blossoming and relationships rekindled via instant messages. There are stories like Joan Antoni’s from Spain, who wrote about trying to add a friend to his Messenger account and typing one letter too many. The mistaken contact ultimately became his wife. “Marriage by typo,” Antoni wrote.
Messenger and instant messaging have come a long way in 10 years. Above is what Windows Live Messenger looks like today.
Benjamin from Argentina wrote and discussed his blossoming relationship. “I was just chatting with some friends when my uncle told me to add this beautiful girl, and so I did.” The two became fast friends. Although they chat all the time, they have never met because she has been abroad in Europe. Today, on Messenger’s anniversary, they are meeting in person for the first time. “She’s coming home finally, and even if everything turns out in a bad or good way, I won’t regret that I have lived those wonderful moments with that great woman and MSN.”
In Redmond, Wash., Alfons Staerk uses Messenger to stay in touch with his family in Germany. The senior product manager in the Windows Live team moved to the United States three years ago. At the time, he was worried about how often he would communicate with his mom. “She hated computers,” he said. Still, he purchased his mother a stripped-down laptop with little more than Messenger installed on it. “Now, she’s a passionate computer user and checks her e-mail like five times a day,” Staerk said. “Messenger lets us have a daily connection, even if we are separated by a few times zones.”
Looking back, Glasser said he’s amazed at how huge Messenger has become. At the outset, scalability was one of the team’s biggest concerns. Inside the hallway at Red West, the Microsoft campus in Redmond with Glasser is based, the team put up a real-time counter showing the number of simultaneous online connections (SOCs) around the clock. They started with tens of thousands and hit the 1 million mark after a year. Today, Windows Live Messenger sees about 40 million SOCs.
“It’s tremendously gratifying to see the influence we have had, not just at Microsoft and with customers, but the way it has affected people’s lives,” Glasser said. “I’m thrilled and honored to have played a part in it.”