The world has never been more connected thanks to advanced technology and social media apps. Previous generations have used paper and ink as their main method of communication. Today, news and messages can be exchanged in a few clicks. Smartphones, tablets, computers, and other electronic devices are being developed with the sole purpose of making our lives easier.
But how did online messaging came to be? Most of us remember the old messaging platforms like mIRC and MSN. And while these days may be over, new apps are being developed as we speak. What are the most popular messaging platforms today, and is there a way of knowing what the future holds?
Historical Overview of IM Platforms
The term instant messaging dates back to the 1990s, but the technology itself predates the Internet. In the 1960s, multi-user operating systems like Compatible Time-Sharing System (CTSS) and Multiplex Information and Computing Service (Multics) used instant messaging as a notification system for services like printing. It quickly evolved to facilitate communication between users logged into the same machine. As networks developed, so did the messaging platforms. Some used peer-to-peer protocol, meaning users could connect using different machines.
These were chat programs like talk, ntalk, and ytalk. Other platforms required users to be connected to the same server, like talker and IRC. In the 1980s, Project Athena was launched, and scientists at MIT, Digital Equipment Corporation, and IBM produced Zephyr Notification Service. It allowed providers to locate and send messages to users.
Parallel to instant messaging platforms were the online chat facilities, like Talkomatic on the PLATO system. It allowed up to 5 people to chat simultaneously. However, the technology was severely limited as users could only type 5 lines of text and 1 status line per person. The first dedicated online chat service that was widely available to the public was the CompuServe CB Simulator developed by Alexander Trevor. The initial product was very basic, but gradually developed over the years. It started a trend of incorporating chat systems on all available online platforms.
Instant messaging peaked during the 1990s with the emergence of PowWow, ICQ, and AOL Instant Messenger. These platforms allowed users to send text messages or to communicate via audio/video chat link. ICQ revolutionized online chatting and instant messaging, receiving two patents by the U.S. patent office. Meanwhile, other companies developed their own software like Excite, MSN, Ubique, and Yahoo!. They used their own proprietary protocols and clients, meaning users had to run multiple applications if they wished to use more than one of these networks. Everything changed with the development and introduction of Jabber in 2000. It used an open-source application and open standards-based protocols that were standardized under the name Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol (XMPP). It served as a gateway to the development of modern-day instant messaging apps like Facebook Messenger, Viber, WhatsApp, Skype, and many more.
Most Popular IM Platforms Today
In this era of technological advancement, there are plenty of instant messaging platforms to choose from. A large number of apps are used for private and personal communication, but some companies have developed business-related apps that can help with everyday work. Most apps can be installed on smartphones and desktop, regardless if it is Android, Mac, iOS, or Windows. Linux is probably the only exception, but there are more than enough apps that support this operating system.
It is important to note that different apps have different characteristics, but most share common features like the ability to make voice and video calls; instant messaging; photo and link sharing; they are free and easy to use.
There are more than 100 IM apps and platforms used globally. The most popular ones are:
- WhatsApp with 2000 million users;
- Facebook Messenger with 1300 million users;
- WeChat with 1112 million users;
- Tencent QQ with 823 million users;
- Telegram with 300 million users;
- Skype with 300 million users;
- Snapchat with 294 million users;
- Viber with 260 million users;
- Discord with 250 million users;
- Line with 203 million users.
Businesses can use instant messaging apps to communicate with each other in real-time. This provides a cost-effective and convenient way for executives and workers to share their ideas and goals. Some of the most widely used apps for business are:
- Microsoft Teams
- Google Hangouts Chat
- Facebook Workplace
- Amazon Chime
The Top 3
WhatsApp is an American freeware service created in 2009 by WhatsApp, Inc. It was bought by Facebook, Inc. in 2014 and since then became the world’s most popular messaging application. It is used in more than 110 countries worldwide and is primary electronic communication in Latin America, India, Pakistan, and Europe. WhatsApp allows users to send text and voice messages, make voice and video calls, share images, documents, user location, and other media. It requires a standard cellular mobile number for registering.
Facebook Messenger was developed by Facebook, Inc., and initially served as Facebook Chat in 2008. Three years later, in 2011, a standalone version was released. Messenger’s functionality is separated from the main Facebook app. Users can send messages, exchange photos, videos, stickers, audio, and other files. Messenger is among the first platforms to introduce the ability to interact with bots and react to other users’ messages. The app supports playing games and using multiple accounts and conversations.
Developed by Tencent Holdings Ltd., WeChat is the most popular platform in China and Asia. The app is used for social media, mobile payment, and multi-purpose messaging. It was released in 2011 and became one of the largest and most used mobile apps in 2020. Often described as China’s “super app for everything,” it is used for making voice and video calls, instant messaging, digital payment services, business conferences, marketing, sharing documents, photos and other files, and even creating mini apps within the app. Most smartphones come with a pre-installed WeChat app.
What The Future Holds?
Experts believe that messaging apps will continue to play a key role throughout our life cycle. Current platforms and software will be improved additionally, combining three key elements to a powerful relationship in any digital environment: frequency of use, emotional connection, and convenience. Most developers are already working hard to broaden and deepen conversation between the software and the customer (e.g., Cortana, Alexa, and Siri).
Artificial Intelligence (AI) will play a crucial role in the upcoming years. It will power a new type of conversation and engage people with the app even more. The AI will most likely memorize our preferences, locations, frequently used words, and even automatically reply to someone’s message. Since there will be an increase in the usage of instant messaging apps, security will become a top priority. One of the main issues with IM platforms is accessibility to view information from personal devices. This puts businesses at risk, something which will most likely be addressed as technology progresses.
Lastly, a new computing interface will be introduced. Texting will become obsolete and replaced by a more sophisticated and intelligent design. Scientists around the world have come up with new and inventive ways to use lasers, modern digital processors, and motion sensing technologies to create different types of holograms that could change the way we interact with media, messaging apps, and each other.