My favorite phone at all times is the BlackBerry Bold 9000. Unlike the iPhone 3G, which spied a revolutionary design when it was announced just a month later in 2008, the BlackBerry Bold was not super flashy. But it had one thing that iPhone 3G didn't do: BlackBerry Messenger. It became a key feature of BlackBerry devices and forever changed how business and casual conversations were held by phone users. Today, after years of shrinking use and financial disadvantages from the BlackBerry developer RIM, BlackBerry Messenger goes away for good.
BlackBerry Messenger (better known as BBM) was one of the first instant messaging (IM) platforms to arrive at mobile devices in 2005. People could choose to use a BBM account tied to their unique BlackBerry Pin instead to send a standard text message. BBM managed to take traditional desktop messaging and translate it into the small computers in our pockets. It was amazing.
However, it was not perfect. BBM looked like an early version of Facebook's WhatsApp. The text bubbles were cluttered, the user interface felt lumpy when navigating between messages, and if the wheel of your BlackBerry got stuck, good luck rolled through messages. Despite BBM's weaknesses, it became the app that defined my early high school experience for two main reasons: group clubs and a striking resemblance to desktop platforms like AIM.
I got my fat 9000 in 2008. I was in 1
It sounds stupid to say today when WhatsApp has more than a billion users and group chat is part of our daily lives, but it was sensational. I didn't have to wait until I was home to sign in to MSN Messenger to continue talking to my friends.
It was also through BBM's group chat function that I entered my first high school relationship. We became close to constant group chats with our friends, and eventually we split into direct messages. Yes, in 2008 I made BBM equivalent to slipping into the DMs. Every time I saw my ball's flashing green light turned red, which was a new message, I experienced the slight burst of heat in my stomach. It was ridiculous and exciting. There was no difference to me at 15 between my physical relationship with that person and our life at BBM. If anything, the latter felt even more intimate and secure.
Nor was I the only person who felt this way about BBM. Early Forum Messages Crackberry is full of people trying to summarize why BBM felt better than standard text messaging. "It's like an exclusive club," a Crackberry member mused.
Ironically, one of the most cited reasons for Crackberry who defends BBM's superiority is also partly a reason why my relationship struck out. BBM helped create one of the most anxious messaging features that still exists today: read receipts.
Read revenue was introduced along with BBM in 2005. When a message was sent, a small letter "D" would appear next to it. When the same message was read, "D" would switch to a "R." People thought it was genius. Colleagues knew when a person was available and could hear again immediately. But the read receipt function came back to bite me, a person who often reads a message and responds hours later.
In 2011, Urban Dictionary added the term "rbomb" to specifically address a cultural shift on platforms such as BBM. People didn't want the other person to know when a message was read. Several Reddit posts ask how to deal with "read receipt anxiety" began to appear. Just this year, Dazed Digital runs a piece about how read receipts can affect people's mental health badly. Read receipts haunted me for years after I left BBM. I have just transformed them again through iMessage recently as an experiment. The only difference between my anxiety from time to time does not have to deal with an angry flashing red light at the top of my phone. BlackBerry, via BBM, demanded attention.
For anyone who made BBM sometimes frustrating to use, it gave me something I miss today: a private community. BBM thought like a little oasis in a growing field of social networks and websites that wanted everything to be bigger. Areas like Habbo Hotel and Twitter helped create the internet we know today, all based on allowing people to talk to each other. But BBM was different. Group clubs provided emotional support and a closeness that other sites could not replicate. The fact that it was on your phone, a thing that already feels incredibly personal, because it lives in your hand, only strengthens that feeling. At a time when the internet feels too noisy, I find myself wistfully thinking about the early BBM group chat.
New York Magazine s Max Read says group clubs "make the internet fun again". feels like many of us are struggling to get back to a place that reminds us of more styling oldschools forums and chat platforms. It never stopped being BBM for me. It was the platform that helped me fall in love with mobile 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, a study report from The Globe and Mail proposed a plan to help save RIM, a once-emerging company that did not come with Apple and Android was BBM. An executive consisted of a plan "to push wireless operators to adopt" BBM as a complete substitute for traditional SMS. The plan never came off the ground. BBM hung around for a while and eventually became an optional messaging platform on Apple and Android devices, but never managed to regain the cultural cache it once held.
I still use group chat today with my friends. I'm about four. You live on Facebook Messenger, the others are through iMessage or standard subtitles. These friends are also in their own group chat, across iPhones and a number of Android phones. No one uses BlackBerry Messenger anymore, but it created the very foundation of how the world is still communicating today.