The History of Messaging
The History
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In the beginning

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Messaging has exploded in recent years, but it didn’t happen overnight. Explore how messaging has become the communication lifeblood of internet businesses.

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“What hath
God wrought?”
Samuel Morse sends the first telegram – “What hath God wrought?” from the Book of Numbers – from Washington DC to Vail, Maryland. What used to take weeks by train and horse suddenly takes minutes, triggering our thirst for faster, better communication channels that ultimately led to the telephone, radio, fax, pager, etc.
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1965
A messaging
breakthrough at MIT
1978: The first bulletin board system (BBS) goes public, connecting strangers around the world through virtual online forums. Hard to imagine now, but at the time they were mind-blowing and highly addictive.
The precursor to email, text, messaging and other asynchronous communication is giant time-sharing machines, like MIT’s Compatible Time-Sharing System (CTSS). Connected by wire, up to 30 users can “chat” with each other. Not that they need to – they’re all sitting in the same room!
1982: Before emoji, GIFs, or any of those rich forms of non-text expression, we get sideways smileys known as emoticons. Were these before your time? :-)
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1992
A Christmas
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The first text message is sent by a Vodafone engineer and received by his colleague on an Orbitel 901 phone (which conveniently has 2 backpack straps for, y’know, convenience). It simply reads: MERRY CHRISTMAS.
1988: IRC launches out of a university in Finland, and chatrooms as we know it today began.
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Uh-oh!
Launched in Israel, ICQ is the first centralized, stand-alone instant messenger. It’s billed as the first technology to allow both chatroom-like and one-to-one interactions. AOL snaps it up two years later for a princely sum of $400 million, as things heat up in the messaging space…
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1996 - 2009:

1999: The emoji we know and love today are introduced in, naturally, Japan. They are designed for mobile screens.
1997: AIM pioneers now-common features, such as Buddy Lists, user profiles with real photos, and customizable Away messages (featuring our favorite emo song lyrics from The Killers).
Late 1990's: Bloomberg inadvertently popularizes live chat at work with Bloomberg Terminal, allowing stockbrokers to chat about trades in real-time.
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Instant messaging goes mainstream

With ICQ, messaging crosses into the mainstream. We also see the rise of unique, chat-first communication quirks.

2001: Before bots entered the hype cycle, there was AIM Smarterchild. This chatbot experiment never took off but it paves the way for Siri, Facebook bots, Alexa, Intercom’s Operator, etc.
1999
AIM vs MSN -
the first chat wars
At the turn of the millennium, AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) is the most popular chat application in the world, with 18 million simultaneous users. Microsoft's MSN Messenger team hacks AIM daily for weeks until AOL exploits its own security flaw and blocks Microsoft for good. As the two battle on, bigger threats for both are brewing.
2005: Blackberry BBM is the first free proprietary messenger. Popularizes read receipts. Icon_BBM Created with Sketch.
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Email, meet chat
Google Talk, aka GChat, launches as a super simple chat program for Gmail users. Its key innovation is automatically archiving text-based chats. If that sounds defiantly no-frills, it is, and its hardcore user base is crushed when Google replaces it with Hangouts years later.
2008: Alaska Airlines is an early experimenter with chatbots for live chat support, adding a virtual chatbot assistant named Ask Jenn. icon_askJen Created with Sketch.
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2009
WhatsApp
launches first
mobile messenger
WhatsApp launches, instantly becoming a global success as it offered free mobile messaging and group chat. By 2013, with just 30 engineers it has disrupted the global telco industry’s SMS format, overtaking it in number of messages sent every day.
2009: Hipchat, a precursor to Slack, launches for internal employee messaging.
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2011 - 2016:

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The golden age

While the first era of messaging focuses on simplistic desktop clients, the launch of iOS in 2007 and Android in 2008 leads to a flurry of messaging apps.

2011
Apple brings
messaging to life
Blackberry might’ve been the first to offer free ecosystem messaging, but Apple iMessage shows the world how powerful and expressive messaging can be. It enhances the feeling of presence with interactions like the 3-dot typing indicator. By 2017 Apple is sending 6.3 trillion iMessages a day!
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2011
Intercom pioneers
business messaging
Intercom (that’s us!) launches the first business messenger and introduces the concept of in-app messages, which lets businesses chat with customers while they're logged into their apps.
2011: Facebook decouples messaging from the main social network, forcing users to download a separate app. While controversial at the time, Messenger now boasts more than 1.2 billion users.
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2011
WeChat gives us
a glimpse of the future
2011: Snapchat gives rise to ephemeral messaging, a concept mimicking the temporal aspect of real-life communication. Conversations become moments vs. historical logs.
In China, WeChat popularizes conversational commerce years before it becomes a buzzword in the West. For example you can find and book movie tickets or hail and pay for taxis in their messenger. Some restaurants have even replaced hosts and waiters with WeChat. 🤔
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Millions of people are typing
2015: Messaging has more monthly active users than social networks. Apparently chatting with friends is more compelling than their cat videos. Who knew?
Silicon Valley darling, Slack, enters the scene for workplace messaging. Within 8 months it vaults from 500 thousand to 1.7 million daily active users and scores a $1 billion valuation.
2016: In the same year Facebook announces a bot platform at F8, Intercom pioneers a bot that serves help articles and blurs the line between help desk and knowledge base.

2018

Things get weird...

In less than a lifetime, messaging has gone from niche chatrooms to chatbots performing simple tasks for us. Imagine all the possibilities for businesses…
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We did.