AOL Instant Messenger Bites the Dust

America Online recently announced that as of this coming December 15, they were permanently shutting down their AOL Instant Messenger service.

This may occur to you if you’re over the age of 35:

AOL Instant Messenger is still a thing?

This may occur to you if you’re under the age of 35:

What is America Online?

AOL Instant MessengerSo it goes.  For those who don’t know or cannot remember, America Online was once the nation’s largest method of accessing the Internet.  Founded in 1983 as a product for Atari 2600 game console owners, AOL became about accessing the Internet in the early 1990s.

By the middle part of the decade, most of the Web-connected people in America were using AOL to connect, almost all of them doing so via modem.  AOL made it easy to subscribe to their service, as they sent out compact discs containing their installation software by the tens of millions.

It wasn’t uncommon for people to receive dozens of them per year, and eventually most people wore down and subscribed for the ability to access….the…Internet….very….slowly…via….modem.

There was a time when I used America Online to access the Internet, and I not only had to dial up to do it, but I also had to pay for a long distance call to connect to AOL’s data center.

This was on top of paying a monthly fee to AOL for access to the Internet.  But it did give me access to the Web and email and a bunch of other features, including, starting in 1997, AOL Instant Messenger.

AOL Instant MessengerAOL Instant Messenger was, as the name suggests, a messaging service.  It ran as a desktop application and you’d log in with your username and password.  Then you’d get a popup window every time someone wanted to chat, and you could engage in conversations with multiple people at once.

It was sort of like group text messaging, and it was easy to use and later, free.  As the product took off (AOL Instant Messenger once had 18 million users in a time when Internet access was still somewhat rare) AOL gave the product away to everyone, including people who weren’t paying customers.

A lot of people who are now in their mid-30s used AOL Instant Messenger as a primary means of communication with their friends at one time, but over time, other platforms took over that offered more functionality or portability.

While sites such as Facebook and Twitter have largely replaced AOL Instant Messenger, it’s likely that the biggest contributor to the downfall of the product was SMS messaging for cell phones.

With time, as it does with all software products, the popularity of AOL Instant Messenger went away as people moved to other things.  What caught me by surprise isn’t that AOL was discontinuing the service, as the lack of need for it is quite obvious today.

The surprise was that the product is still an active one, though I cannot imagine that a lot of people still use it.  Clearly, they don’t, or AOL wouldn’t be pulling the plug.

This won’t be the last time that once iconic online services go away.