A Nostalgic Look Back At AOL Instant Messenger
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Each week in tech brings us momentous news (a major product release, a lawsuit development), inconsequential news (a startup that will never make it receiving funding from a venture capital firm that doesn’t care if does), and even sad news (like last week’s passing of former Intel (INTC) CEO Paul Otellini).
We start this week with nostalgic news that after Dec. 15 we’ll no longer have AOL’s Instant Messenger.
I confess that like public figures from bygone days or an entertainer that hadn’t been heard from in eons, I didn’t know AIM, as we all called it, still existed at all. I stopped using AIM years ago—I can’t remember exactly when—and so it’s demise shouldn’t mean much to me.
As many already have pointed out, though, before text messages, before Slack, before instant and direct messaging programs from the likes of Facebook (FB), Twitter (TWTR), Yahoo, Google (GOOGL) and others, there was AIM. For a moment it seemed like everyone used it. AIM was so quaint it organized users around “buddy lists.” In a time before smartphones, AIM was powerful and intoxicating, a way for a generation that once had called people on the phone to communicate in quick bursts from their computers.
AIM started in 1997, and I remember when I started using it in earnest, in 1999, when I joined TheStreet.com from The San Jose Mercury News. We digital journalism pioneers communicated obsessively by AIM, and as a newbie, I recall being amazed that the whole newsroom was “chatting” this way. Cleverly, one didn’t need to be on AOL itself to use AIM. This could have been an enduring advantage in a different company’s hands.
At the risk of oversharing, it is no understatement to say I began dating my wife on AIM. She worked at AOL when I joined TheStreet.com, and she was on AIM as much as I was. I remember early instant messaging chats far more than phone chats.
Like many consumer technologies that went before it, AIM ushered in a revolution that quickly left it behind. I can’t say I’ll miss it. But I sure am glad it existed.