Nice article by +David Auerbach
about his role (on the Microsoft side) in the AIM-MSN Messenger war. Definitely worth the $3 cost of the issue.https://nplusonemag.com/issue-19/essays/chat-wars/
Many times, I wondered what the MSNM folks were thinking as we (at AOL) played this cat and mouse game, and this trip down memory lane did not disappoint:Maybe a week after the blocks had stopped, I came in to work to find that Messenger had been blocked again, but this time it was different. The AOL server was sending a huge chunk of new gobbledygook that I could not understand. [...] Our client just ignored it, but the AOL client responded to this gobbledygook with a shorter version of the same gobbledygook. I didn’t know what it was. It was maddening. After staring at it for half a day, I went over to Jonathan, a brilliant server engineer on our team, and asked what he thought. He looked at it for a few minutes and said, “This is code.”
While this development spelled the end of Microsoft's attempts to connect to AOL, and we all celebrated our victory, ultimately it was shown to be Pyrrhic. As the author writes, "Despite my ignominious defeat at the hands of AOL’s diabolical mastermind of chat, Messenger did pretty well."
MSNM quickly grew to be the dominant IM client in most of the world. By the time I left AOL, MSNM was crushing AIM in terms of simultaneous users and messages delivered per day. There are many reasons for this, which could be an article all on its own, but perhaps the biggest was that we became obsessed with keeping MSNM out for good. Instead of focusing on growing the service, we tried to invent all sorts of crafty ways (binary verification protocols, steganography) of ensuring that only AOL-sanctioned clients could connect to us. It's clear now that these efforts could better have been spent on other things.
Regardless of how it ultimately turned out, still great to read this piece and briefly relive the AIM war room during that summer of 1999.