AOL Instant Messenger To Shut Down After 20 Years
What’s left of American Online, the company that once dominated the way that most Americans first began to step into the online world, announced this week that AOL Instant Messanger would finally be shutting down:
AOL Instant Messenger, the chat program that connected a generation to their classmates and crushes while guiding them through the early days of digital socializing, will shut down on Dec. 15, its parent company announced on Friday.
Released in 1997, the program had largely faded into obscurity over the last decade, replaced by text messages, Google Chat, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and on and on we go. But at its height, AIM, as it was known, served as the social center for teenagers and young adults, the scene of deeply resonant memories and the place where people learned how to interact online.
“AIM tapped into new digital technologies and ignited a cultural shift, but the way in which we communicate with each other has profoundly changed,” Michael Albers, vice president of communications product at Oath, the parent company of AOL, said in a statement on Friday.
The news of its official demise was met with cries of nostalgia, especially from those who were coming of age as AIM rose to prominence. For many people now in their 20s and 30s, learning to talk online coincided with learning to communicate like an adult, said Caroline Moss, 29, a writer and editor in New York who for years paid tribute to AIM with the parody Twitter account @YourAwayMessage.
The chat program was a workaround for the typical clumsiness and anxiety of adolescence. Too shy to talk to the boy at his locker? You could go home and chat with him for hours.
Scared of inviting the girl to homecoming? You might find more courage on AIM.
“There are a lot of people who had milestone moments in their lives that happened on AIM,” said Ms. Moss, who was once better known by the screen name sparklegurl27. “Someone asked them out, or they got broken up with, or they got in a fight with a friend.”
And then there were the away messages and profiles. As important as clothing or the buttons on a backpack, picking just the right song lyrics or inspirational quotes were among the most visible self-installed billboards of personal identity. It was a place to pay tribute to the senior class or to friends — who were, without fail, the best friends in the whole world.
Despite the nostalgia on Friday, AIM had gone largely unused for years. You can still log in if you remember your password, and your buddy list remains intact, but all data will be deleted on Dec. 15.
The biggest news here, of course, is that AOL Instant Messanger still exists.
As the article notes, the announcement that AIM will be shutting down for good has led to no small degree of nostalgia across social media and the Internet. Aaron Mak shares some of the tributes that have appeared on Twitter since the announcement was made in a post on Slate, for example. The writers at Kokatu pay their own tribute to what was the first real example of what social media would someday become. Robinson Meyer even wrote a eulogy for AIM at The Altantic that begins with the line “You kids don’t understand. You could never understand.” Even Smithsonian, the magazine run by and for the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. get in on the game with its own retrospective. TechCrunch, meanwhile, explains why people shouldn’t share their old AIM screen name, even if their account is hasn’t been active in a decade.
Personally, I was never part of the AIM crowd. My first introduction to the online world came via Compuserve rather than AOL, and as for online chatting I ended using Internet Relay Chat (IRC) and ICQ, a program similar AIM that became somewhat popular around the same time. The format and the shorthand used was basically the same, though, and most of us remember what things like “A/S/L?” and “AFK” stand for regardless of which service we used. . ICQ is apparently still around, and you can still download and use IRC clients such as mIRC, but I haven’t used either service in years and don’t even remember the screen names I used back then. In many ways, these services were the precursors to modern social media services such as Twitter, Facebook, as well as standard texting over smartphones (do kids still do that today?) So if you’re going to blame anyone for that, blame AIM.