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End of an era as app that introduced Nigerians to the Internet is about to shut down

The importance of Yahoo Messenger in Nigeria's Internet culture cannot be understated.

This piece of news most likely might not cause a ripple within the instant messaging culture of younger millennials but for those older who were in the front seat of the Y2K millennium bug frenzy, this is big news.

Created in 1998, Yahoo Messenger was the coolest instant messaging client in the world. Yes, there was a time that Yahoo was the coolest company on earth believe it or not.

Not only was Yahoo Messenger a fun way of chatting with your friends and meeting new people on the Internet, it was a gateway for young Nigerians to reach to other people in other parts of the world.

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Internet cafés started popping up in the country circa 1999, the transitional year of Nigeria switching from military rule to a civilian government. Nigeria had been a pariah state during the Abacha years and as the world marched towards a new age ruled by the Internet the country was stuck in the past.

When the Internet came, it was a peephole into the outside world for us. No longer were we restricted to bootleg VHS Hollywood movies and foreign rap videos played on AIT Jamz to get a taste of the world. We now had the Internet and with N100 per hour, you could go around the globe.

There was no YouTube then. Social networks? Forget about it. All we had was the busy Yahoo search engine and Yahoo Messenger- a rectangular blue and grey box with a smirking smiley. All you had to do was type in your Yahoo mail details and you were in.

"I started using yahoo messenger in 2002 back in secondary school" remembers Odion. Teenagers like Odion back then were the early adopters of the Internet, curious to fill their minds with what the world had to offer.

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While Yahoo Messenger allowed you to chat with your friends who were online, the real fun was the access it gave to a public chat centre known as Yahoo Chat Rooms.

Think about it as Twitter before Twitter. The chat rooms were separated into different interest, hobbies and likes. You could choose from hundreds of rooms.

When you got into a room, welcome to the pre-Twitter timeline. If you wanted to take things away from the public chat room, you could hit someone up directly (something like DMs) and start talking to them.

Yahoo gave birth to the ASL language. ASL stood for age, sex and location- the identity codes of the chat room used to hasten the breaking the ice process.

"Initially felt like a pass code to Ali Baba and the sporty thieves den, plus I think that was the really felt private outlet to talk to people you don't even know, which was a thrill at the point," says Ehis on using Yahoo Messenger.

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During my days in Yahoo Chat Rooms, I had an online argument with a guy from Brooklyn, had a friend from the Philippines,  and chatted with an American chick about rock music in her country. You could meet anyone online. The thrill of it made you leave your house quickly and dash to the cyber cafe.

Those were the good old days of skimming through an online directory of people in search of companions, friends and even lovers. 3D smileys, Buzz features were innovations rather than IM staples.

Steve remembers this vividly. "I made some friends from Yahoo Messenger. I remember a Ghanaian girl in the United Kingdom and a couple of guys in Lagos."

"My secondary school crush and I use to go the café every Saturday so we could chat about all that love shenanigans," Odion says.

All good things have a bad side and Yahoo messenger sadly led to the early beginnings of Internet fraud. In the early years of the Internet in Nigeria, young males would connect with people overseas vis Yahoo Messenger. They would gain their trust over a period of time and scam them later on.

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These Internet fraudsters were named Yahoo boys after the search engine. This just goes how to show you how popular the search engine and messenger were in those days.

Nothing lasts forever and as Internet penetration got deeper, Yahoo messenger gave way to social media upstarts Hi 5, My Space and finally the giant Facebook respectively. These social media sites came with their own IM features and knocked away Yahoo who was losing its online relevance to Google.

By 2010, Yahoo Messenger had become a ghost town. Social media was all the rave and Yahoo was old school.

The downward spiral of Yahoo is not news. The giant tech company failed to evolve in the world of social media.

"Stopped using it because other platforms sprung up that allowed for more meaning and matured conversations, Yahoo Messenger never really evolved, in features and easy usage and it seemed most of the people who were on it also were in a box and became less expressive, so it got stale" admits Ehis.

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Eventually, Yahoo had to kill its chat rooms in 2012. It couldn't compete with the new IM apps.

Now, years after it was created Yahoo Messenger will be shutting down. The world has moved beyond the IM client created by Yahoo but no matter what new IM app comes next, we shouldn't forget the groundwork was laid down by Yahoo Messenger.

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