By A Guai (阿怪)
Issue 595, Nov 19, 2012
Lifestyle, page 53
Translated by Zhu Na
Original article: [Chinese]
Microsoft recently announced that it will close its Windows Live Messenger instant messaging service early next year and replace it with Skype's messaging tool. Mainland China will be the only place where Messenger continues to function.
At its peak, more than 60 percent of internet users around the world used Messenger. It entered China in the 1990s and dominated the chat market. But since smart phones, microblogs and other more functional communication tools have emerged, Messenger use has been declining. China still has about 6 million Messenger users, but it seems only a matter of time before the service drowns completely in a sea of more versatile competitors.
The closure of Messenger isn’t surprising to most people, but still, some have trouble accepting it. Messenger may be past its useful lifespan but it still elicits nostalgic feelings among those who grew up with it.
Amile is a public relations manager at a jewelry company. When talking about the disappearance of Messenger, her tone shows a great reluctance to give it up. “I applied for an MSN account when I was in university,” she said. “I’ve accumulated hundreds of contacts. When I was dating my boyfriend I’d always wait for his avatar to turn green. Although I hardly log on Messenger anymore, choosing not to use it is different than not being able to use it.”
People like Amile in the corporate world are Messenger’s main users in China. Microsoft China told the Economic Observer that the service has targeted these high-end white-collar workers.
Compared to other messaging programs, Messenger tends to be used more for work because it doesn’t easily allow for browsing content from other users or chatting with strangers. Messenger’s layout is simple with no distractions. This is perhaps why many companies in China (especially foreign enterprises) block the domestic competitor Tencent QQ in the workplace.
In 2006, an earthquake in the South China Sea cut off underwater internet cables and disabled Messenger for an entire day. It was said that many white collar workers had nothing to do.
Messenger was also seen as western and fashionable in the past. In the 1990s, when having an email address was still rare, many Chinese got their first when registering for MSN. It used to be popular to ask, “What’s your MSN?”
Amile said she rarely logs onto Messenger now because using her smart phone is much more convenient while she travels. When she gets bored, she’ll just send a message on Weibo since it has many more functions than Messenger.
In 2012, Messenger’s global users dropped to less than 100 million – down from 300 million in 2010. Many Chinese still believe Messenger is more international and high-end than QQ, but even more are turning their backs on it
White-collar workers are now looking to QQ for its practicality. Chen Xiao, a young reporter, is constantly contacting people for interviews. She’s tried Google’s Gchat, but finally gave it up because of its unreliability on China’s internet. “Most people can be contacted through QQ because the speed of transferring files is very fast,” she said. “Moreover, it’s also easy to use on mobile phones.”
On Nov 9, Liu Chiping (刘炽平), President of Tencent, revealed in a teleconference that the number of active Tencent QQ users had reached 700 million. That’s more than seven times the number of Messenger’s global users.
Messenger isn’t the first internet communication tool to hit a dead end and it won’t be the last. People will very quickly adapt to life without it. Any software at its peak gives people the illusion that it can live forever, but the cruel reality is when more dazzling products are developed, things that were hugely popular can quickly fade away.
Links and Sources
China.org.cn: No halt to MSN services in China
BBC: Microsoft ditches Windows Live Messenger for Skype