Last time we described the first wave of messengers, which boomed in the late 90s – early 00s. The first generation of messengers is out of date, whilst the second still can be seen in almost every smartphone. The second wave of messengers began with the vast increase in smartphone users when the iPhone and Android appeared on the market in 2007 and 2008 respectively. The ‘Application’ became the new fundamental concept, which led to a complete overhaul and rethinking of the messenger concept.
Perhaps WhatsApp (at first based on XMPP protocol, and then evolved) is the most famous and most common messenger for smartphones. Other players of the second generation are: WeChat, LINE, Google Hangouts, Viber, KakaoTalk, Telegram, ChatON, Hike, Kik, and Facebook Messenger (which is still competing with WhatsApp even after Facebook purchased it).
With the advent of the smartphones round-the-clock connection to the Internet became the norm. Being offline has become a temporary phenomenon, not something permanent. This caused drastic changes in our lives, shifting the Internet connection paradigm itself from ‘always offline’ (except for a few minutes) to ‘always online’ (except for a few minutes). As you could now receive all files and messages right away when you were offline, internet presence became less important and people stopped feeling the need to respond immediately. People were now free from having to be online for communications.
The very limited function of sending offline messages from the first generation messengers was replaced by a full-fledged central archive, where all received messages are now stored. The synchronization of all devices with a central messenger archive was made simple for users. All apps of the same brand, for all devices, synchronized with the central archive in real time. This is what using one app on several devices would look like from then on: you’d start a chat on one device, continue on another, and finish it on yet another. All sent and received messages were consistent across all devices in real time.
Offering and accepting files became a thing of the past. As connections were unpredictable, no one could afford to wait for a contact to be online to send them a file. That’s why those designing messengers had to make the functionality of sending files as simple as sending regular messages. Pictures and photographs, audio and video, geolocation, basically any file could be sent as a regular message. The sender would pick a specific file, press ‘send’, and then put their phone back in his/her pocket or start typing the next message. The app would take care of the rest. The receiver would be notified of a new file as if they had received a regular text.
Of course, most applications only allowed large files to be downloaded when connected to Wi-Fi in order to protect users from exceeding Internet traffic granted by their carrier. With files sent directly within dialogs, all chats have become conversations infinitely stretched in time.
Real progress has been made in voice and video transmission thanks to improvements in the hardware, including the introduction of frontal cameras in every smartphone, and subsequently in laptops. With the advent of 3G and 4G for mobile phones and high speed Internet for computers, video calls have become a lot more popular. They are still subject to Internet channel bandwidth so users are aware and accepting of delays and errors.
You do expect typos on messengers on smartphones as you are trying to type fast on a small keyboard, and sometimes auto-correct changes words to the opposite to what you intended. Now we have the opportunity to send an edited version of a sent message. Even if the message has already been sent, you still have the chance to edit it from both ends (including the archive). Also, most of the apps offer you the opportunity to reply to a certain message, or quote it, as well as resend the message and designate a certain user with @nickname. The emergence of these functions allowed chats to ‘grow ripe’. Another useful function, adopted from SMS and eventually modified, is markers notifying whether your text has been sent, delivered or read. This would be shown with check marks, color marks, labels or simply with text. Some went even further and made watermarks in conversations, which showed that a contact didn’t read the rest of the messages.
Stickers, stickers and once again, stickers! Almost every single app got a sticker feature. You could send an image varying in size, more emotionally charged than a regular emoticon, which would also be much lighter than regular images. Moreover, stickers are built in the app on each device. This allowed people to more accurately express their emotions and do it faster in a way that is more fun. Some applications made stickers a part of their monetization by selling sticker sets or by charging companies for the option to add branded stickers to the app.
The second generation of messengers made them less instantaneous and longer lasting, much more so than compared to the SMS technology from which they evolved.
The smartphone revolution was so swift and crazy that the creators of the first applications completely forgot about desktop apps. Many would make apps exclusively for mobile phones. As time passed, the majority of those apps evolved into cross-platform programs with support for smartphones. We’ll talk about that in the next part of the article so stay tuned!