In case you haven’t heard, your once-favorite chat apps are going the way of the dinosaur. Yes, following the recent demise of AIM, Yahoo Messenger is saying goodbye next month, the company announced today. It’s got me thinking about my relationship with the concept of chats, especially chats in apps so intertwined in our lives.
Chat apps are not easily replaced, at least not like some random email app, operating flawlessly regardless of how often you chat with your college roommate. They’re personal, yet they require social buy-in from more than just you, be it your friends or a thousand nameless people looking for someone to talk to. They can be the interface through which you experience moments of happiness, insight, embarrassment, and rage. I dealt with more than a few pubescent feelings through my old IBM ThinkPad, complete with a gigantic (and translucent, for some reason) webcam attachment. A combination of AIM and Yahoo Messenger, with a little sprinkle of Windows Live Messenger for “talking to my Canadian* girlfriend,” made up my first chat app utility belt.
But we grew, and the apps grew with us. Chat rooms were no longer necessary for social development; you had enough friends, both in real life and online, to chat with. So we moved on from weeding the garden to cultivating the plants that mattered. Now chats occur in browser windows next to Facebook pages and important emails. They happen where everyone is, in the silos that pipe your happy birthday missives to your grandmother. They happen where people aren’t, in messaging apps that shield your identity from everyone curious about what words you’re exchanging.
You’ve got to have a favorite one. I know I do, and I think about the wavy aquatic colors of Windows Live Messenger every so often when I stumble on some old Windows 2000 screenshot during the start of some Google search hole. So what’s your all-time favorite chat app? Did you roll ICQ? Was Pidgin truly the neutral ground you sought? I’m curious, and so is Yahoo, I imagine.
* She was from New Jersey.