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America Online had the whole digital world in its hands by the mids, but nothing can last forever. AOL was founded in the early 80s as Control Video Corporation, focusing exclusively on an online service for the Atari By the middle of the decade, however, management restructured the company as an online service provider for those new to the Internet. This early Internet venture was wildly successful, largely in part due to AOL's web portal for beginners which featured casual and classic games, news and sports sections, chat rooms, tips on finance, and more.
Arguably one of the greatest tools to be spun out of the core AOL experience was its standalone instant messaging client, affectionately known as AIM. The program was quietly released in the spring of for Microsoft Windows, allowing users to register an online handle, create buddy lists , and chat with friends in near real-time. One of my earliest computer memories involves AIM. Of course, the first thing I did was download AIM and connect with my best friend who lived a few minutes away.
As for me, I was spellbound. Being able to see when people you know in real life ed on was next level cool. Messenger of the era. They all basically accomplished the same thing, letting you create buddy lists and chat with pals. The biggest difference, and perhaps the dirty little secret about AIM that you may not know, is that AOL never commissioned its creation. Unlike other companies of the era, AOL was unique in that it knew a lot about its holders, including when they logged on and which users they were. Appelman used this knowledge base to create the buddy list , a tool that would show when users were online.
Later, he and two other co-workers used the buddy list as the foundation for an instant messaging tool that would become AIM, all without the approval of AOL executives. Needless to say, they weren't happy about the unsanctioned project. Specifically, executives didn't like that AIM went against its subscription-based model they had spent years developing. Eventually, however, the product team was able to convince executives to move forward and AIM was released in and caught on like wildfire.
By , AIM had reached 36 million active users and by when the iPhone arrived, the service had 63 million users. Those were impressive s, but certainly not dominant. Microsoft, for example, had managed to attract million users to its MSN Messenger service although that was more of a global audience, while AIM was a more US-centric affair in comparison. But as they say, the bigger they are, the harder they fall.
And fall, AOL did. One of its biggest shortcomings was handling the success of AIM and failing to realize the value of a free product. The early part of the s saw the proliferation of mobile devices. Nokia was an early leader in the cell phone movement with early adopters gobbling up the Nokia around the turn of the century. It didn't take long for text messaging on cell phones to skyrocket. Later on, BlackBerry started trending among business professionals that needed access to on the go. Then in , the arrival of the iPhone made it clear that the next generation of users were going to be communicating online primarily with their phones.
PC users had not gone anywhere, and they were still around and busy communicating with each other, but even they were being targeted by social media companies like MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, and even Google, inviting people to chat with Google Chat via Gmail. Courtesy old-school AIM chat app project. The program's de team reportedly came up with multiple innovative features behind closed doors, but most of them never made it into public versions of the software. Unsurprisingly, it never caught on. All good things come to an end. On Dec 15, we'll bid farewell to AIM.
Thank you to all our users! In early , AOL said it had wiped out its AIM staff as part of company-wide layoffs and by , AOL said it would be finally closing the doors on its long-running chat program. The plug was officially pulled on December 15, Phoenix screenshot. Or, you could just register the name you used to use. Those programs had their time in the limelight, but their better years are far in the rearview at this point. Instead, it's most constructive to remember these sorts of apps for what they did and what they taught us.
AIM and similar chat programs of the late 90s and early s were instrumental in facilitating digital socializing for millions of early Internet users. We were pioneering the way forward with cutting-edge tech and that felt powerful at the time, especially for those that lacked traditional social skills. Chat apps taught us how to socialize with our peers while simultaneously building our keyboarding skills. I personally fostered several relationships online that I still maintain today, well over 20 years later, some with people I've never met in person.
Had it not been for programs like AIM, those people likely wouldn't be a part of my life today. Had that happened, maybe just maybe AOL would still be relevant today. The story of software apps and companies that at one point hit mainstream and were widely used, but are now gone. We cover the most prominent areas of their history, innovations, successes and controversies. The Beginnings This early Internet venture was wildly successful, largely in part due to AOL's web portal for beginners which featured casual and classic games, news and sports sections, chat rooms, tips on finance, and more.
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