That ping on your phone or vibrate alert telling you a new message has arrived is now a normal part of everyday life. In fact, most of us think there is something wrong with our devices if we don’t hear or feel the alert for a period of time.

We use messaging to keep in contact with family, to chat with friends, and to communicate with colleagues and clients. Messengers are now part of almost everything we do, but where did it all begin? How has the evolution of messengers influenced the apps and tools available today, and what does the future hold?

To answer these questions, let’s start by going back in time.

A Brief History of Messengers

The internet has changed the way people communicate in a number of different ways, particularly with the advance of three main technologies:

  • Email
  • Social media
  • Messengers

Most people know that email has been around for a long time, but many regard messengers and social media to be much more recent inventions. That may be true for social media, but messengers have been evolving for as long as the internet has existed. In fact, technically, messengers actually predate the internet.

Those were restricted tools, however, and were not open to the public in general. More open platforms didn’t start appearing until the 1980s with the rise of bulletin board systems and the introduction of Commodore’s Q-Link. These were rudimentary by today’s standards, but they laid the foundations for what came next. In particular, they were the earliest demonstration that users had an appetite for messenger services, and would use them if possible.

The first company to really breakthrough with a messenger platform was Mirablis. Its ICQ system is widely regarded as being the first real messenger service. The system allowed file transfers, multi-user chats, and more. At its peak, it had over 47 million users and was eventually bought by AOL.

In 1997 AOL also launched AIM, a system that changed the industry forever with its buddy list. It went on to dominate the market in the mid-2000s. Others followed including Yahoo! Messenger, MSN Messenger from Microsoft, and Windows Live Messenger, also from Microsoft.

The mid-to-late 2000s saw the beginnings of the current crop of messenger apps. This included the launch of Skype in 2003 and WhatsApp in 2009. Social media platforms, such as Facebook, also released messenger services.

Today there are many messenger services available including apps and those integrated with other services like email and social media. It is a technology that is here to stay – in 2015, about 75 percent of the world’s internet users had used a messenger on their mobile phone.

Messenger Apps Today and What the Future Holds

Users today demand ease of use and seamless integration with their device. They also want multiple features. That typically means removing restrictions. For example, it should be possible to chat with one person, chat with multiple people, make voice calls, make conference calls, send files, and more, all from one messenger service.

Security is also a major concern, particularly in relation to the storage of private messages on the servers of messenger platforms.

As for the future, we can expect messengers to become even more integrated into our lives, plus they will be more location aware. In addition, there will be improved enterprise integrations to make messengers more fit-for-purpose in business.

One thing is for certain – messenger apps will remain a core part of the way we communicate.