Too Many Messenger Apps!

7 April 2017

My online chat world began with the Yahoo! messenger. It was fun. Now I’m having to deal with too many messenger apps. We all are!

I have always been a big fan of the original Yahoo! Messenger. I used it to chat (a lot) with friends and family, and played with the chat protocol to build “bots”. When I started using Linux as my primary desktop in 2003, I missed having Yahoo!’s native messenger, but continued to use it (via ayttm). Yahoo! even thanked me for being a power user and sent me special emoticon magnets in 2008.

Then, slowly, my friends started deserting the Yahoo messenger in favor of Google Talk. Many found great value in having online record of chat messages, with optional off-the-record, and not having to back up chat messages separately. The era of google talk began. Although I still missed the Yahoo messenger, Google Talk (and what then became gmail chat) was also working great. XMPP also meant I could use my favorite desktop clients.

I attended Google IO in 2013, when they announced Hangouts. I had mixed feelings. I really wished I could have continued to use XMPP. But around the same time, WhatsApp became a big movement, and a lot of my contacts, many of whom were not on hangouts or any other messenger before, moved to WhatsApp. I didn’t, and continued to use the new hangouts, which, although bloated, served its purpose.

When I moved back to India in 2014, WhatsApp had become pervasive. I had to have WhatsApp, because people often assume everyone has WhatsApp, and send critical information on WhatsApp.

Slowly, the bloat began. New messenger apps.

Today, in order to be electronically connected to appropriate people, beyond email and SMS, I need to have these IM apps installed: WhatsApp, Hangouts, Telegram, Signal, Slack, Skype, Mattermost, Duo, Allo, IRC. Most of my contacts chat with me on one of these apps. But a handful of contacts also have several of these apps installed. And they send me messages on any app any time. Which means, if I ever have to search into my conversations with them, I need to search in all of these apps.

Many of these “modern” messengers have their own issues. “Forwarded email messages” used to be annoying in the early 2000s; now there are forwarded instant messages. Often the content is laden with rumours. Forwarded images and videos can take unnecessary disk space, and is difficult to garbage collect. There are often not enough options to customize (and mute) notifications. Although end-to-end encryption makes many of these messengers very secure, they also get locked to one device; typically my phone; and I find it awfully slow/hard to type on a phone.

Not sure what the future of instant messaging is going to be. Probably another app. And hopefully it will make communication great again.

Having said all this; What do I really lament? I miss the Yahoo! Messenger, and over-using the =)) smiley. And I miss it because even though it exists nobody I know uses it.