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Do You Remember AOL Instant Messenger?

I was talking with a friend’s younger brother the other day – make that, my friend’s much younger brother – about social networking. He’s in high school and already is heavily immersed in social media. To my amazement, he had never heard of AOL Instant Messenger.

Today when you say “social networking,” the first words that come to mind are likely Facebook and Twitter. But social networking goes far beyond these two. There’s LinkedIn, a site for professionals; there’s CafeMom, a site for parents, predominately mothers; there’s CaringBridge, a site for medical patients and their families. There are Tumblr pages and ways to Digg everything from blog posts to news articles to pictures; there’s Flickr and Facebook-owned Instagram. The ways to share information on the web are endless.

But this wasn’t always the case, and I said as much to my friend’s brother.

“When I was your age, it was all about Instant Messenger. And chat rooms.”

“What? It was once cool to be in chatrooms?” he asked, automatically making me feel about a decade older than I really am.

“Hell yah it was! A/S/L baby!” The reference flew way over his head. “Texting didn’t become popular until about 2001, so to communicate, it was all done on AIM,” I said.

I had to explain to him that Gchat was just AIM integrated into his email, but what we used was the original.

“What about MySpace?” I asked, wondering if I was only setting myself up for failure.

“Oh yeah, I’ve heard of that,” he replied. “Isn’t that what paedophiles use?”


Just for kicks, I logged on to my old Instant Messenger account to see if anyone used it anymore. It took me a few guesses on the password (I will never forget my 6th grade password), but I was logged in. My list of friends on Instant Messenger, once hundreds strong, was empty; not a single one of my 164 friends was logged on.

I never had a MySpace account, so there are no embarrassing photos there, but I’m sure that many of my friends still have active accounts. I asked a few people, who said that over the past few years, they deleted their MySpace accounts to shield it from potential employers, not that anything they posted in high school would be relevant to their careers.

Today, it seems like just about everybody is on Facebook; the social networking site has over a billion members. Twitter is a household word, and most of the people I know have an Instagram app on their smartphone. But 10-12 years ago, we were just getting used to having a cell phone in our pockets (I didn’t have one until my freshman year of college), and social networking was confined to sites that are, apparently, obsolete.



  1. A/S/L! You should have asked him if he ever heard of beepers and 143/411/211 codes.

    I haven’t opened AOL or Yahoo in years. I laugh when I see people still using those address for email service. Guess some people are too committed to them to dump ’em.

    • @Eric J. Nisall – DollarVersity, even when I was young, my yahoo and hotmail accounts were for spam only. So it’s hilarious to me that there are still people who use those as their primary emails.

  2. In 10-12 years what we consider cutting edge today will likely be seen as obsolete.

    I remember that I was on MySpace, and my wife kept trying to get me to join Facebook, and I didn’t want to, I figured one ‘social media’ was enough. Eventually I did and removed the MySpace account.

  3. I don’t remember texting until 2004 actually – TMobile’s Sidekick was largely responsible for that since it was the first popular one with a full keyboard.

    AIM is very different from Facebook/Twitter though – you didn’t have a profile page really and it wasn’t marketable for businesses.

    • @Leslie, I read somewhere that texting only took off when American Idol gave people the option to text their vote. Interesting!

  4. I am actually always signed into both AIM and GChat. I was late to the google world and only opened up an account after being ridiculed for giving an address.

    If anyone wants to chat on AIM during the day you let me know!

  5. I used AIM heavily through college (2007) as that was the culture in that specific bubble – I was surprised that my HS friends who went on to other colleges relied on texting much more heavily during the same period. I got a gmail account in 2006 and by 2008 that had overtaken AIM as the preferred chat function in my social group.

    I never went into chat rooms, though. When I was in middle and high school I didn’t understand why anyone would want to talk to strangers on the internet – and look at me now!

  6. Oh wow…I was an AIM fanatic in college…I had horrendous screen names too…haha! This post was a nice trip down memory lane :)

  7. When AOL IM came out, it was like the best thing ever invented. I will never forget being in college talking to friends in other schools and marveling at the technology! Thanks for the cool throwback post…

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