An oral history of the AIM away message (by the people who were there) | Inside Design Blog

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fairly easy
A look into the history of instant messaging.
When AOL announced it was retiring its seminal, 20-year-old chat service two years ago, a thousand ageing #2000teens shook their heads. It was like they were graduating high school all over again. "RIP AIM", "AIM is ded", "FML": the internet raged in authentic early-aughts chatspeak. "If you're old enough to remember the days of AOL Instant Messenger," wrote Lex Gabrielle for Pizzabubble, "God Bless because they were the best." "AIM is dead", tweeted @chrisboudi. "To hell with 2017."

All good things come to an end. On Dec 15, we'll bid farewell to AIM. Thank you to all our users! #AIMemories https://t.co/b6cjR2tSuU pic.twitter.com/V09Fl7EPMx — AIM (@aim) October 6, 2017

Of course, it wasn't just the end of a year: it was the end of an era. Just 14 years prior, as Bush and Kerry headed to the polls, Facebook took its first steps, and the iPhone was but a twinkle in Steve Jobs's eye, the IT weekly CRN reported that AIM counted 36 million worldwide users.

Online chat was the thing that, until it came around, no one knew they needed, but once they started using it, as AIM creator Barry Appelman told CRN, it became impossible to live without. AOL Instant Messenger was where it all started.

For most of those bloggers, listicle writers, and other tribute account holders mourning AIM's passing, the one feature that mostly neatly summed up what had made AIM so special was the away message.

From "afk", "g2g bye" and "brb mom needs comp" to those missives so painstakingly crafted with ascii art, SpongeBob-style random-case tExT, Taking Back Sunday lyrics, the away message was a game changer.

It might have started out as something purely functional—a live out-of-office, if you will—but the away message was much more than that. It was the first real tool you had to signal your presence online: the original status update, the proto-tweet, and the stated inspiration for Facebook's status feature. I sought out Appelman and five of the developers and designers who worked…
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