A small handful of people will be affected this Friday, Dec. 15, when AOL finally shuts down their Instant Messenger service (AIM), which has been in operation since 1997. For many of us of a certain age, AIM represents a nostalgic throw-back to a by-gone internet era, back when engaging in social media consisted of making your own geocities webpage, Yahoo! was the dominant search engine, and everyone had a hotmail e-mail account. Those were the days. Internet 1.0.
Yet, AIM, along with other chat clients like ICQ and Yahoo! messenger, were actually quite revolutionary when they first hit the WWW scene in the mid-90s. Back then, if you wanted to chat with someone online you either had to use a chat room (often open to the public, and full of us early internet weirdos) or correspond via e-mail. AIM was one of the first programs to allow private real-time communication between you and your friends. As a teenager of the era, I look back rather fondly on this moment, and AIM in particular. As a rather awkward adolescent, I’m pretty sure my list of friends and acquaintances would have been much smaller at the time if it weren’t for this technology.
So what happened to AIM and the other chat clients? Well it’s not just Facebook with it’s built-in chat application. I suspect the AIM’s decline also has a lot to do with the proliferation of smart phones, which neatly fills the niche of text-based communication with friends, but from anywhere at anytime — no need to be tethered to your desktop. Not to mention all of the other communication apps, like Snapchat, that smartphones support.
So, yes, AIM will be missed even if most of it’s original users haven’t even thought about the program in years. It’s safe to say, in fact, that I didn’t even know it was still operational. But now that I do, and now that I know it’s going away for good, I can’t help but feel a bit sad. Alright, time to go listen to some AIM sound effects to lift my spirits. Ahh, yes, that’s the stuff.