Shoot the Messenger

MSN Messenger is a bit rubbish, isn’t it?

I was chatting to a chum in that medium last night, and unbeknown to both of us, only half of our messages were getting through: under any circumstances that’s pretty confusing, but last night it caused misunderstandings which made my interlocutor quite upset before we got it sorted out.

It’s especially annoying because it’s unnecessary. For years I’ve been using a bit of ham radio software called UI-View, which includes in its functions a sort of “MSN Messenger over the radio” system. It has an error-checking system so the computer at each end knows if any messages haven’t got through.

Let’s say I was having a conversation with Rockin’ Rob: I send him a 5-line message, and line 3 fails to get through. MSN Messenger would display that like this:

Important stuff for next cachepedition:
– Gadgets
– Food
– Beer

Neither of us knows that Rob is one item short of a full list…to coin a phrase.

UI-View would display:

Important stuff for next cachepedition:
– Gadgets
**?
– Food
– Beer

Not only does Rob know there’s a line missing, but my computer knows that line 3 hasn’t been received, and keeps sending it until Rob’s screen correctly shows:

Important stuff for next cachepedition:
– Gadgets
– Sally-J’s favourite chocolate
– Food
– Beer

You can see how important that missing line might be.

If basic, but useful, error trapping like that can work on a narrow bandwidth radio channel shared between dozens of users, why can’t it be made to work on the internet?

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