October 31, 2013

FORBATH: The Return of BBM

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Recently, my Facebook newsfeed has been looking a lot like the year 2008. No, not because my friends have been posting videos of Tina Fey exclaiming  “I can see Russia from my house!” or because they’ve found embarrassing photos from my Sweet 16 celebration. Instead, between every few shared Buzzfeed lists and filtered Instagram photos of Ithaca foliage lies a familiar Facebook status that begins with 3 letters: P-I-N.

After a long hiatus, BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) and its unique identifying PIN codes have returned. The new free app, compatible with iPhones and Android devices, was downloaded a whopping 10 million times in the first 24 hours after its release last Monday.

Maybe it’s because I’m Canadian, and maybe it’s because BlackBerry pretty much takes the bronze in terms of our national pride (with Justin Bieber taking the silver and Tim Hortons taking the gold), but it seemed like half of my Facebook friends posted their new BBM pins last week. Some simply shared their PINs without commentary, while others prefaced their postings acknowledging that BBM was so passé. Still others attributed nostalgia.

Ah, nostalgia. In my last blog post about installing iOS 7, I admitted that some of my refusal to upgrade to the new iPhone operating system was due to nostalgia. But, despite my Canadian roots, I’ve never actually owned a BlackBerry. When BlackBerrys were at their “ripest,” I still had a glittery pink dumb phone with an antenna. While it took me minutes to type a 140-character text, many of my friends typed swiftly on their QWERTY keyboards and immediately knew whether or not their friends had read their BBM messages.

Even though memories of my high school experience aren’t permeated with images of my own BBM use, I still vividly remember how envious I was of my BlackBerry-flaunting friends who could stealthily message each other between verses of “O Canada” during my high school’s weekly assemblies. As soon as I learned last week that I could now use BBM on my iPhone, I jumped at the opportunity, finally being able to join the BBM crowd of which I wanted to be a part so badly five years ago.

But in a world where Britney Spears has hair and Hannah Montana now twerks on, well, everything, my foray into BBM didn’t come with the same excitement as it probably would have during George W. Bush’s presidency. I was initially ecstatic after I registered for the service and saw my BBM PIN displayed in large bold characters — until I quickly realized that I have little purpose for the app in 2013. I already use iMessage to communicate with my friends who own iPhones and WhatsApp to message my friends who live abroad. Since BBM PINs are not associated with phone numbers, I couldn’t discover which of my phone contacts were already using the app — a useful feature in WhatsApp. Instead, I had to rely on the constant stream of “PIN” Facebook posts to manually add contacts.

Although WhatsApp, which is already well established in the mobile messaging domain, offers similar features, I can see why certain users would make the switch to BBM. For people who change phones or SIM cards often, having a PIN independent of your current phone number would be extremely useful. In terms of its user interface, BBM’s clean-cut chat boxes look a lot sleeker than WhatsApp’s colorful speech bubbles. The fact that BBM’s “send” button is located at the keyboard’s bottom right corner — a distinguishing feature — makes messaging even quicker.

Despite these benefits, after half a decade of wanting to use the service, I have to say that losing my BBM virginity was pretty anti-climatic. To make a lasting impact, BBM should have come back with a “BOOM!!!!!!!” not with the “Ping” it has always had. While BBM may have been the queen bee, Regina George-from-Mean-Girls-like figure of mobile messaging while I was in high school, it is now more akin to Regina George after she gained a ton of weight eating Kaltene bars: out of place and past its prime.