A few months before I started university in 2005, I wrote myself a small MSN Messenger bot in PHP, simply as an experiment and for a challenge. This bot would connect to the MSN Messenger servers, just like a normal desktop client would, and would be able to interact with Web service APIs, a MySQL database, etc., to provide automated services to me and select friends.
There were two primary features of my bot:
- It would save my current MSN Messenger status, display name and "personal message" (a much longer status message, somewhat akin to a Facebook or Twitter status) to a database so that a separate PHP script could utilise the "GD" extension to automatically draw an image containing those details that I could then display in forum signatures and similar. This worked great until I had to leave the house for a couple of days and, having forgotten about the bot's actions, set my status message to include my mobile phone number, which was then broadcast to large swathes of the Web instead of merely to my fairly-trusted list of Messenger contacts. Oops...
- The other feature was that I created a form on my website that would allow people to enter their name and a short message, then the bot would instantaneously deliver that message to me over the MSN Messenger network. This allowed instantaneous, short messages to be sent without requiring me to give out my Messenger contact details.
Both of these features proved to be unexpectedly popular and I soon had several members of the forums that I frequented (primarily the Mess.be forum) asking me if they could also use the bot for status images and receiving messages, so I made the necessary changes to allow the bot to run for more than one user. One person even used the service on their eBay listings to allow potential buyers to ask questions about their listings prior to bidding. However, it quickly became apparant that a single page on my personal website wasn't going to be sufficient with the number of people who wanted to use the service.
The natural solution was to rewrite the entire thing from the ground up, focusing on scalability and support for a much larger userbase. Thus was born Web2Messenger.
With the bots being written in PHP, performance quickly became an issue, so a friend of mine, Frans-Willem Hardijzer of StuffPlug fame, came on board to create new bots in C++ that would run much faster and using considerably less memory. He also worked on some other features, such as improvements to the status image system and advertising scripts.
Due to the time constraints of starting a university course, our development efforts into Web2Messenger unfortunately dwindled, and another pair of Messenger enthusiasts created their own system (called Web2Live) with the same functionality as Web2Messenger. As of late 2008, Web2Messenger development had entirely ceased, and the bots were permanently shut down a couple of years later. However, prior to its closure, Web2Messenger had delivered almost 70,000 messages to more than 16,000 users, which easily makes it the most popular service I've ever created.
The Web2Messenger website is still running for historial purposes, but the bots are inactive and messages can no longer be sent, nor status images updated.