In case your Facebook feed wasn’t littered with this news… yes it’s true. As of December 15, the pioneering messaging service will be no more.
Despite my snarky headline, the truth is a lot of folks are disproportionately upset about this, as if a portion of their childhoods is somehow being wiped from existence. The simple fact is that AIM is going away because no one really uses it anymore. Sure, you may actually still have a screen name, but do you use it like you did 20 years ago? Most likely you use Facebook Messenger, Snapchat, or WhatsApp if you’re trying to contact your friends, or you simply send a text message. None of these options were available in the 1990s, and so you had to go to a computer, dial into AOL, wait about 5 minutes, and then you could move ahead with the business of getting about one sentence of information from someone. Oh how times have changed.
I’ll give AIM its due because for many millions of people, it was their first experience with internet messaging. Hardcore geeks disparaged it because they’d been using IRC and other forms of hardcore text-based communication for a decade, and because it came from AOL, often considered to be “the internet with training wheels.” But, for millennials who were in their teens back then, it was a new, wickedly cool way to communicate that parents simply didn’t understand. It was customizable and everyone in your class was on it. AIM paved the way for MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, SnapChat, and whatever kids use today that I’m too old to even know about. It was the first big internet hit for young people.
I won’t miss AIM because I really didn’t participate in it back then. But its end as a service brings to a close the last vestiges of the “old” AOL, once known as America Online. Despite the service’s total lack of hipness, it was once the dominant online company in the world, and the way that most people accessed the internet in the 1990s. Their ubiquitous free floppy disks were a staple of late-20th-century culture, and when they changed something about their service, the whole world changed with it.
Of course nothing lasts forever especially on the internet and we all know that after buying Time Warner and Turner, the company began a long downturn, crushed at the hands of phone companies who offered faster internet at a lower price. AOL dwindled, was spun off, and was bought by Verizon, who renamed the service Aol (the lower case signifying exactly how far they’d fallen, I’d say) and turned it into a web portal of minor note. AOL’s days are over, and the last tiny bit of their gleaming past was Instant Messenger, which will depart this world by the end of 2017.
Does this mean all those floppy disks we threw out in such significant numbers will become collector’s items? Stranger things have happened, my friends.