AOL Instant Messenger, the chat program that connected a generation to their classmates and crushes while guiding them through the early days of digital socializing, will shut down Dec. 15, its parent company announced Friday.
Released in 1997, the program had largely faded into obscurity over the past decade, replaced by text messages, Google Chat, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and on and on we go. But at its height, AIM, as it was known, served as the social center for teenagers and young adults, the scene of deeply resonant memories and the place where people learned how to interact online.
"AIM tapped into new digital technologies and ignited a cultural shift, but the way in which we communicate with each other has profoundly changed," Michael Albers, vice president of communications product at Oath, the parent company of AOL, said in a statement Friday.
The news of its official demise was met with cries of nostalgia, especially from those who were coming of age as AIM rose to prominence. For many people now in their 20s and 30s, learning to talk online coincided with learning to communicate like an adult, said Caroline Moss, 29, a writer and editor in New York who for years paid tribute to AIM with the parody Twitter account @YourAwayMessage.
The chat program was a workaround for the typical clumsiness and anxiety of adolescence. Too shy to talk to the boy at his locker? You could go home and chat with him for hours.
Scared of inviting the girl to homecoming? You might find more courage on AIM.
"There are a lot of people who had milestone moments in their lives that happened on AIM," said Moss, who was once better known by the screen name sparklegurl27. "Someone asked them out, or they got broken up with, or they got in a fight with a friend."
And then there were the away messages and profiles. As important as clothing or the buttons on a backpack, picking just the right song lyrics or inspirational quotes were among the most visible self-installed billboards of personal identity. It was a place to pay tribute to the senior class or to friends — who were, without fail, the best friends in the whole world.
Those short messages were the basis of Moss' parody account, which assumed the character of a teenage girl whose parents were sometimes just THE WORST.
On Friday, the parody account posted: "d0NT crii becuz itz 0VER. SM!LE becuz it hAPPENEd. - aUDREY. hEPBURN. (0R SOME1) -"
Although chat services predated AIM, including Internet Relay Chat (commonly known as IRC), AOL's offering arrived at a time when the internet was rapidly spreading into more homes. As dial-up 56k modems gave way to DSL and cable connections, AIM asserted itself as the dominant service of the time, surpassing similar programs like ICQ and MSN.
Despite the nostalgia Friday, AIM had gone largely unused for years. You can still log in if you remember your password, and your buddy list remains intact, but all data will be deleted Dec. 15.
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We'd say more, but our dad needs the computer.