Artificial IntelligenceCryptocurrencyMetaverseCybersecurityTech Forward

Data Sheet—AOL’s Instant Messenger Pioneered Online Chat

October 9, 2017, 12:36 PM UTC

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 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, Twitter, Yahoo, Google 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.

Get Data Sheet, Fortune’s technology newsletter.

AIM started in 1997, and I remember when I started using it in earnest, in 1999, when I joined 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, 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.

Adam Lashinsky


Take two and call me in the morning. Looking to expand its e-commerce empire, Amazon is in the final stages of deciding whether to start selling prescription drugs, a $550 billion market opportunity, CNBC reported. The push could come via online retail sales, by creating a pharmacy benefits manager to sell through health plans or both.

Unhealthy swelling. Apple may have a problem with batteries in the new iPhone 8. A handful of reports have trickled in of devices cracking open due to swelling batteries, CNET notes. It's nowhere near the level of the widespread issues that hit the Samsung Galaxy Note 7, which ultimately had to be recalled, but worth keeping an eye on. In hopefully very unrelated Apple news, the company's top in-house lawyer, Bruce Sewell, is retiring and will be replaced as general counsel by Katherine Adams from Honeywell.

Hitting back. Alex Stamos, the highly-respected head of security at Facebook, went on an epic Twitter rant on Saturday, defending the social network's efforts to eliminate fake news. "I am seeing a ton of coverage of our recent issues driven by stereotypes of our employees and attacks against fantasy, strawman tech cos," he started off. "Nobody of substance at the big companies thinks of algorithms as neutral. Nobody is not aware of the risks." That followed news on Friday that Facebook had eliminated references to Russia in its initial April 2017 public report on election influencing campaigns.

Notable Nobel. University of Chicago Professor Richard Thaler won the Nobel prize in economics for his work finding that people could be influenced by small incentives, or nudges. On a call with reporters, Thaler said he would spend the prize money “as irrationally as possible.”

Electing to disclose. After all the revelations about Russian interference via Twitter and Facebook, Google revealed its platforms had also been used, the Washington Post reported. "Tens of thousands of dollars" were spent on search ads, Gmail ads, YouTube ads and the like to spread disinformation related to the 2016 presidential election, the newspaper reported.

High over head. With Puerto Rico still suffering from major infrastructure damage, Google got permission to offer island residents wireless phone connectivity via Project Loon, its high-altitude balloon Internet service. Google helped residents of Peru get back online in May after widespread flooding knocked out cellular networks there.


The open floor plan office had its merits, but the primary reason companies eliminated private, assigned offices had more to do with cost savings. But now, extensive research is showing the costs to productivity, health, and job satisfaction caused by entirely open plans. So a new movement is emphasizing the partially open floor office, as Steve Lohr reports for the New York Times. In a piece explaining how companies like Microsoft, IBM, and General Electric are creating hybrid offices, Lohr writes:

Privacy is also good, particularly for tasks that require intense concentration, the thinking goes. That doesn’t mean a return to the glory days of private offices, but it does mean workers have more space and more places to seek solitude than in the neo-Dickensian workbench settings. The new designs often include “isolation rooms,” soundproof phone booths, and even lounges where technology is forbidden.


Michael Jordan Wants Amazon to Build Its Second Headquarters in Charlotte By Barb Darrow

Apple's Jony Ive Says This Is the Most Important Thing He Learned From Steve Jobs By Jeff John Roberts

Airbnb Aims for Business Travelers With Its New WeWork Partnership By Tom Huddleston, Jr.

AT&T Wireless Workers Try to Bring Political Pressure to End Contract Stalemate By Aaron Pressman

Microsoft Has Given Up on Trying to Make Windows Phones a Thing By David Meyer

Uber's Plan to Repair Its Relationship With Drivers By Polina Marinova

Forget Snapchat and Blue Apron—Here’s Why Going Public Is Still a Good Idea By Rob Bernshteyn


It's the world's most popular browser now, but Chrome started off as just an experimental side project over a decade ago for Google's now-CEO Sundar Pichai. “Most people here didn’t want us to do a browser, so it was a little bit stealthy," he recalls more recently in a long and interesting interview in The Guardian.
This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Aaron Pressman. Find past issues, and sign up for other Fortune newsletters.