My favorite phone of all time is the BlackBerry Bold 9000. Unlike the iPhone 3G, which announced a revolutionary design when it was only announced a month later in 2008, the BlackBerry Bold was not super flashy. But it had one thing that the iPhone 3G did not: BlackBerry Messenger. It became a defining feature on BlackBerry devices and forever changed how business and informal conversations were held by telephone users. Today, after years of shrinking use and financial misery of BlackBerry developer RIM, BlackBerry Messenger is leaving forever.
BlackBerry Messenger (better known as BBM) was one of the first instant messaging (IM) platforms arrived on mobile devices in 2005. People can choose to use a BBM account that is associated with their unique BlackBerry Pin instead of sending a standard text message. BBM succeeded in using traditional desktop messages and translating them into the small computers in our pockets. It was amazing.
However, it was not perfect. BBM looked like one early version of Facebook & # 39; s WhatsApp. The Text bubbles were messy, the user interface felt awkward When navigating between messages, and if the wheel got stuck on your BlackBerry, good luck browsing messages. Despite BBM's weaknesses, it became the app that defined my early high school experience for two main reasons: group chats and a striking similarity with desktop IM platforms such as AIM.
I received my Bold 9000 in 2008. I was in 10th grade and, like everyone else, my life revolved around my phone. My friends and I text & # 39; every day and night. We all had BlackBerry & # 39; s. Some people received new devices from their parents as a birthday present, others used old, recycled telephones. Via BBM, those individual text messages quickly changed into extensive, endless group chats. We became a perfect batch of new BlackBerry users. RIM has already made a name for companies and governments, but then it started to reach a crucial new audience: young consumers. By 2013 BBM had 60 million monthly active users. My friends and I were some of the earliest.
It sounds stupid to say today, when WhatsApp has more than a billion users and group chats are part of our daily lives, but then it was sensational. I didn't have to wait until I got home to sign up with MSN Messenger to continue talking with my friends.
It was also through BBM's group chat function that I entered my first high school relationship. We came close to constant group chats with our friends and eventually split off on direct messages. Yes, in 2008 I did the BBM equivalent of sliding in the DM & # 39; s. Every time I saw the green light of my Vette blinking red, signifying a new message, I experienced that little burst of heat in the pit of my stomach. It was ridiculous and exciting. At the age of 15 there was no difference between my physical relationship with this person and our life at BBM. It felt even more intimate and secure.
I was not the only one who felt so at BBM. Early messages on the Crackberry be a forum full of people trying to summarize why BBM felt better then use standard text messages. "It's just like an exclusive club," one Crackberry member mused. "It makes texting look old," another added.
Ironically, one of the most cited reasons for this is Crackberry defending BBM & # 39; s superiority is also partly a reason why my relationship got out of hand. BBM has helped create one of the most frightening messaging features that still exists: read receipts.
Reading vouchers were introduced alongside BBM in 2005. When a message was sent, a small letter "D" appeared next to it. When that same message was read, the "D" changed to an "R". People thought it was a genius. Colleagues knew when someone was available and could hear again immediately. But the read confirmation function came back to bite me, a person who often reads a message and answers hours later.
In 2011, Urban Dictionary has added the term "rbomb" specifically to tackle a cultural shift on platforms such as BBM. People did not want the other person to know when a message was read. Multiple Reddit messages ask how dealing with "reading confirmation anxiety" began to appear. Only this year Dazed Digital walked a lot about how read receipts can badly influence people's mental health. Reading vouchers haunted me years after I left BBM. I recently enabled them again as an experiment via iMessage. The only difference between my fear now and then is that I don't have to deal with a furious, blinking red light on the top of my phone. The BlackBerry, via BBM, demanded attention.
For everything that sometimes made BBM frustrating to use, it gave me something that I miss today: a private community. BBM felt like a small oasis in a growing field of social networks and sites that wanted everything to grow. Sites such as Habbo Hotel and Twitter have helped create the internet that we know today, all based on the ability of people to talk to each other. But BBM was different. Group chat provided emotional support and proximity that other sites could not replicate. The fact that it was on your phone, something that already feels incredibly personal because it lives in your hand, only enhanced that feeling. Today, at a time when the internet is making too much noise, I notice that I am sadly thinking about those early BBM group chats.
New York MagazineMax Read says that group chats "make the internet fun again." It feels like many of us are fighting to go back to a place that reminds us of quieter old-school forums and IM platforms. That never stopped being BBM for me. It was the platform that helped me fall in love with cell phones and the thing that encouraged me to share stupid memes. It was the service that showed me that small online experiences are usually more fun.
In 2013, one research report from The Globe and Mail proposed one plan to save RIM, a once fast-growing company that Apple and Android couldn't keep up with, was BBM. One of the members of the board threw a plan "to encourage wireless providers to take over" BBM as a complete replacement for traditional text messages. The plan never got off the ground. BBM hung around for a while and eventually became an optional messaging platform on Apple and Android devices, but it never managed to recover the cultural cache it once had.
I still use group chat with my friends. I'm around four. People live on Facebook Messenger, the others are via iMessage or standard text messages. Those friends are also in their own group chats, on different iPhones and different Android phones. Nobody uses BlackBerry Messenger anymore, but it has laid the foundation for how the world still communicates.