The digital world was abuzz with nostalgia on October 6th after AOL announced that its instant messaging service, AIM, would be shutting down at the end of 2017.
The chat program was created in 1997 and it reached peak popularity in the late 1990s to mid-2000s, just before the rise of MySpace. It quickly hit mainstream U.S. culture and before long, almost everyone was creating accounts to keep up with the trend.
“Characters throughout pop culture from ‘You’ve Got Mail’ to ‘Sex and the City’ used AIM to help navigate their relationships,” said Michael Albers, VP of Communications Product at Oath (which houses AOL and Verizon). “In the late 1990’s, the world had never seen anything like it. And it captivated all of us.”
For millennials all over the country who grew up during this time period, AIM was the coolest thing on the Internet. It was our collective secret that parents were too oblivious to know about, and it was the only online space where we could chat with our friends in real time.
I clearly remember the thrill of getting home from a hard day of seventh grade, running downstairs to the basement, and sitting down in front of my family’s gigantic Microsoft computer to log on to AIM. I updated my Buddy Profile every other day with some new Twilight quote (I was obsessed with the books – don’t ask my twelve-year-old self why, I don’t know her anymore and Harry Potter is way better), but my crush’s initials were a permanent fixture. My heart would skip a beat every time I saw that he was logged on, but I was too shy to talk to him so I’d type out an away status that made it seem like I was alluring and mysterious.
My world was so small back then, but making chatrooms with my best friends and discovering the other wonders of the Internet made it feel much bigger. It made life exciting.
For many of us, AIM was there to help us discover our identities as pre-teens and teenagers. It let us experiment with the personality traits we presented to our friend groups, crushes, and the online world. Think about it – before the world of digital curation and lifestyle envy that we live in today, we were listing our top friends and favorite book or movie quotes in our AIM Buddy Profiles. The screen names and pictures we used were connected to how we wanted people to see us.
Several Temple students reminisced on embarrassing screen names, memories, and everything that came with having an AIM account in the good old days. Here’s what they had to say:
“My first screen name was sexybobcat96 in fifth grade because our school was the Bobcats. I also had supersassybomer because I played softball and I wanted to say I hit “bombs” like the Bronx Bombers (the Yankees) but I didn’t know how to spell it.” – Savanna Marino, Senior
“Mine was ginalovesJB1236542…JB stood for Jonas Brothers.” – Gina Comfort, Sophomore
“I remember my sister and my dad always arguing about whether it was [pronounced] a-i-m or aim.” – Benjamin Kaunitz, Sophomore
“[My screen name] was shortybabe10. And it’s still my iTunes account, and I once sent a professor an email from that account by accident when I first got an iPhone.” – Marissa Carrigan, Senior
“I had at least 10 screen names, but the true gems are iRoCkTuBeSoCkZx3, dazzledbyedwardx (Twihard for life), and gleeislovexo (I was also a Gleek for life). And I wrote my crush’s name in my Buddy Info in white so nobody could see it unless you highlighted it.” – Hannah Kohl, Junior
AIM may have seemed like nothing more than a messaging service to us at the time, but over the last 20 years it has seeped into Internet culture in permanent ways. As Refinery29 writer Madeline Buxton pointed out, many of AIM’s original features were adapted by the social media networks that came after it and still exist today. The Buddy Lists of old are now Twitter followers and the list of online Facebook friends in the chat window. The away messages we worked so hard to craft have become status updates.
So while AIM’s closing may mark the death of a simpler age of online communication, at least we can take comfort in the fact that its impact will last a lifetime through the social media platforms we use every day. Farewell, AOL Instant Messenger. We’ll never forget you or that adorable yellow running man.