AIM has risen like Lazarus. And don't think this will be a haphazard update either. AIM has been reimagined from the ground up. As an AIM user since its earliest days, this is the first revamp/update that's excited me in quite sometime.
AOL gave the platform to Jason Shellen and his team, who were previously responsible for Brizzly (before AOL bought Shellen's company, Thing Labs), and whose members have worked on projects such as Google Reader and Blogger. The result is a product—still in beta, mind you—that's available on Windows, Mac, iOS and Android (as well as in the browser) that improves upon its original foundations while adding a whole new set of features for a new generation of internet users.
The biggest improvement is for those who use a single AIM account to message on multiple devices. Like Google's gTalk apps, your conversations are stored on a central server so that no matter what device you're using, you'll not only see previous IMs from friends, but will also receive updates. The early build I've messed around with still gets a bit confused when multiple clients are logged on. And to save you the trouble of scrolling up and down your buddy list looking for a certain person, AIM will keep track of the people/groups you've chatted with most recently or most frequently, giving them prime real estate at the top of the list.
The new AIM will also improve upon group chats and media sharing considerably. Group chats are possible using any app, and those involved will remain looped in whether they're logged in or not. Meanwhile, if you post a link/image/video/tweet in any chat, group or individual, it will appear in line, fully rendered. And if you want to share a file, just drag and drop into a chat, which its creators promise works much better than AIM file sharing ever has in the past.
Whether or not you message someone based on their online presence/availability is becoming increasingly relevant. Smartphones and web-based messaging platforms such as those used by Twitter and Facebook make you accessible all the time. The redesign reflects this shift. Though the green and red Available/Away dots are still there, the idea is that you won't be as concerned with whether or not someone is at their desk/device actively using AIM because they'll eventually see the message.
But as mentioned before, this new AIM, like some of the iterations before it, is about more than just chat. You can integrate your Facebook/Twitter/Gmail/Instagram into a "Social Notifications" feed, which will keep you updated on any activity directly involving you. AIM "Status Updates" are very much fashioned after twitter, with a feed of all your buddies' updates (which you can follow or unfollow) as well as your own. Oh, and you can keep tabs on your RSS feed directly from the app.
Overwhelming as all this may sound, these new features are actually well implemented and well designed. But will it be enough? AIM is kind of a graveyard for those under 30 and/or not at work. More people are increasingly using other messaging platforms, largely in part due to AOL's previous missteps with the AIM software. Will this redesign undo years of abandonment? I'm not so sure, and there's still plenty of work yet to be one on these new apps. But for those of us that still have to use AIM, it's nice to have an official app that offers more usable features than the third-party clients. You can try out the new apps over at [AIM].