What An Instant Messaging System Looked Like In 1984

This 1984 Advertisement For An Instant Messaging System Will Amaze You (Or Maybe It Won’t)

If you were born after 1986 you have always had the internet and email at your disposal since childhood. It may come as a surprise to you that in one form or another email has been around since the 1960s.

But when did IM (Instant Messaging) come into being?

The early 1980s saw the dawn of what would later be termed instant messaging.

From an advertisement in the November 12, 1984 issue of Newsweek magazine, this is what one of the first instant messaging systems looked like:

Easylink 1984 advertisement

Easylink 1984 advertisement

Introduced in 1982 Western Union’s EasyLink system was considered revolutionary. EasyLink’s messages were stored in the computer memory and not seen until the user checked to see if there were any messages.

Western Union had been struggling to gain followers to its electronic mail system when it reconfigured EasyLink in October 1984. The innovation was that users could now instantly send and receive messages without going into computer memory storage.

At the time, Western Union held the top spot with 25% of the total business in electronic mail. The new system was aimed at businesses to buy personal computers from IBM that were bundled with EasyLink software.

Western Union’s biggest competitors for email business at the time were Wang Laboratories Inc. and the Digital Equipment Corporation.

The reluctance from the public to use email on their nascent personal computers was mainly that “the systems are too complicated to use.”

The ad brings up an interesting point about users concerned about who could get into the system. Therefore a three step security system made sure that “only you and the people you choose have access to the system.”

What became of EasyLink?

In 1990 At&T acquired EasyLink from Western Union for $180 million and merged it with its own AT&T mail.

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