Twenty years ago, the Internet changed to become more modern when America Online introduced AOL Instant Messenger, or AIM, as it came to be known.
At that time, there was no social media in the modern sense, and the only way to communicate with people on the Internet was by email.
AOL Instant Messenger changed that, by allowing people to have an always-on communications application running on their computer. You could chat with multiple people at once, and they could see when you were or were not online.
At the time of its introduction, AIM was influential largely because America Online was the largest Internet Service Provider (ISP) in the country. Back then, everyone had to connect to the Internet via modem and in many small towns, AOL (via a long distance phone call!) was the only way to connect to the Internet at all.
AOL had a very aggressive marketing team, and the company used to send out compact discs with the company’s installation software by the millions, each containing a free trial version of the software.
But it was the Instant Messenger app (which wasn’t called an “app” back then) that allowed people to get their first taste of online social interaction. While adults used it intermittently, teenagers quickly adopted it and made use of its many (for the time) features.
AIM’s current owner, a company called Oath, was created via the merger of AOL and Yahoo! and Oath has decided to retire the messaging system.
Part of the problem has to do with the fact that AIM was always a desktop application, and it never wavered from that. There were not versions of the software developed for tablets or smartphones, and as people gravitated away from the desktop PC to those types of devices, they left AIM behind.
The surprise isn’t that AIM is going away; 20 years, after all, is a long time for any application in this fast-paced world to live. What’s surprising is that there were still a million or so people who continued to use it.
Among the people who used the software over the years were Mark Zuckerberg, the creator of Facebook, as well as the founders of Twitter. Some of the features of AIM have now been incorporated into those platforms.
While the demise of AOL Instant Messenger has been receiving a lot of press, a less publicized loss is that the same company is also shutting down the Compuserve Forums this week. Compuserve was another of the early entries among companies designed to help people connect to the Internet but over time, usage of the service dwindled to almost nothing.
There’s no shortage of forums online today where people can share ideas, but Compuserve was one of the first and there are a few diehard fans who will certainly miss it.
Tastes and technologies change, and when that happens, people change how they use things and the devices they use them on. If the software fails to keep up, it eventually goes away.
AIM was fun. It will be missed.