In what feels like a death blow to everyone’s early-Aughts nostalgia, it looks like AOL will soon cut off third-party access to its famous Instant Messenger service. The service turns 20 years old this year, and at this point, it’s unclear if it will see its 21st birthday.
AOL shared news of this tragedy quietly. Adium users, at least, got a brief warning when they signed on Wednesday morning, explaining that their AIM access had less than a month to live. It reads like sad notice for an imminent memorial service:
It’s so far unclear if and when other third-party messaging services, like Pidgin and Trillian, will notify their users. However, Ars Technica spoke to a former AOL employee who said that the company was shutting down its OSCAR chat protocol since the number of users “had fallen to ‘single digit millions’ and that maintaining OSCAR had become prohibitively expensive.” In other words, if you can’t afford the hospital bills, you might as well pull the plug.
AIM won’t be completely dead, however. The service will remain on life support through AOL’s standalone apps for macOS and Windows, as well as mobile apps for iOS and Android. Assuming that these apps aren’t cheap to maintain either—and that AIM will continue to bleed users—we can assume the service’s days are numbered. We’ve reached out to AOL to learn more about AIM’s demise, and will update this post when we hear back.
Of course, we knew this was coming. AOL fired its Instant Messaging team back in 2012, when the service cost the company a reported $25 million a year. It’s unclear how expensive it is to maintain AIM now, but in light of the news that AOL will stop supporting third-party apps, the messaging service must still cost too much. Moreover, a countless number of people only used AIM because third-party apps made it easy to log in to multiple services as once—soon, AIM will no longer be one of those services. The fact that everyone from Google to Facebook to Signal to Slack have launched their own wildly successful messaging apps doesn’t bode well for AIM’s future, either.
This is all tragic news, if only for the nostalgic value AIM offered disaffected millennials. For many born in the 80s and 90s, AIM was a window looking out to the wild world of the early web. Through AIM, we learned the value of away messages and the dangers of A/S/L. Teenagers exchanged sexy GIFs with
other teenagers creepy old men. College kids learned where the best parties were happening on any given night. Moms and dads probably used ICQ, but at least they knew AIM was a big deal to their kids, since getting grounded often meant taking away AIM access. As Gizmodo argued a few years ago, AIM was an entire generation’s Facebook, before there was Facebook.
Will that generation miss AIM? Probably not—the newer services work better. Will that generation miss their innocence, the golden glow of being alive in the summer of the year 2000 when it felt like America was the dream we’d always been taught to expect for ourselves? Absolutely.