Patchou's Cabana

The personal blog of Patchou

The Messenger Plus! Story Page 2

Turning a hobby into a full-time job

As Messenger Plus! was increasing in popularity, Microsoft started to notice me and sent me their first email. At the time, version 1 was causing problems with MSN Messenger 5 and they wanted to ensure they could count on my “help in making our customers happy”. This quote basically sums-up most of the contacts I’ve had with the Messenger teams since then and clearly shows one thing: their priority has always been to ensure users’ satisfaction, in any way possible. Microsoft always gets its share of criticism, sometimes justly, sometimes not, but as far as Messenger is concerned, they’ve always worked with their users’ interests in mind, I’ll vouch for that any day.

In less than a year, the user base of Messenger Plus! grew exponentially, reaching 2 million in September 2003. People were enjoying the new features, visiting the web site and its forum in larger and larger groups… there is no shame in admitting I was very proud of this accomplishment. Lots of people kept on helping on the forum, I was happily working with my newly found graphic designer (Guido, who has worked on Messenger Plus! and its web sites from version 2.00 to version 4 and beyond: thank you sir :D ). In a way, the product was victim of its success as I was still working full time in Montreal and there was a limit to the amount of time I could dedicate to the project.

Messenger Plus! 2.20 - Sponsor Setup PageMessenger Plus! 4.80 - Latest Sponsor Setup PageFortunately, two things happened in the summer of 2003: the company I was working for closed several departments, including my own, freeing me from my daily obligations (= I lost my job), and another company approached me in relation to Messenger Plus!. This company’s name was C2 Media. The business idea was simple: bundle another program with Messenger Plus! that would add a toolbar in the users’ browsers and display a new home page. In return, I would be getting a share of the revenues. This company was serious enough to rapidly send somebody to meet me in Montreal and we concluded a quick deal to test out the idea. That’s how Messenger Plus! 2.20 got associated with its first “sponsor program”. The idea of keeping Messenger Plus! freeware with no strings attached was very important to me so the sponsor was offered as an option to support the product, not as an obligation. Despite what some people have suggested in the past, from the very beginning, the sponsor has been and remained entirely optional. It never got installed without the user’s authorisation and certainly never got installed automatically during updates either.

The association with C2 Media brought good and bad things: on the good side, I was finally able to call “Messenger Plus!” my full-time job. I got up in the morning, coded the software, replied to users’ emails, and kept on doing it until the night came. On the bad side, some users did not accept the fact that Messenger Plus! was now associated with adware. I can understand why some people felt un-easy with that change although I always thought that optional advertisement to support the product was better than either giving up on it or forcing people to pay for it. I still think the same way today, although sponsoring methods have changed a lot lately. Surprisingly, the main sponsor related issues did not came from the users themselves but from other people talking about it in various external forums. A lot of misinformed people posted about Messenger Plus!, sometimes attacking myself personally or other members of the forum, propagating FUD on the web about the product and its creator. The good news is: those people ultimately failed; people in the Messenger Plus! community helped me stay positive and we kept on going forward. C2 Media worked on their software, adapted it to better fit with Messenger Plus!, and the sponsor became an integral part of Messenger Plus!. Adware was kept in the distribution package, in optional form, until 2009 when it started to be replaced by better, lighter solutions.

Development Cycle, Updates and Events

From version 2 upwards, updates for Messenger Plus! were released quickly, at least once every two months, sometimes 3 times in a given month. Lots of ideas were put in code and lots of features were added in Messenger Plus! while compatibility with newer versions of Messenger was maintained.

Prizes distributed in various contests

As the software was growing, so was the support around it. Some special merchandise was created, special editions of shirts and other items were sent to beta testers and translators, and the first public contest was organised: people were invited to refer Messenger Plus! to their friends and in turn, get a chance to win a GameCube. The contest interested so many people that it later on became a ritual, every year bringing its new “better than before” contest with lots of different prizes to win. From laptops, to various video game systems, action figures and collectibles, more than a thousand boxes have been sent all around the world with these events.

On the development side, one thing remained constant: Messenger itself was not designed to have add-ons like Messenger Plus! running with it. As a consequence, entire weeks were sometimes dedicated to compatibility fixes. A feature that looked the same from one version of Plus! to another sometimes required major work to keep on functioning. That’s also what kept Messenger Plus! interesting and fresh for me, research and development was constantly required in the product. As it was becoming more and more difficult for part-time developers to create their own add-on, the concept of Plugin was added in Messenger Plus!, adding a new Application Programming Interface layer to Messenger. This feature kept on improving and became really popular several years later, when plugins got transformed into scripts. Nevertheless, it helped keep the Messenger add-on scene alive and kicking, pushing more people to develop for Messenger and increasing the size of the community.

Coinciding with the 3rd anniversary of the product, Messenger Plus! 3 got released at precisely 8:00AM GMT on May 23rd 2004. The web site and the user interface of the add-on got completely re-created for the occasion. The online store selling Plus!-branded merchandise (shirts, mouse pads, …) became more important and charity driven, everything just got more professional. Messenger Plus! was still entirely free and people kept on showing their support in various ways, like sending postcards from their home country. A special version of the logo containing 250 of those postcards was created in 2005, along with some special goodies like wallpapers.

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