Even if you haven’t thought of it in years, you may want to log in to AIM one last time — the service is being shut down on December 15, 2017.
AIM was one of the last parts of AOL to survive the Paleolithic early internet, back when AOL was a walled garden of keyword sites, chat rooms, and homework helpers that charged users by the hour. As AOL slowly imploded on itself, unable to keep up with the infinite variability of the web at large and the decline of dial-up, AIM, launched in 1997 as a stand-alone app, made it out of the wreckage alive by re-creating the experience of IMing directly within AOL, without the need for an AOL account.
It proved popular as a stand-alone chat app, surviving well into the aughts before being supplanted by Gchat and social networks like Friendster, MySpace, Twitter, and, of course, Facebook. Leaving song lyrics or emotionally charged but opaque away messages was already a source of “every ’90s kid remembers” nostalgia, and it seems clear that as the Verizon/Yahoo/AOL/Oath merger continues, more and more of these legacy services will simply be shut down. (Backup your Flickr sooner rather than later.)
I haven’t used AIM in years — probably not in this decade. I managed to log in to the service using my old screen name (DopeKingMasterX, add me to your buddy list!), but didn’t see anyone else online. I couldn’t even really place who a lot of the usernames were anymore.
But as Slack and its ilk have started to dominate white-collar professional life, it’s easy to forget that for many people, AIM was where you learned the rhythms of communicating quickly and purely through text. A certain deadpan brevity, the agony of waiting for a reply to a loaded question, the slight asynchronicity to every conversation — all of that came from hours and hours on AIM.