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AOL Instant Messenger is Going Away. What Are Your Alternatives?

October 6, 2017, 3:30 PM UTC

While some people might have shrugged at Friday’s announcement that AOL Instant Messenger – AIM to its users – is shutting down after 20 years, others are scrambling.

While services like Facebook and Slack have become the preferred way for many to chat with friends and colleagues, there’s still a loyal contingent of people who rely on AIM. And they have a lot of questions.

Can I transfer my buddy list to another service?

Sadly, no – and that could be even more upsetting for loyal AIM users than the shutdown, as it’s the only method they have to reach some old friends and contacts. AOL says there’s no way to save or port your buddy list.

The only sliver of hope to users is that some third party service will find a way around this, as happened with Google shut down Google Reader. There was sufficient user demand for the online RSS reader that other services worked with the company to port over feeds. That, admittedly, is a longshot for AIM, though.

What about my images and files?

For now those can be downloaded manually and stored on your PC’s hard drive. Scroll through your chat history with a specific buddy and right click to save the file you want. Beware that once Dec. 15 hits, all files on the AIM service will disappear.

Can I save my chat history?

You can – and if you’re the nostalgic sort, it’s a good idea. AOL offers step-by-step directions on how to download your conversations at its FAQ page.

What alternatives can I use?

Moving to another instant messaging service does have some risks, since so many have shut down lately. (The Yahoo! Messenger app disappeared last year, for instance, and MSN Messenger shut down in 2014.) But you’re not without options.

Google Hangouts lets you connect with people on your contacts list. And third party services like Adium, Trillian and Pidgin replicate that pop-up window functionality that AIM users loved so much.

Skype is becoming a popular alternative as well, letting users both send instant messages and make free calls as well.

Other possibilities include WhatsApp and Instabird.

Of course, if you really want to go old school, ICQ is still an option. The original instant messaging service, which most people forgot about when AIM came on the scene, is still up and running. It’s worth noting, though, that AOL owns that service too these days, so there’s no telling how long it will continue to operate.