If you’re an internet user of a certain age (or era, at least), there’s a good chance AOL Instant Messenger was your first real-time chat application. AIM may not have been the first tool for text-based chatting, but it was a breakout start of the America Online experience and survived long after AOL stopped being a company that sent you disks in the mail and offered a walled garden of “keywords” rather than websites.
Now AIM is walking off into the sunset. AOL has announced that it’s shutting down AIM on December 15th.
These days there’s no shortage of other ways to communicate, including from SMS, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Apple’s Messages, and Google’s Hangouts/Allo/whatever Google decides to launch this week.
When I was in high school I discovered IRC and got addicted to chatting with folks I’d never met in real life (although some became long-term friends) using the precursor to modern instant messaging apps. IRC is still around, but it never really broke out of its geeky niche and usage continues to decline.
Years later I realized things had changed when all of my friends in grad school were chatting away on AIM. We’d sit in our office cubicles feet from one another and send messages through AOL’s service. It wasn’t just for geeks… well, not tech geeks anyway. Grad students are, by definition, a bit geeky.
Chat had gone mainstream(ish) and AIM was one of the reasons.
Thees days, AIM is a bit of a dinosaur that hasn’t been updated (or widely used) for quite some time. So it’s not surprising to see AOL pull the plug. Microsoft’s MSN Messenger shut down a few years ago (although it’s sort of lives on if you imported your contact list to Skype), and Yahoo Messenger went away in 2016.
Of course, IRC isn’t as popular as it once was either… but it’s not going anywhere because it’s a standardized internet protocol rather than an app owned by a single company. Try to shut down one IRC server and another will arise to take its place… as long as anyone cares enough to use it.
Still using AIM? There’s not really a lot of good news. According to an AOL FAQ, there’s no way to save or export your buddy list and your data will be deleted on December 15th (although you can download your chat logs between now and then).