Before WhatsApp or even the Blackberry craze, South Africans used MXit. Phumlani S Langa reminisces on simpler times and a legendary instant messaging service that paved the way for the widely used networks today.
Ama2000 won’t fully comprehend what it was like to stay up late and have not-so-stimulating conversations on the then groundbreaking social network known as MXit.
Message Xchange It offered South Africans a platform from which to chat with each other conveniently and affordably.
Those who don’t know MXit will never experience the wonders of the chatrooms you could visit with a flip phone, using the cutting-edge Java and GPRS connectivity, before the days of fibre.
Many former MXit users would remember very well the agony of stringing together a conversation only to be DC’d (disconnected), which meant having to log out and back in again.
Those were days filled with waiting for the little dots next to your contacts to go green to indicate that they were now online, and continually hoping for the other person to keep the dot green and stay online.
Trying to break up with someone on MXit in an area with poor connectivity presented a unique set of challenges for one’s emotional well-being.
Those who know will also recall the airtime expenses of staying online, although, in retrospect, it was a little better back then, as a mere R5 would go the distance.
Not to mention the themes on offer which gave the instant messaging platform a personal touch.
Beyond that, the application also boasted a games ecosystem which is how MXit came to be.
The origins of MXit lie in the story of a multiplayer cellphone game called Arya. The game was played using SMS, which was costly to many users due to the rates of text messaging.
After taking that L, the developer headed back to the drawing board. MXit was founded in Stellenbosch by Herman Heunis in 2003.
He has been in the software industry since the 1980s.
He told The Star newspaper that he almost went insolvent in the early years, and shared the genius of MXit by saying, “It has become a central hub for a lot of business activity. Another of our strong points was that we kept innovating. Our services can be accessed on high- and low-end phones, and we are about to introduce a wallet so people can buy and sell services over MXit.”
His thinking was far ahead of the curve, as MXit was also aiming to encourage companies to join the fray, providing services linked to the application and, inevitably, advertisements.
It was released in 2005 and the longer it was around, the more tweaking it underwent, with various updates and new versions.
The last was Version 7, which could be run off Android and iPhone devices.
The MXit evolution lasted for a while and, at its height, had around 7.4 million monthly users.
The app could work on about 8 000 devices, which attracted large media companies looking to buy a stake of Heunis’ pie.
MXit also grew to have clientele in Malaysia, India, Indonesia, the UK, the US, Nigeria, Brazil, France, Germany, Italy and Portugal.
Things slowly fizzled out when phones got smarter, and competitors like 2go emerged and diluted the market.
Soon the buzz words were Blackberry and BBM. Their encrypted messaging would then give rise to the initially not-so-popular WhatsApp.
So where are they now? In October 2015, MXit reached the end of a good run.
Alas, you can no longer download MXit and experience the joys of purchasing moolah (a form of digital currency used in MXit to buy games and chat rooms) from Joebanker.
The message exchange service reached a sour conclusion when Heunis sold MXit (Pty) Ltd to investment group World of Avatar in a deal worth R500 million, which later fell through.
He took to Twitter and shed light on his state of mind.
He said, “Pity I was too burnt out in 2011 to take MXit further. Had all ingredients to become a major success story. The missing catalyst was new energy.”
Our country lost a gem we probably could’ve fought harder to keep.
Those of us who were there from the beginning still get a twinge of nostalgia when someone says BRB (be right back) or G2G (got to go).
We blame Mark Zuckerberg for our loss!