After 20 years of service, AOL’s instant messenger, AIM, is shutting down. Effective Friday AIM will be digitally deceased. With its passing goes one of our last connections to the origins of social media.
When AIM was released in May 1997, it was a very different world. Windows 95 was the most popular operating system. Most people relied on dial-up modems to connect to the Internet. The iconic phrase “You’ve got mail,” the audio reminder from AOL’s email program, became synonymous with being connected to the fledgling online world.
AIM was not the first chat program, but it was the most widely used. According to MIT’s Technology Review, “At its peak in 2001, AIM had 36 million active users; as of this summer, it had just 500,000 unique visitors a month.” That’s a tremendous drop-off in users, but it’s reflective of a technology that failed to keep up with the times. With its proprietary OSCAR and TOC protocols, AIM just couldn’t compete with text messaging on smartphones, tweets on Twitter, or with apps like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and Instagram. AOL does not plan a replacement for AIM; it’s just going dark.
Computing history is unique in that “back in the day” can literally mean just a few days ago. In AIM’s case, it’s history spans two decades. But in that short period of time, AIM was responsible for introducing the world to message abbreviations like “LOL” and emoticons like smiley faces. Some language purists lament the use of these shorthand notations, claiming that they are ruining our communication skills. I think there’s some truth to that, but I also think it’s too late to worry about it. An entire generation of youngsters have now grown up more comfortable texting than speaking, and you can thank (or blame) AIM for starting the process.
AIM connected users in real-time in ways that had never happened before. For the first time, you could see if your friends were online – anywhere in the world. It was a transformative experience for many teenagers. Facebook Friends are just a modern version of this capability.
If you’ve been a heavy AIM user, and you want to capture your message history, act fast. Very soon, your data will be gone. So will your Buddy List. I never really got hooked on AIM, so this is not a problem for me. But someday in the not-too-distant future, I could find myself scrambling to save my own communication history from programs like Apple’s iMessage.
It’s a stark reminder that apps come and go, but data is our most valuable commodity. Save your screen name!
Tilley is a professor at the Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read or Share this story: http://on.flatoday.com/2o5bRlw