On December 15, AOL Instant Messenger will be shutting down for the final time after 20 years of service. AOL Instant Messenger, AIM, was created in 1997 by AOL accidentally and became the leading instant messenger online chat system in North America. Available from only a desktop computer, it was one of the first instant chat systems created that spread far and wide. AIM was the platform that encouraged online chatting and instant messenger lingo to take off. Abbreviations like “GTG” and “TTYL” boomed through this system. People of all ages were using AIM, from young middle schoolers to older working adults. There were no emojis and no mobility, but you could pick your screen name and customize your profile. The user could add cool designs into your bio to personalize it and there was no fill in the blanks, so the creativity was endless. It included a buddy list where all your friends’ user names were saved and it showed their online or offline status. AOL Instant Messenger was revolutionary during the time of new emerging technology in the 1990s. The program stemmed from three engineers Barry Appelman, Eric Bosco and Jerry Harris in the early 1990s. The creation of AIM came from from the idea of creating a buddy list by Appelman in 1994. In the days of dial up internet, where an hourly fee was charged to be logged on to AOL, Appelman wanted a way to see if other AOL users were online. It took off from there. Bosco and Harris joined the program about 1996 and the buddy list flourished into instant messaging after overcoming hurdles of crashing and overloading servers. As the early 2000s came and went, and the possibility of online messaging and soon mobile messaging came about, AIM took a steady decline that lead to its end coming this December.
AIM is revolutionary, then and now. It took instant messaging and turned it into something everyone could use. It made online chatting between friends possible and added many customizable features allowing each user to make it their own. The amenities that the system provided were new, exciting and accessible by most. It was a large part of many people’s first experiences with technology and instant communication. Even though many current technologies like this did not stem directly from the creation of AOL Instant Messenger, it was the first in a long line of of online messaging systems. People were able to communicate with anyone online around the country and the world. This was the beginning of SNS, texting, social media, and instant communication. Before this, only telephones and email existed. People could easily share issues and events happening with friends, get assistance with school work quickly, or even flourish friendships in the comfort of your own home. After 9/11, when people were hiding inside and children weren’t allowed to go out, especially in the NYC Metropolitan area, children could still communicate and have connection to the outside world. They were able to talk to their friends and discuss what happened and why it was important.
Online social mobile communication has advanced beyond belief since the days AIM was popular. Today, you can send instant messages from anywhere, at any time, on any device. Sitting at home on your computer? Take your pick between iMessage, Facebook message, various social media direct messaging, and so much more. At a sporting event with no internet? No problem, 4G, LTE, 3G, etc. can let you send messages from anywhere. Point is, sending messages quickly to one another has become way more advanced and much more mobile. With the growth of smart watches, you can now send a message without a phone, without a computer and without even using your hands! All you have to do is say “hello” to get the attention of the watch, ask it to send a message and say what the message is. Today, talking to others through the internet requires truly zero effort. The watch can also provide a multitude of other amenities that didn’t exist not even 10 years ago. These affordances include tracking your day, calendar access, organizing virtual lists, tracking your heart rate – I could go on for pages. This also means it’s easy and convenient to participate in social movements via these communicative tools. You can tweet and participate in online conversations without using your fingers, the technology assistants will do it for you. Now more than ever before, users can participate in movements around the world, show support for issues that involve many people around the world, and provide knowledge, hope and encouragement for everyone. The ability to connect has made the world a more involved place, where connections are worldwide and send love to all who can’t find it in their immediate situations.
The technology industry boom has created an entire field with specializations, jobs and opportunities. The new field generates billions of dollars to communities and provides so many people with the necessary funds to support their families. The geek culture is so new and revolutionary in itself. It’s an entire trade that has grown exponentially in the last 20 years. So, while technology and the industry has advanced immensely in the past 20 years, AIM was at the start of it all. They were ahead of the instant messenger game, but did not advance quickly enough to keep up with the changing trends and times. If AIM had turned into a Facebook-esc or Twitter-esc platform, maybe their success would have been better. Now more than ever, connecting with people around the world is critical to continuing democracy and love. Networks have come so far since the creation of the buddy list and instant messenger in 1997. AIM was at the forefront of this movement into instant communication and messaging. It truly is revolutionary.
By Hannah Rose Gardner, BU Emerging Media Studies Master’s Student, hannahrosegardner.com