In the event you’ve somehow missed it the AOL Instant Messenger service, commonly known as AIM, will shut down at the end of 2017, after being operational for 20 years.
While Facebook Messenger is considered the primary messaging system in the world today, there are many many options available – Skype, ICQ, Discord, and more; some new, some having existed for nearly as long as AIM has.
AIM of course came as an extension of the AOL buddy list and instant messaging systems, taking us back to a time when AOL was a primary internet service provider. As broadband connections became commonplace and people left the America Online service proper, AIM stayed a primary messaging method (alongside Yahoo messenger) through the 2000’s – Virtually everyone had a screen name, either dating back to an old AOL account or one made anew, it didn’t matter. You put that name on your personal page, your Myspace, your forum posts, anywhere you felt someone might want to get in touch with you directly, in real time.
It was kind of awesome, too – AIM didn’t require a mutual acceptance like Facebook and other services do. You could honestly just message whomever and while that had its own problems, it was equally cool to just be able to shoot a message over and have the other party receive it.
There was the anonymity, too, which was nice – before Facebook real names really weren’t all that well used online (and I honestly feel they still shouldn’t be used online, but such is the nature of modern social media), so you could build a true alias, with that identity being all you are to people. It was kind of an awesome time, really. Interestingly, people were generally still “real” and nice about things. Yeah, they actually tended to be more decent while just a screen name than some people are today with their real name. Different time, different people, over just a decade – this is part of the reason I don’t identify as “millennial” but that’s another story.
Anyway, yeah, AIM – I used it heavily through 2003 to about 2011, which is about the time Facebook got its real-time messaging (the chat type systems we use today) as opposed to being almost more like an internal email service. This also coincides with me leaving one particular community online, which much of the contacts my buddy list belonged to – incidentally many of the “better” people from that group were added on Facebook, and to that end things became redundant.
Beyond that, Twitter and other services became more useful for the kind of general interaction that AIM used to provide. Combined with Facebook, these two commonly used services filled the niche that AIM once had.
It doesn’t help that AIM became annoying to use towards the end of the 2000’s due to a few updates which changed the general behavior of the app, as well as throwing in very annoying advertisements. In retrospect, of course, these made sense – AOL usage was diminishing, so they needed to make money one way or another, but the very “in your face” nature of the “new” AIM and its ad display methods pushed people away. We would actually either use old AIM clients or 3rd party applications which had access to the AIM network.
At some point though, regardless, we all seem to have abandoned AIM, which is sad. I’ve even thought in the past year or two about making a new screen name and “bringing it back” among friends, but this never came to pass, and clearly never will – in 3 months, the servers will be shut down and that will be the end of that.
To that end, today, I logged on for a bit via the web based messenger to discover pretty much just people still online via the old SMS based mobile AIM method – literally using AIM via text method, before smartphones became commonplace. Otherwise, just a fine tuned list of people who I either no longer talk with, or who I have on Facebook. Only a few names (all belonging to the same person, actually) were on under normal methods (probably due to 3rd party chat applications) and the rest, well, they were all offline, and I’m sure have been for years.
AIM had a logging feature, and thanks to the nature of my system backups, I still have many of the conversations from back around the last time I really used AIM. Hell, I even have a few conversations from back in 2007 logged on one old hard disk (which proved useful in me figuring out some things that happened in early 2007) so I do have some tangible elements of my usage of the service – I might dive through those and see if I find anything interesting, but I’m pretty sure it was mostly music game conversation and basic chit-chat. Nothing different from how I would have used Facebook Messenger had it been the main messaging system back then.
In any case, thanks for the memories AIM. I wish you could have stayed useful but that’s just how things go. It wasn’t so much you, it was they way everything else changed, and the way people use the internet now. It isn’t the same, and I kind of hate that – I do feel the decentralized nature of the “classic” internet was far more useful. Certainly much less hostile, to say the least.
Oddly, the thing I think I’ll miss most will be the sounds – the door open and door shut of friends logging on and off, and the random little notifications – the happiness of seeing a friend pop online. Such is lost in our now always-connected, always online world. Away messages had a charm to them, sure, but for me, the happiness of seeing a username you were waiting for popping up in the corner, that was just the best!