Remembering AIM (AKA AOL Instant Messenger)

Remembering AIM (AKA AOL Instant Messenger)

For those of us who remember the early-ish days of the internet, there’s a certain period that we’ll likely never forget. I’m talking aboout the heyday of AOL Instant Messenger.

The chat service shut down for good back in 2017. By then even its most enthusiastic users had long since abandoned it for Skype, Slack, Facebook Messenger and the myriad other chat options now available to us.

But for many of us, AIM helped us cut our teeth and feel out the still-developing etiquette of online chat; how to wield away messages for good and for evil; maintaining Snapchat-like “streaks of hours logged on; navigating group chats; sliding into the DMs of crushes (or strangers); and expressing ourselves with ever more elaborate emojis.

In a fit of nostalgia, we asked our old-timey readers for their most potent AIM memories, and boy, did they deliver. Below, one last tribute to the chat client that started it all.

You trolled your fellow students:

Whenever I was in the college computer lab, I always made it a point to uninstall AIM from the station I was at. Drove the other students that used the lab to goof off insane. 

You made serious missteps with screen names:

I had several embarrassing stories. 2 in particular.1. I had moved to California from Texas when I was 14. All of my friends at my small private school decided to call me Tex, which I owned, despite being a short pudgy Jewish kid from the suburbs without any athletic prowess. I had created the screen name “TtoThaX.” It made much sense to me with the caps lock choices, but to everyone else, ttothax just sounded like Roger Daughtry’s “My Generation” stuttering with a lisp.2. I had gotten sick of that particular reaction so much that I was in desperate need of change. For some strange reason, my small private school wrote a school song, where one of the lines read, “More precious than a sparkling jewel.” Due to my extreme lack of self-confidence, and the unanimous “panning” of the song from the students at my school, I thought I’d be funny, creative, and gain some high school popularity points by changing my screen name to “MorePreciousThan.” If The Hobbit, had come out in theatres that year maybe I would have gotten less ridicule, but about the nicest thing my peers could say to me was that it was a screen name for an 11-year-old girl.All in all, I’m glad we use facebook messenger where we use many real names for communication. I do miss the individuality that we could show with a screen name. Good memories of the late night, generally hormonally exciting conversations with people on the periphery of our peer group.

(More than one of you did this):

I remember my screen name being something like MysticRift, as I was into the RIFTS role playing game and the Mystic class within.

One chat interaction that sticks with me: I was just going back and forth with people in one of the main, general chat rooms (hey, remember those??) when this occurred:

Mysticrift: I dunno, I just feel funny

SomeRandomDude: *starts rubbing MysticRift to find out why she feels funny*

Mysticrift: dude, 18/m/CA

SomeRandomDude: No wonder you felt funny.

I’m turning 38 in a few weeks, and I STILL remember how much a laughed at that.

And of course, you posted~~~~embarrassing away messages~~~~:

AIM is partly responsible for how quickly I’m able to type. Because I felt it necessary to carry on as many conversations with my friends as possible at the same time I became a really good typist. I’ve had to take typing test for jobs at which they were impressed with my speed/accuracy. I mostly have my many hours on AIM to thank for that.

Beyond that, my away message and whatnot was usually some lyric because of course it was. Most likely 3rd Eye Blind or Savage Garden. But I had several different handles on there that I switched between depending on what I was needing to use it for or who I wanted to talk to. 

A bunch of you found love:

AIM is the reason I’m married to my husband. When I was in college I had a free account (meaning I could receive messages but not send anybody). At the time that was fine with me, because I was just curious about online dating sites but not actually interested in dating anybody through it. I might as well have been a bot, except that these days bots probably actually reply to people who send their messages.

My husband had the foresight to leave his AIM username in his first message to me, which worked out well because without that I never would have talked to him.

Or you found… something else:

Mutual masturbation with girls in LA who are no doubt actually guys from Iowa

Or you loved and lost:

It was 20 years ago, we were in middle school, doing our homework together and messaging over AIM. I was fortunate enough to have a couple hour block of the line to use the dial-up, her family had two lines to the house. So it was routine of ours after our respective soccer practices to chat on AIM for a while, most of the school knew I liked her. It was one fateful fall afternoon, she teased that she liked some boy and was going to tell me at the end of my allotted dial-up time, which for once took forever to come…she messaged, “the boy I like is…[ClemsonEE]. =P” and promptly signed off.

My world was spinning and I loved it. As most middle school romances go, this was special, I asked her to be my girlfriend in 7th grade, and she said no. I asked her to be my girlfriend in 8th grade, and she said no. I asked her to be my girlfriend in 9th grade, and she said no. But it didn’t stop us from talking most nights over the infallible AIM, filled with flirting and intimacy. I skipped asking her in 10th grade, took one of her friends to Homecoming instead, that was finally the tipping point, she finally was ready!

We started dating the summer before junior year. The beautiful, first-love relationship. Voted class couple, went to Clemson together, left using AIM and went to G-Chat. We got married, adopted the most adorable black lab, life was looking great. Now we’re divorced, and AIM is shutting down.

Good riddance AIM. (and I kept the dog)

You argued with chat bots, sometimes without realising it:

Similar to SmaterChild I had found an app (wait, we didn’t call them ‘apps’ back then unless they were on the first page of the Applebee’s menu) — I found a program that was a bot that interfaced with a simple website where you could key in specific words and what the responses should be. The rest of it was up to the AI.

A friend of mine at college managed to get some dormmates of his to add the bot as a friend, presumably not knowing what the setup was. I came home one night to a long drawn out argument in which the bot won.

The bot was neutral, not instigating, so when it brought up its affection for the person’s mum I just about fell out of my chair laughing.

You used it to get through more serious crises:

on 9/11, I used it to let my friends know I was OK…and learned of several friends who were unaccounted for (later learned they didn’t make it)

I remember helping a depressed guy get some treatment in the mid-90's. My wife thought it was super creepy and weird that you could chat with some stranger across the country, especially about personal things. I actually helped this guy though, and feel good about it.

You hosted gift exchanges:

avorite memory of AIM, group of friends, one year we all decided that we will host each other’s xmas list. One person will have another person’s list, post it on the profile, and when someone decided to get that gift, they will notify the person who has the list, and the item will be crossed out. I religiously stalked a friend’s profile to see what I am getting for Xmas. Great to be a teen again.

Memory 2, how long people can stay on AIM without logging out.

You pranked your friends for no reason:

I remember when one of my college roomates hooked his AIM up to his phone for the first time. Shortly after, I wanted to get his attention so I just spammed him with something like 50 messages, all just “hey” or some variation of that.

A minute or two later he stormed in all sorts of angry and pleading me to stop — apparently each of those messages cost him money since they were technically text messages.


You geeked out in role playing rooms:

So many memories from the role playing rooms. Between the various niche communities like Xavier Institute ( X-Men RP ) and free form areas like Rhydin (Red Dragon Inn/The Forest). The place was like the nexus of existence where anyone or anything could show up. A gothic vampiress could be sipping bloodwine at the bar beside a 4 armed felidae prince who is the last of his kind while a dwarf was off in the corner snoring all cuddled up to his space pirate gf. Best memory besides meeting my first love in chat was the hour long battle I had with the Hulk that sent us from chat room to chat room crashing through the Rhydin Streets, Rhydin Falls, Rhydin Mall (I don’t know why there was a Mall but it was a hang out for skater rpers), etc. The saddest memory besides people trying to constantly force their own dice rules (your clan dice only work in your clans rooms, newb! 2d20 or GTFO) was when anime began invading. That and the realisation of how many people were really just looking for cyber sex.

And finally, you asked the tough questions:


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