AOL Instant Messenger To Shut Down After 20 Years

In other news, this week we learned that AIM still exists.

AOL Instant Messenger

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.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Neil Hudelson says:

    Hell, every so often I load ICQ to see if anything is going on there. (Spoiler: its not.)

  2. Bill says:

    I still have an AOL email account 23 years after I first subscribed to the service. Most of my email goes out of there though I have a Bellsouth account too.

    Beginning a few months ago, AOL began charging subscribers again. Desktop Gold it is called. I just access AOL for email and I continue to do so without having to subscribe. I’m not missing anything.

  3. Liberal Capitalist says:

    Folks… if you want to understand what is going on with AOL, you need to understand the business that it is in now…

    AOL began focusing on its core strength: understanding users on the internet. That then became understanding users activities and preferences, thereby allowing them to sell and position advertising on the internet.

    In the same way, Yahoo made money as well.

    Now, both have been purchased by Verizon, a company that understands the importance of online content as the world transitions to mobile platforms.

    The two companies (AOL and Yahoo) are now “OATH”… and with Verizon (wireless and wired) comes to about the addressable data of about 2 billion people on this planet.

  4. Davebo says:

    @Neil Hudelson: Still popular in Russia and Eastern Europe.

  5. MarkedMan says:

    Okay, I give up. I have no idea what A/S/L and AFK stand for. Before I look them up, let’s have a poll: am I clueless or are these shorthands not very well known?

  6. MarkedMan says:

    I had an IM account back in the day and don’t think I used it very much until my then adolescent nephews discovered it. When they found out I had an account they sent me a few messages. But from then on I was copied into anything they sent to their whole address book. It was a horrifying look back into the minds of young boys. I think 90% of them went something like, “Microsoft is doing a survey. If you are NOT gay send this to everyone in your list. If you ARE gay, do nothing.” Rather than pat myself on the back as to how much more mature and sophisticated I had become since age 12, I made a mental note to go back and reread some of my stuff twenty years down the road to see if I would find them equally painful…

  7. MarkedMan says:

    Ah okay. Don’t think I ever used “Away From Keyboard” myself, but my son uses it for online gaming. Definitely didn’t use Age/Sex/Location, probably because I assumed everyone was a liar on the Internet.

  8. grumpy realist says:

    @MarkedMan: What’s the old line: “EVERYONE is Ronnie Johnson on the ‘net.”

  9. Tyrell says:

    @MarkedMan: It is amazing the staying power of some things. Most places still use analog clocks, even though a lot if schools have dropped time instruction (and cursive writing).
    I am still with Win. XP on a 32 bit single core pc. I am going to try LinuxMint Or Ubuntu.
    I still have a working vcr but don’t use it, and a very good 35MM camera.

  10. Matt says:

    @grumpy realist: Many Men Online Role Playing GIrls