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AIM will shut down after 20 years (theverge.com)
543 points by rbanffy on Oct 6, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 330 comments

5 years ago, aol still used aim internally for everything that people use slack for today. Group chats, bots, notifications for builds, etc, etc.

Then gradually individual teams picked up slack and within maybe 18 months, we went from 100% aim to a gigantic corporate slack team.

That was the end of AIM, I think. Aol and yahoo both use gmail internally so I suspect they’re going to shitcan their email services eventually, too.

I think it’s remarkable how badly aol fumbled the ball on AIM twice — first by not turning it into a social network, and second by not turning it into enterprise chat.

All it would have taken was some investment instead of continuously laying off everyone that worked on it.

It is hard to move the ball forward when you reorg every year and have minor layoffs almost every year to keep OIBDA moving in the right direction so the execs get larger bonuses. So many people were in self preservation mode with no interest in anything that was "risky" and might put their bonus at risk. Similar things happened with how they managed MapQuest.

Also, if you think they missed a chance on AIM, it is nothing compared to what they missed on email. They could easily have made aol mail free and still kept charging for the client. Ted Leonsis admitted at a meeting once that this was his largest regret.

> It is hard to move the ball forward when you reorg every year and have minor layoffs almost every year to keep OIBDA moving in the right direction so the execs get larger bonuses.

Is there a an established term for this already? If not I'd like to call it stock market disease due to the usual reason for it.

Executive compensation often comes in the form of equity, but are there cases where execs are obligated to hold the equity over a long time horizon? Say 10-20 years? That seems it would align incentives better for everyone, no?

There are some. Exxon's performance shares vest 50% over 5 years and 50% in retirement, with a 10 year minimum. One of the problems with this approach is in order to get executives to forgo their compensation for that many years you often have to pay them more, which gets into pay magnitude concerns.

Norway's sovereign wealth fund Norges is starting to encourage companies to adopt very long term time horizons for equity awards and to move away from the specific, complex performance-vesting plans most US companies rely on today, though most institutional investors and companies are skeptical of that approach.

>One of the problems with this approach is in order to get executives to forgo their compensation for that many years you often have to pay them more, which gets into pay magnitude concerns.

That is logical; however afaik there is almost no data to indicate magnitude of CEO pay is an indicator of company performance. I would bet you that long-horizon-tied CEO compensation would be correlated, though.

Quarterly Capitalism.


Capitalism will eat itself

Wall Streetitis?

so isn't this capitalism working as it should?

they literally killed their own golden goose with stupidity. why shouldn't others disrupt corrupt crap business?

> they literally killed their own golden goose with stupidity

I think this statement misleads readers.

Was there organizational stupidity? Always, in every organization. What kept AOL from capitalizing on messaging and social media was lock-in to the subscriber business model, which when combined with market defined quarter-to-quarter EBIDTA driven board goals did not permit leaping at what the people at the core of the (AIM) business knew were the possibilities.

About the only thing they could have reasonably got away with would have been some kind of spin-out, which was always opposed by the subscriber revenue side's logic. Guess what: the folks with the multi-billion $ revenue stream win those arguments.

So, not stupid. Bound by the market and biz model, and not managed by suicidal execs. So in the long run it took folks with tens of billions of dollars of private risk money to take that leap.

Huh. Do you think investors are happy with how it turned out? Is there any significant interest group that's happy with how it turned out? If not, I'd have a hard time calling that smart.

I get that the people with power may have maximized their personal short-term financial outcomes. Which is certainly one way to define smart. But it strikes me as a very narrow one.

Look at Bezos, for example. He's spent the last couple of decades mostly ignoring what investors wants on a quarterly basis. And Amazon's gone from strength to strength because of it. If AOL's execs were smart, then that makes Bezos stupid. If that's the case, I guess I'd rather be dumb.

Yes, I think the investors were happy with that. They cashed in in a few quarters and moved on to invest in whatever was popping at the time, rather than having to squirrel away that money for another 5-10 years waiting for a high-risk venture to succeed. The folks who would have been happy to do that weren't buying AOL stock, they were putting their money in VC or private equity.

It's not like investors keep investing in the same company all their lives. They are probably happy that AOL made so many millions, and they probably invested in something else when they stopped making so many millions.

The execs are probably not as happy as the investors, but they are still somewhat isolated from the fate of each individual company via their golden parachutes, and they can find jobs as experienced execs in some other company.

There are approximately a fixed number of shares out there for a company. When you say investors moved on, that's not exactly true; somebody bought those shares. Somebody took the losses as AOL declined. And although some investors surely were happy to move on, they would surely would have been happier if the stock kept doing well, if they didn't have to move on.

Good investors diversify. It's possible that people who invested in AOL wanted them to keep the same business model and not try anything new, because they also invested in the other companies that were trying the new things.

True. But aside from Amazon who has gotten away with that? Yes, it's a great example. But it's an outlier's outlier.

Toyota's another great example. They went from Japan's post-WWII decimation to the world's largest car company. They did it through an intense focus on increasing customer value and reducing waste. US automakers couldn't come close to matching their quality or effectiveness. This despite Toyota's attempts to teach them through efforts like NUMMI.

I think their unique culture has declined over time, but it was still powerful enough to give us the Prius. Now ubiquitous, at the time, it was revolutionary.

If looking at the mark they made worldwide, I feel the Hilux serie is even stronger than the Prius. Of course "the Hilux war" is a bit harder to use in a marketing campaign.

Toyota owes A LOT to Bell Labs. I'm not so sure they can thank Wall Street for being unnaturally forgiving.

Sorry, I haven't heard about this. What does Toyota owe to Bell Labs?

Also, I'm not sure that Wall Street had much influence on Toyota. I can't easily tell when they first listed on US markets, but it was long after their company culture was set.

It's a strange feature of an economic system where the incentives require that successful participants blow themselves up. It requires that new=good and old=bad.

It doesn’t require that all. If anything, we are now seeing the opposite where top companies with considerable resources are remaining agile and innovative, effectively out-competing many new startups.

You're right... for now. We're seeing incredible concentration of wealth. Eventually they will become lazy and overly bureaucratic. Google, Apple, and Facebook in particular made their mark by dismissing customer service and by not addressing customer complaints, creating a culture of the "one true way". That culture + monopoly status will create (and is creating) a toxic miasma.

Apple has fairly good service if you show up at one of their stores with a broken device. Google and Facebook will also sometimes provide good service for actual paying customers, just not for users.

Also, the big technology corps are fighting their lack of internal innovation by buying smaller competitors. The executives are well aware of company lifecycle theory.

In technology especially, inertia is a liability. Not really surprising that most tech companies don't make it that long.

What is more surprising is that our attachment to institutions includes for-profit businesses. Really, we should, as customers/consumers, just go with the best service, but culturally we can't help but think that something is lost when an old, useless company goes away.

It's not required that successful businesses blow themselves up, but if they do make poor choices, they will suffer, and perhaps pay with their existence, for those choices.

It's not required. But just the same it should always be a what-if possibility. I'd say the poor choices come from a tunnel vision approach to those decisions.

Ultimately, in the context ans scope they are made, they are probably great decisions. However, reality is more far reaching.

Not always blow themselves up. Just continually reinvest. In their people, their products. The problem with our economic system is how short sighted corporations have become.

He isn't saying others shouldn't come along to replace them. Only that the AOL people realized their mistakes too late.

Mostly this, or that they didn't even really care. It was all about preservation and riding out the gravy train.

I'm not sure who or what you're arguing against. It's a good thing when fuckup companies are replaced by better ones; that doesn't mean it's a good thing that companies keep fucking up.

Tangentially, publicly-traded companies are strongly incentivized to keep growing at all costs until they collapse under their own weight, rather than just finding a market and serving it well year after year. I dunno if capitalism is to blame specifically, but it certainly seems perverse.

Yes it is. They didn't get the job done, so other firms stepped in and did it better.

Contrast this with communism, be where we'd all just be forced by law to use whatever AOL gave us, forever.

I know you're being facetious, but under a Communist society it's likely that there would be several popular hobby projects, similar to open source community's efforts. Things like AIM would be developed in private or cooperatively, just as modern software is written, but without the influence of capital and wage labour.

It is capitalism working as it should.

But it is still sad to see something that was such an important part of internet culture and history die like this.

But perhaps that is just the nostalgia speaking.

That’s fascinating that you guys ended up choosing Slack.

I’m surprised because it seems like with the infrastructure already setup, AOL could’ve built an internal enterprise MVP and got a real leg-up on the rest of the competition. Missed opportunity for sure.

It was less a intentional choice (early on at least) and more motivated by how painful using aim group chats for software development was. Slack wasn't even centrally managed for the early days of use.

(Although AIM itself started as kind of a unwanted skunkworks project, when there was an off the shelf solution available, people weren't that driven to build their own)

That was the brilliant part of their go-to market strategy. Rather than negotiating with enterprise executives, they let each team start its own microinstance and try it independently. It's much easier to get a 20 person team to try it than a 10Ks of people organization; but word-of-mouth and a quality product can get enough 20 person teams in a 10Ks organization to switch that eventually the whole enterprise signs up.

Or gone with a free alternative like Mattermost & added the necessary bells & whistles.

Mattermost today is extremely competitive with Slack.

If Mattermost is competitive with Slack, that's a serious indictment against Slack.

Mattermost's clients are awful. Just awful. The phone apps are effectively unusable (incredibly buggy and suck down battery like no tomorrow), and the desktop electron app is a complete hog. It doesn't even handle its faux tabs properly (takes half a second to switch, and it resets the position to the end every time you change a tab, which is... dumb), and the scrollback handles high-volume channels very poorly (I have to click "Load more messages" at least 20x times every time I want to scroll back to the beginning of the day). Now imagine every time you switch tabs you have to click "Load more messages" a bunch of times to see earlier messages because it resets when you switched tabs.

If this is the future of messaging, then holy shit. It's almost a parody.

Mattermost is a pale, pale shadow of Slack. It's nowhere close to competitive and I doubt it ever will be.

Mattermost idealistically might be competitive with Slack, but right now it isn't. Most people who only care about usability and features will choose Slack over Mattermost. Just use the apps for a couple days and the differences and issues between them are clear as day.

I'd like Mattermost to succeed. But it needs to do a lot of catching up still.

Before Slack there were other examples in corporate chat solutions like Lync which had a good run. It's not like corporate messaging is new. Wonder why that was missed. AOL too consumer focused?

They more or less stopped development on aim like 5-6 years ago.

Is there a word for what one might refer to as "institutional/organizational burnout"?

I feel like it's related to the age of leadership and trends in the current cult of personality du jour, and its interaction with promotion, branding and marketing. Shit happens, and the inertia of social groups is tough to steer over time, as sensibilities and fashions change, people get old, and graduating classes of the current generation ascend to power.

I have no data to back this up, but my gut tells me it happens a lot more at companies where the CEO isn't a founder, or doesn't have a high degree of ownership.

When the CEO controls a lot of the stock, they seem to care a lot less about quarterly results, whereas when the CEO gets most of their money from bonuses tied to stock growth, that is when you see most of these games.

If that's true, it seems the lesson here is to give your CEO a bunch of stock instead of a bonus based on stock performance?

I have no data to back this up, but my gut tells me it happens a lot more at companies where the CEO isn't a founder, or doesn't have a high degree of ownership.

Agreed, once the original vision is gone something else takes its place and it is just a ghost of what it was.

This goes hand in hand with the owners/founders being more focused on product development, engineering and innovation. Engineering and innovation are costly when marketing or bizdev/accounting/metrics runs your company which typically happens when the founder leaves. Engineering takes a back seat to decision making, marketing tries to pump revenue out of a product that may be successful not but is not being iterated or innovated on, or the next big thing is not worked on because the company is fat and happy until the grace from that innovation runs out. People join during times of success to latch on and cash out, when the hard work of innovating comes along, those people are gone.

Companies like Amazon, Apple, Google win because they are willing to take innovative risks, engineering is not in the back seat but a driving force and they invest most of their profits back into more innovation, Amazon is probably the best out there at this. Microsoft used to be as well and is coming back a bit but they fell into the trap above when Ballmer took over for a while, more focused on revenues and metrics than the next big step which will always put the current players out of business, or missing a step, if they don't adapt.

Just giving them stock or options doesn't really change things. Stock that vested over a 20 year period might be an incentive to look further down the line, but remember "look out for yourself first" and "be loyal to yourself not the company because the company isn't loyal to you?" All of that applies to CEOs as well.

Was thinking similarly. It feels like the issue is still more 'control'. While CEOs ostensibly have a lot of control, not all do (or feel they do), and perhaps not all actually want it. If you had control enough to feel like you were pretty sure you weren't going to be ousted next quarter for a down quarter or even a down year, you'd be more inclined to make strategic decisions that might be hard to make, but necessary for growth.


Sorry to reply with an off topic question but do you still work at AOL? If so, do you think there’s any chance AOL would consider allowing passwords longer than 16 characters? I only use AOL for junk/spam mail but even in that instance would prefer to use a strong password. When you see the “password too long” error message it’s easy to worry that the password is being stored plain text in some space constrained column.

Unless you're using a very constrained character set then 16 characters is pretty strong in my books.

What's your threat model?

NIST guidelines are for a minimum length of 8 characters and a maximum length of no fewer than 64 characters.

What is your basis for suggesting anything less than those guidelines is sufficient?



You should try plotting ease of recall vs the size of password. You will quickly realize there is a long tail beyond 16 characters.

You seem to think recalling passwords is a good idea--it's not. The desire to recall passwords leads to selecting very few passwords (if not just one) for many identities, which is very insecure.

We should be encouraging people to select passwords that they can't rememeber so that they are then encouraged to generate them with a tool (my favorite being KeePass).

"correct horse battery staple" doesn't fit in 16 characters, and has has much better recall than basically all similarly-secure passwords that do.

Longer passwords let you optimize passwords for ease of recall and security, rather than fitting in arbitrary requirements.

Even though that phrase password is 16 characters long, it has the same entropy as a 9-10 letter long alphanumeric random password (according to KeePass' generator). I agree that it's easier to recall, but it's half as secure as a properly random 16 character one.

I've used Debian's xkcdpass to generat 50 sets of 100 million passwords, then then checked for duplicates. The algorithm uses six words and a large dictionary, but otherwise resembles the xkcd original.

There were no duplicates in any of the 50 sets. (About a week's runtime on a fairly modest Intel processor.)

Given that 100m accounts is a fair fraction of the world's active computer users, that's a pretty good start.

(There are further reasons for finding passwords alone insufficient for security, but at least these are strong, and yet potentially memorable, passwords.)

Diceware will solve that problem of easy recall + secure password: http://world.std.com/%7Ereinhold/diceware.html

I consider it a good thing that I currently only know about 3-4 passwords and the rest are just unknown asterisks that get pasted in by my password manager.

Recalling passwords? That's so yester-year.

EDIT: Well, with the exception of your password manager one, if not using biometrics.

> Aol and yahoo both use gmail internall

You couldn't be more wrong about Yahoo, unless something changed in the last six months.

I quit, yahoo, in the last 6 months and they were definitely using gmail prior to that.

When did they switch from forcing all employees to use Yahoo Mail? When I left in 2015, they had disabled POP for internal mail, so we were forced to use the actual Yahoo Mail website.

> forced to use the actual Yahoo Mail website

I left in 2016 and in practice we just didn't use email at all because it was so painful to use.

I heard from a friend internal YMail would have ads too because the YMail team needed to test the ad product of YMail... which is kind of ... eh.

I had to communicate with sales constantly (worked on the front-page ads team), so email was essential, unfortunately.

What kind of work did you do that didn’t require email?

We mostly just used Slack/HipChat instead.

Which of the below do you mean:

a) Employees of yahoo using gmail for personal purposes?

b) Yahoo, the company, uses gmail

c) @yahoo.com will be powered by gmail in the future as a white labeled product?

(Each of the above is alarming in it's own way)

It's clearly (b) from the context.

I don't know about Yahoo, but in other organizations I've seen employees using gmail, for work, because it's more convenient than the corporate/enterprise email platform.

Sure but it's usually against corporate policy and reason to fire the person. This has happened in companies I have worked in the past. People take print outs and take them outside office. This is against company policy for confidential documents).

What kind of companies are these? I have worked in a dozen companies so far and in not one of them using GMail for personal use was against the corporate policy.

GP clearly says "gmail, for work".

I think a vast majority of companies would fire (at least, call it out as against policy) if you just went ahead and used gmail for work emails because the official one is crappy.

Aol, at least, migrated their corporate email to gmail several years ago. Before that, it was exchange.

> That was the end of AIM, I think. Aol and yahoo both use gmail internally so I suspect they’re going to shitcan their email services eventually, too.

Man, that would be an absolute disaster. I have so many contacts who I can only through Yahoo and AOL email addresses. I guess I should reach out to all of them before they are disappeared. ;- )

I would assume any Yahoo service is vulnerable. I certainly wouldn’t expect major services like Mail to just go poof overnight, but my working assumption is that they could easily be gone over the next few years.

No way. Yahoo uses gmail internally? Yahoo is still prominent enough in email, it would be pretty crazy for them to shut down their email service. I assumed aol would shift their email to yahoo. Or some sort of merger with Yahoo being the lead.

And third by not mobilizing it. There is no reason Whatsapp would have won if AIM went mobile app, push notifications, done. They had a huge and passionate user base, were integrated into Apple iChat, you name it. They all blew it.

Goes to show that big corps often have no clue how to deal with their offerings.

AIM did go mobile. It was in the iPhone App Store on day 1. Push notifications didn’t even exist back then. When push notifications were announced by Apple in June 2009 as part of iPhone OS 3.0, AIM was the “partner” they used to load-test it during WWDC.

Source: I worked on AIM for iPhone.

IMO AIM struggled because: - it was a highly tuned, specialized C backend, and it never migrated to something that could be improved easily. - backend technical challenges (as well as legal issues) made storing chat history very difficult - Hardly any info was collected about AIM screennames, so it was hard to build a social graph from it - AIM registration was the same as AOL signup, and that registration process was very cumbersome, imo. - Most AIM accounts had no email address associated with them, so it was impossible to do password resets, for all the locked up AIM screennames.

As a client developer on AIM, it was hard to make a material improvement to AIM, though we certainly did try

You just assume that AIM would be better as a "social network".. but not everyone wants that, some people just want simple chat.

In fact many people think google's failure with gchat was trying to force people to use things they didn't want when all they really wanted was simple chat.

The point is that AIM was a social network before the idea was even conceptualized. The concept of a friend activity feed existed on AIM in an ad hoc manner before it was hard coded into facebook/twitter/etc: it was standard to go down your list of friends and see who was doing what based on their status message. If someone at Aol had any foresight they could have been on the ground floor of the rise of social networks.

Aol was used as a simple social network. Checking people's statuses was common practice back in the day. As was changing it. Same with your away message. Also being able to see idled people was helpful. None of these features are available or used much in modern mobile messaging. Not sure if WhatsApp status messages (not their story feature) is actively used.

> Aol and yahoo both use gmail internally

Wait ... what? Who came up with the idea of hosting your email with your competitor?

> Aol and yahoo both use gmail internally

If I remember correctly, Yahoo used to have an email service.

And to think corps used to use Zimbra for email, which at one point was owned by Yahoo!

The entire Oracle company still uses Zimbra for email.

It’s the worst piece of software I ever used. Worst than Lotus notes, worse than Eclipse. It’s the only software that genuinely makes me angry.

That is somewhat shocking that yahoo uses gmail internally.

What happened to eating your own dogfood?

Pity. I spent many, many hours on AIM in my youth. Cultivated friendships, relationships, and many other one-off contacts.

I suppose it has been made obsolete now by Facebook and other social media apps, but those were never truly replacements for AIM in my mind, as most of them have eschewed the venerable screen name in favor of your real name or e-mail address. And for the vast majority of people I talk to online, I don't want them to know my real name. I suppose I am simply a relic from another era.

At least IRC lives on.

AIM really was the gold standard for instant notifications and ambient signaling. Away messages were fantastic and if you stayed logged in, non-experts (normals) could disclose and see availability and time idle.

The pseudonymous UIDs, AOL's chat rooms, contact management, image sharing, private messaging—this list of innovations introduced to mainstream users made AIM a giant success.

Alas, AOL Instant Messenger cannot compete in the age of smartphones.

One of my friends with whom I stayed touch first through AIM said

  > Somehow I really thought there would be an AIM
  > emoji <emoji of man running: UTF-8 \xf0\x9f\x8f\x83\xf0\x9f\x8f\xbb>
I replied

  > If any service should have an emoji standard, it’s AIM.
EDIT: formatting, spelling, sense, fix quote, punctuation, proper noun instead of pronoun

As dpark mentioned, code formatting doesn't work well for quotes here. I like to use this format which is about as good as we can do with the limited formatting options available here:

  > *A sentence or paragraph without line breaks.*
  > *Another paragraph of the quote*.
The blank line keeps the paragraphs from running together.

Since it's too late for you to edit, here's a mobile-friendly version of what your friend said:

> Somehow I really thought there would be an AIM emoji <emoji of man running: UTF-8 \xf0\x9f\x8f\x83\xf0\x9f\x8f\xbb>

and your reply:

> If any service should have an emoji standard, it’s AIM.

Using “code” indentation for quotes is completely unreadable on mobile. Just use asterisks to italicize.

For me the killer feature of AIM was P2P file transfer. Is there even a service today that does this? It was so easy to just click "send a file" and it worked fairly reliably. Dropbox comes close, but, of course, it is not a direct file transfer.

You can send files P2P using WebRTC. I've never used it, but https://www.sharedrop.io/ came up in a quick search.

For something more in the vein of AIM, pretty sure Skype lets you send files too.

IRC allows files to be sent: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Direct_Client-to-Client - it's not a great protocol however, particularly when used with firewalls.

IRC file transfer is always a roll of the dice if you're going through NAT.

Yes. Check out instant.io, it uses webtorrent, which is powered by webrtc. All major browsers should be supported. Just pick the file and link your friend.

I send files during Skype conversations, so there's that. Sharing a Dropbox link to a file is also possible, but I always considered that clunky

Edit: oops, I didn't know that Skype got rid of P2P, now files are uploaded to their servers

IRC had this what, a decade before AIM even existed? I love reading about the great innovative features of the huge multitude of modern chat apps we have these days, which were present in software from the '90s. The more things change...

IRC UX is terrible

Telegram allows file transfer up to 1.5Gb. It's not P2P though.

Skype used to do P2P until like 2 years ago, now all files shared are uploaded to their servers.

We are sadly still using Skype at work, and due to the lack of P2P file transfer I'm really sketched out sending database dumps, certificates, and other sensitive content with it to colleagues.

Hmm I didn't notice there was a server in between the file transfer, looks like I'll have to reconsider how I transfer files

Tox, like qTox supports file transfers.

I can't say that I've used it, however.

i loved that feature. i remember sending a 3gb file over the network in just over a minute (early 2ks)

That's a pretty large file, especially for early 2000s standards. I'm guessing DivX?

compressed binaries :)

.r00, .r01, .r02, ..., .rar? :)

FB Messenger supports sending files

that's not p2p file transfer.

Out of the western networks, Kik, Telegram, and Viber still do usernames.

Kik, notably, still has a fairly laissez-faire culture and a userbase that skews young, which makes it the most comparable modern network to the feel of something like AIM in its heyday; with the difference that so many people having overlapping identities, discourse is now fragmented between various platforms for reasons more than just network effects.

Telegram requires a phone number even for the desktop app - that's just mind-boggling and a turnoff for me trying to move to a new service.

I should clarify, both Telegram and Viber allow usernames but require phone numbers for creation, and there's definitely an emphasis on phone numbers as the preferred identifier.

Kik (and Snapchat, if I recall) are two of an increasingly thinning number of networks which operate on usernames only, and you can use without giving the provider (or anyone you're trying to chat with) your phone number.

Agreed. Add to the fact that much like AIM back in the day, Kik is pretty craptastic compared to competing messaging apps. But, it's so fast and reliable that it makes it worth using.

How popular is Kik really? Snapchat for all its hype has had growth slowed like crazy and is in the lower hundred millions.

ICQ lives on as well, though not under the original management. The account I created in the 90s still works.

Just fired up ICQ - looks like Telegram, actually has a usable buddy list and voice and video chats, but unless you were one to have signed up pre-smartphone life they now require you to use your phone number for registration. Thankfully I signed up long, long ago. Almost 20 years ago.

I have my ICQ id.. If only I could remember the password

> I have my ICQ id

The real important question is how many digits.

If I recall correctly, six digit icq id's were selling for thousands of dollars.

Really? I have a 6-digit one (below 250K actually). I just fired it up this morning for the first time in years after reading about AIM.

Nah, $6+ if you buy in the right place. $300+ for 5-digits


I assume they were talking about in the past. Like a decade ago or earlier. Though 6 digit ones selling for thousands still seems a bit much unless they were appealing rounded numbers. 5 digits for thousands of dollars was def a thing in the mid 00s.

Bingo. Today's value of the network is different. Kind of the value of twitter handles before insta and snap showed up

Things have changed even more. The person with NYC or NewYorkCity IG handle now has a lucrative reportedly 6 figure income from that profile now by promoting NYC things.

Wow, just logged into my 6 digit ICQ for the first time in years. I can’t believe I remembered my password.

Low 7 digits. Only about 12 months earlier it was much lower, iirc

Low 8 digits, though I had an earlier one I lost the password to.


Isn't it hosted on the AIM server though?

It was sold to Mail.ru a long time ago. I think Mail.ru sold them a couple of years ago. They say they still have millions of users

I still keep it on my pidgin account list, though I can't recall actually sending a message on it for years.

Same here :) It's even worse, because I set it up with an XMPP gateway many years ago, and I don't even remember the password anymore :)

I miss dedicated IM services like AIM. They had a certain dynamic that Facebook Messenger (or similar) and SMS lack.

On AIM, logging in was an active choice and it signaled that you were up for a conversation. With Facebook Messenger, everyone who has the app is always "online." This means that:

a) I get messages from people I don't want to have a conversation with at the moment and it seems rude if I ignore them, because there are read receipts.

b) If I send a message, I don't know if they're going to engage in a real-time conversation or if we're going to play phone tag. There's no way of signaling which I'm looking for.

What you are lamenting the lack of is the 'presence' indicator, where you can set yourself Available, Away, Busy, or simply Offline. Of the current crop of IM clients, only Skype still has it (I think).

Of the older IM clients; Lync had it, so did Lotus Sametime, MSN Messenger, Yahoo Messenger, ICQ, and of course AIM.

Somewhere along the line the presence feature got dropped, and now we're always 'Available' even when we're not.

This completely supports the idea that when you use a free service, you are not the customer.

Away/busy messages and invisibility are comforts for users. They go away when execs see that doing so bumps some (probably bullshit anyway) "engagement" metric by 5%.

Discord has presence indicators and is fairly widespread.

Slack has an 'online indicator' and even AIM-style away messages.

But slack also has no inherently established paradigm of real time vs asynchronous communication.

>Somewhere along the line the presence feature got dropped, and now we're always 'Available' even when we're not.

Before you were only available when you had your PC on, you were connected to the Internet, and your IM program was open. Now you carry your perpetually running IM program in your perpetually on and perpetually connected mobile in your pocket.

In other words, better is worse, New Jersey style.

> With Facebook Messenger, everyone who has the app is always "online."

Not exactly, FBM lets you differentiate between people who are "active", as in they are currently using FBM, vs. "last seen x hours ago." The difference from AIM is that being active vs. inactive does not necessarily correspond to whether or not you are up for an engaged conversation, and also that you don't directly control your status since it's automatic. There is also a way to set yourself to appear offline, though it's kinda convoluted. I 100% agree though that finer controls over your status like back in the good old days of AIM would be really nice.

It is not convoluted, just hidden. After you mention it I searched and it takes two clicks to get to. What it doesn't do is let you snoop. You are either active and see everyone who is active, or not active and don't see anyone who is active, a weird type of "fairness" that doesn't really make sense.

All these social networks are definitely trying to use symmetry to push for engagement, which is not always the goal from the user's perspective.

Why do you find the "fairness" not making sense? Seems to make sense to me. Telegram has the same feature for showing how many hours ago someone was active.

I think a large part on why Truecaller is so successful is because of the same model. It is slightly worse, as by default a user is visible.

I'm not doubting it, but in what way is Truecaller so successful? Never heard of it.

On top of that, I feel like many people view the chat as subservient to the main feature of Facebook (sharing and commenting on articles, pictures, and personal rants). The last few times I attempted to have conversations with people on Facebook chat, people seemed happy but somewhat surprised, chatted for a little bit, and then the conversation quickly died (and no attempt was made to revive it).

AOL/AIM away messages were the original social media status update for my generation (at least in my social circle).

So much drama went down in those short little notes.

This is spot on. I was a freshman in college when AIM was at its peak, just as Ethernet was available in the dorms for always-on Internet access. AIM is how I learned to type. It was the original social network for the masses.

Honestly, I had no idea it was still operating.

AOL/AIM Buddy Info were the original social media profiles for my generation.

So much time wasted right-clicking on a user name and going to "Show Info"...

In the book Hatching Twitter, AIM status updates were cited as a major point of inspiration for Twitter.

Agreed... it really paved the way for ambiguous and vague Facebook statuses and tweets.

It was text messaging before everyone had a computer in their pockets.

Not SMS? Funny how quickly the iPhone has erased the memory of earlier mobile technology. SMS is not only where the term text messaging comes from, but it's older than AIM, older than MSN, older than ICQ.

> Not SMS? Funny how quickly the iPhone has erased the memory of earlier mobile technology.

Not sure that's true. I used AIM before I had a cell phone (and therefore SMS). While the technology for SMS has been around since the early 90's it really didn't get widespread adoption in the US until the early to mid 00's.

For some SMS may pre-date AIM, but I don't believe that is true for the majority.

It's a cultural thing. When I first started importing phones from overseas to the U.S., I showed a bunch of people at a party how cool it was that I could get e-mail and text messages on my phone. This was 1999.

The majority of the people didn't know what e-mail was, though they did have AOL.

Most knew about text messaging, but laughed at the idea of T9-ing a message to someone for 35¢, when you could just call them and talk to them for free.

I think that is the root of the US/EU divergence on text messaging. Because Europeans at the time had to pay for every call, inbound or outbound, text messaging was cheaper than talking. For Americans, it was the other way around. So each followed the path that was least expensive.

In 1999 people didn’t know what email was? How old were these people? Honest question. I’m extremely surprised by this claim.

You've Got Mail came out in 1998 and it was a box office hit.

People knew what email was for several years before that.

But "You've Got Mail" wasn't about e-mail. It was about AOL.

Remember it took years for people to realize that there was more out there than just AOL.

This was a group of about 30 people in their 20's and 30's, with maybe five or so in their 40's.

Average, every-day retail workers mostly. In a mid-sized city.

I know the date is right because I only lived there one year.

When I was in Germany in '99, the calling party paid for phone calls. Incoming was free. I don't know what an SMS cost but it was reliable across carriers and borders.

When I moved back to the US in '01, SMS was free. If your phone and carrier supported it. If you sent an SMS to someone on a different carrier, in another country, or on a phone from last year, they probably wouldn't get it. When all these issues were solved and SMS usage started to explode, then the carriers decided to go for the money-grab... which was dumb and probably the direct impetus for iMessage.

Ya I remember reading in like 2005 that texting was taking off in Europe, and wondering when it would become popular in the US.

It is certainly true that SMS predated it, but in the US SMS was very limited at the time. The cost and mediocre phone keyboards kept its use down, and, of course, it wasn't practically usable from PCs.

Ironically, SMS probably replaced AIM for a lot of people as a lot of these limitations started to fall away.

Text messaging = SMS for many people in the US. The term SMS has never been used much by consumers here, that I have heard. People call it texting. It has only been popular enough to be useful since about 2002-2005, which is after the glory days of ICQ for me.

I recall AIM implemented a feature where you could add contacts by cell number (instead of screen name) and then it would send the AIM messages as texts

That's how Aim is now for me. The only people logged in for the past couple of years are people who's messages forward to their texts.

SMS was (and is) limited to 160 characters and costs you money to send each one. Not comparable to AIM.

SMS had the dubious distinction of being the most expensive way to send data outside of non-commercial satellite and exotic military technologies. I can remember fees of $.35 for 160 7-bit characters worth of data, using bandwidth that was otherwise just going to waste. Carriers got so greedy with SMS.

That comes to about $2.1 million per gigabyte. But it's also a bit of an unfair comparison since one user consumes far less bandwidth using SMS vs general data.

No. Ironically, you're probably not old enough. AIM predated any meaningful adoption of SMS in the US by a long time. In the 90s, I was one of the youngest to carry a cell phone (13) -- I wasn't rich either, just a nerd. In the mid to late 90s that was really the nadir of cheap cell phone deals, you could get a phone for a penny and the monthly service for $15-20 for month if you paid $0.15 per minute or so. No SMS though, the phone didn't even support it (That was an all analog AMPS phone - The next year I got a shitty CDMA phone, but still no SMS).

I didn't have a text capable phone until after 2000.

Meanwhile, AIM well I carried the same ID since 1994 or so.

I'm guessing the other responders might be from other countries. SMS was THE thing when I was younger (early 2000s) way before AIM, ICQ or anything else. Mainly because not everyone had a computer, but everyone had a cell phone.

And then when mobile data became all the rage, everyone I know just installed ICQ on their phone because the data transfer for ICQ was less than the cost of an SMS.

I grew up in Europe and when I got to the US, I was surprised to see most of my classmates either without a phone or just getting one. I got my first cell phone when I was nine? Maybe eight? Most of my classmates got their by the age of twelve. In the US, my classmates got their phones when they were 14 or 16 or even older; however, they had ready access to a computer at all times, I didn't have that back in Europe.

European too, and had opposite experience: had access to internet quite young (around 8-9 years old I was already starting to bother my parents so that I could play on battle.net a bit and this meant they coudldn't receive phone calls! but it was max 20h of internet per months... until AOL and their wonderful unlimited dial-up of course). However I didn't get a cell phone until 15.

When I was in sixth and seventh grade most of the communications with my classmates were through AIM. Then it was MSN, then facebook...

My school (in the US) was very striated into ethnic groups. The Hispanic kids were really into MSN, the white kids used AIM, and the black kids used SMS.

I recall having AIM before I had a cell phone. Particularly since IM over AIM was free, and cell phone companies were still charging people for each SMS message in those days - I want to think it was something ridiculous, like a nickel an SMS.

I didn't get a cell phone until I think 2005. By that time, I had been using ICQ and AIM for over 5 years.

SMS may have existed before ICQ/AIM/etc, but it didn't get used frequently until the mid 00's.

In the late 1990s when I used AIM, SMS still cost $0.25/message, and few of my friends had any cell phone, let alone one capable of texting.

AOL had instant messages back when they were still a Commodore 64 bulletin board in the 80s.

I'm probably a little older. We had dot plan files.

Kids these days with their AIM Away Messages.

In my days, we had to "finger" people their .project/.plan files in VAX/VMS & Unix systems.

OK, I can't resist. Time for a story.

Once upon a time when the net was still new, a friend of mine (then a Unix newbie) was trying to catch up with another friends' current status. Unfortunately this other colleague had quite a lot of info in their .plan, and so many lines and lines of text scrolled by too fast for my friend to read.

Needing a reminder about the syntax of Unix pipes and the "less" command, she turns to the person next to her in the computer lab and asks, "When you're fingering someone, how do you make it go slow?"

This poor hapless bystander gives her an absolutely horrified look, backs away slowly, and makes some excuse for a hasty exit.

It was only sometime later that my friend realized what she'd asked... :)

Aim was definitely the original social network. MSN messenger had its time too.

Same. I remember being in the college dorms and hearing all the AIM notification sounds all up and down the hallway. In the summer when everyone had their windows open you could hear it all over the quad.

Very true. It was the finger/.plan for the masses.

And that system wasted insane amounts of electricity since each user needed to leave their computer on 24/7. Say what you will about Facebook, but allowing people to leave their computer in sleep mode at night has been an enormous contribution that Zuck has made the world.

We have moved to low power mobile phones that are always on anyhow, so those days would be over regardless.

And, are you sure that facebook doesn't consume even more power with whole data centers fir storage, analysis and serving of mountains of trivial data, all to sell more ads?

Did many folks feel forced to do that due to AIM? For those of us in households with one phone line, we couldn't even be online 24/7 even if we wanted to. I had no problem turning off the computer at many times of day and simply being "offline"..

I'm still signed onto AIM - through Pidgin - whenever my personal laptop is open. It's the primary way I stay in contact with friends I made through the early-2000s internet.

Of course we're also connected to each other on more 'modern' social networks, but there's a certain - undeniably nostalgic - appeal to the AIM chat, continued unabated over the same protocol with the same handles for 15+ years.

Funnily enough, just a couple of nights ago someone I hadn't spoken to in at least _10 years_ signed on and messaged me out of the blue. We reminisced on our friendship on a now-forgotten AOL message board back in 2001, and discussed the myriad ways our lives had since changed since then. A surreal and touching exchange that's been running through my head since.

If you once had an AIM account and haven't signed on in a while - which, gauging by the reactions to this thread, seems to describe most of us - log on and see if anyone's still around. Your Buddy List hasn't gone anywhere.

Sadly no one except one person who I already talk to has signed into my buddy list for years. I have it sign in via Adium/Pidgin too.

I worked at AOL years ago when the company announced internally that the product would not be extended, but that the service would remain online.

I was headed to the main campus (Dulles) when the announcement was made. Internally, they dismissed the entire AIM product engineers and management, and simply retained operational people to keep the lights on.

Walking up to the floor where the AIM crew was working was creepy. Product plans on whiteboards and windows, with future dates written down everywhere. All the cubes on the floor were vacant, save for maybe a small few on the opposite side of the office (admin-type folks.) It was just straight-up silent, and incredibly deflating. That team always seemed to have a fairly good vibe, at least in observation.

I think they really missed an opportunity with AIM.

It's a shame, really, as AIM could have easily evolved into Slack for family/friends connections all along a spectrum of casual to intimate.

It's like how Flickr couldn't make a mobile app and Instagram happened, or how Digg fumbled so badly Reddit came out of nowhere.

First mover advantage is only important in the initial cycle. Once the market matures it's a huge liability.

It’s not just first mover: Flickr was doing great until they were bought by Yahoo, which was a decade into the management vacuum by that point, and AOL was doing their best to make Yahoo’s management look visionary and competent.

In both cases the message I take is that a good team can’t make up for executives who don’t know what their business model is. Management by oh-shiny! and laying off people until a spreadsheet column is positive will trump lower level competence every time.

Sometimes first mover means first to achieve any significant valuation which means first to be acquired. As you point out, acquisitions can often mean death.

I still had AIM and Yahoo on Pidgin up until maybe two or three years ago.

It amazes me how Facebook messenger became the dominant force with it's totally broken and garbage XMPP implementation (now gone), it's unreliable delivery and the fact that it was a total piece of garbage.

It's now finally up to the standard that AIM/Yahoo/MSN were, twenty years ago. For people who yell about it being proprietary, well so was AIM (Oscar)/Yahoo/MSN/etc. Today there are OSS devs doing the same thing they did back then with project like purple-hangouts and purple-facebook.

We have a lot of different chat services today, but we don't seem to see people developing things like Trillian/Audium/Pidgin the way those were developed back in the day. Today people are fine having multiple chat apps, all with their bloat and terribleness.

Facebook Chat (now called Messenger) came out in April 2008, at a very opportune time. Quote from my earlier post at [1]:

While it's tempting to accuse AIM, MSN, and Yahoo for being incompetent and not catching up to the "mobile era", they in fact did pursue this market as much as they were able. In truth, early iOS and Android were inferior platforms for a chat app. Push notifications were absent, data rates were expensive, and the average smartphone user at this time was not very likely to use those networks anyway.

Based on this info, I reason that it was truly Facebook that killed incumbent IM networks, at least in the US. Between the release of the iOS App Store and the introduction of push notifications for Android, Facebook grew by more than 300 million active users. This coincided with exodus of users from Myspace to Facebook; many of those users likely having used AIM, MSN, or Yahoo messenger in the past, now found themselves in a much larger network that also offered chat. Since Facebook largely subsumed everyone a person knew in real life, these users only had to go back to the old IM networks to chat with people they didn't know in real life, setting the stage for the weakening of connections and these networks' decline.

In my research, I've also prepared:

- A timeline of messaging networks [1]

- A timeline of Google's messaging rivalry with Facebook [2]

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11114518

[2] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=13465483

> We have a lot of different chat services today, but we don't seem to see people developing things like Trillian/Audium/Pidgin the way those were developed back in the day. Today people are fine having multiple chat apps, all with their bloat and terribleness.

There's eul, a modern day Trillian:


It's a lightning fast native desktop app (~5 MB) for Skype, Slack, Facebook, Discord etc.

AIM was where I first found my passion for development. The first programming language I ever really learned, perl, was because I wanted to be better at making AIM bots.


- The TOC protocol and the OSCAR protocol. Net::AIM and Net::OSCAR. Aryeh Goldsmith, you beautiful soul.

- The first $300 I ever made online was in ~2002, when I wrote a chatroom flirt bot for an adult content affiliate. I was 14 or 15 years old.

- The first project I built that ever got traction was a bot that enabled offline messaging. I didn't even write it, it was open source, but I branded it well and it got traction and spread virally across the USA.

- Being part of the AIM scene...exploiting warn functionality (with parallel attacks!), profile vulns, and 3char screen names being the most legit.

I vaguely remember the 3char screen names and the trading of accounts or lists. If I recall correctly there was underground stuff going on with trading those names. Thanks for hitting that memory switch for me.

It's very surprising to me that person-to-person text communication is divided into two completely different and incompatible types of service: short latency (~20 sec, "email") and very short latency (~1 sec, "instant messaging"). A priori, I'd have just imagined that the former would arrive first for technical reasons but then would be consumed by the latter, which has no fundamental technical barriers to being better in every way. It's even more surprising that, multiple decades after both services became available and have had time to reach equilibrium, email is a single uniform standard and instant messaging is hopelessly fragmented. (The existence of an email standard and fragmented instant messaging does help explain why a division between the two can persist, but not why they went opposite directions in the first place.)

Was any of this predictable? Or could we just have easily ended up with everything fragmented, or everything a uniform standard, conditional on flipping a few minor historical events? The potential of very strong path dependence for the quality of equilibrium services is very disheartening.

Email by its very nature is asynchronous and was standardized in a time when "always-on" didn't exist, and it is provider-agnostic because of the standard protocol.

Email's maturity by the time that businesses all came online pretty much guaranteed it as the standard for business communication, and personal use was just a small step from there.

Expecting 20s RTT for email is a modern phenomenon, when you could expect replies on the timescale of days before.

The closest attempt to a standard for IM is probably XMPP, which providers have pretty much all ignored in favour of lock-in to their respective platforms.

>Expecting 20s RTT for email is a modern phenomenon, when you could expect replies on the timescale of days before.

I think the whole point of having email is for communication where you'd expect responses on this timescale (for reasons outside of communication protocol used). Some questions just take time. The immediacy of instant messaging puts pressure to respond quickly.

Even for personal communication, if I want to write a longer letter, I don't get to do it every day.

On that note, none of the current IM clients are suitable for long messages. Even your comment is too long to be comfortably sent in an IM. There's a whole infrastructure around emails that make them suitable for long messages: drafts (so you can work on an email over the span of days), editing/formatting, and so on.

Then there's flexibility of the message being a unit of communication, rather than the chatroom. Your response can selectively quote parts of a message, being sent to a a part of the group, be forwarded. It's not easy to do with IM's.

But in the end, I do think that the non-instantaneous nature of email is the reason why people use it: IM's for short, fast responses, and emails for "...I'll answer it tomorrow".

I think instant messaging lends itself to fragmentation because it’s more of a social network than a general purpose communication medium. I specifically do not want most people/entities to message me. Whereas email I’m more lax about because it doesn’t demand my immediate attention.

I suspect the answer is money. Well-funded corporations can and do push their fancy, new messaging platforms hard enough to crowd out any emerging open standard, but they certainly have no intention of paying anything more than lip service to the idea of interoperability. They want to own all of this and turn it into cold, hard cash. Who's going to develop the next big, open standard when WhatsApp can turn into billions of dollars?

Matrix already exists and works really well. It has at least three homeserver implementations and at least four usable client apps.

Major difference between email and IM is that email address is public - anyone can send you anything.

And IM address is more or less private and restricted - you need to approve other party in order to send you messages.

And this, not the latency, makes the difference.

People are using Skype for example in "email mode": sending messages even when they know that contact is offline - it will be read later anyway.

Yet there are more differences:

1. Uniqueness of address. You may have tons of email addresses. But other party cannot be sure what you are reading any of those. While in IM you have one address in their particular namespace.

2. Consequence of #2: Most of IMs keep conversation as single tape - you know that if you or your correspondent did ever say something you will find it in that particular place - on that tape.

3. More or less guarantied delivery and corresponding UI feedback ("his/her LED is green!"). If you see "message delivered" then it in magnitude of times is more probable that your correspondent have or will read it. With emails it is more like a gamble. How many times we heard advices to check spam folder to find someone's message?

But none of those things are logically linked or dominant. Why can't I just have zero latency email that defaults to a prominent instant-message-like UI for all emails without a subject line?

If desired, you could require approval from the recipient to reach this IM-level visibility if sent by a stranger, with unapproved messages appearing in the normal email box (sorta like FB does with non-friends). If someone is sending you too many, you can de-approve them, and you'll just respond slowly like email. The de-approved sender doesn't need to be told they have been de-approved, and the fact that we don't always reply instantly to IMs provides plausible deniability.

This is one of the reasons why Gmail was a game changer when it launched. Most of the other services at the time offered standard inbox one-message-at-time view, where as Gmail showed them in a threaded view.

> If someone is sending you too many

That's one of the points. I can publish my IM name but I will receive messages only from those recipients whom I will approve.

Publishing email address ... well that's the main reason why we cannot live without services like GMail - to filter out spam.

Huh? My original question is why we can't have the best of both worlds since their is no barrier to combining them. Merely noting that different features are available with different services does not answer this question.

> It's very surprising to me that person-to-person text communication is divided into two completely different and incompatible types of service: short latency (~20 sec, "email") and very short latency (~1 sec, "instant messaging").

Email, for network connected machines with delivery direct into the recipients inbox (this is how SMTP works if both sides are network connected and online, and in fact was how SMTP was designed to work for connected systems) is also sub 1 sec delivery latency (at least for normal sized emails, 2G of attached photos will take a moment to ship over).

20 seconds for delivery of email (ignoring intermittently disconnected systems, which email still supports) is only because most email clients work in a polling pull mode from a central server, and the polling delay in the client is what adds the apparent latency. It is a result of how most clients are designed, not an inherent built in latency of the system.

Sad - I believe AIM is the oldest living account where I still know my username/password. I just logged in for the first time in years and not a single other person was logged in. There were people on there I haven't spoken to in 18 years.

It's funny how 15 years feels so ancient in internet time.

Same here. Not a person was logged in. Did the same a few years back. Same thing, not a person logged in.

I too am sad to hear this.

When I met my wife I asked her for her AIM screen name instead of her phone number. AIM was more common than cell phones (and didn't charge $0.20 per message like SMS).

At the same time, I am honestly surprised it was not sunset sooner. I wonder how many active users there actually were in the end.

Same scenario with my wife, January 2003 :)

I'm fairly torn up about this. A lot of my friends today were "internet randos" I started up chats with on AOL in the late 90s.

There is a pretty large number of additional internet rando's from my youth whom I haven't spoken to in years where my only connection is their AIM screenname. I still use Adium connected to AIM just waiting for any of them to pop on.

For many of them, I never knew their real name, only their screen name. This will be a total loss of the possibility of reconnecting.

I am honestly mildly devastated.

It was a different world then, people were much more excited and willing to talk to weirdo's like me online.

This is what bums me out. I went down my AIM contact list when I got this news and realized I had fond memories of people from the 00s that I will never be able to find again because there is no name attached to their AIM.

But at the same time, that detachment was what made those interactions magical. I knew people by screen name, not real name. They weren't constrained by what their lives meant offline because all they were online was what they made that screenname out to be. Getting into the Internet i the late 90s / early 2000s was like another world because of how detached from boring reality it was.

That being said, the Internet has only really gotten better for weirdos. There is everything from decades old niche website forums to subreddits to new stuff like Matrix rooms for almost any subject.

I just did the same. Such a strong feeling of nostalgia

I wouldn't be married to my wonderful wife of 11 years, if it were not for AIM. We met at a college party, and before we parted ways the only thing I thought to ask was for her AIM ID. I'm shy and talking over AIM was much easier for me.

Thank you AIM.

*edited for more details

My wife and I met on AIM (mostly) too. My friend wanted me to chat up this girl he knew to convince her he was cool and she should date him. It doesn't seem like a great plan in hindsight from his perspective, and it really wasn't in the end. We've been married 9 years.

Oh man, AIM was great. They nailed their UI/UX at the time.. . everything just worked. There's so much overlap with contemporary companies and features they rolled-out. They had weather-bots, integration with a ton of 3rd party apps (I remember logging into Meebo on school computers cause we couldn't install desktop apps), games, statuses, chat-rooms, file transfers.. Most apps are so hyper-focused nowadays, I really do miss how creative companies were back in the 90s.

What I do not understand is how has AOL Messenger, MSN Messenger, Skype, ICQ, and Google Chat all managed to be displaced by Whatsapp? I guess it is loss of 'business focus', but the idea of a "messenging app" is incredibly simple, so one would think it would be simple enough to do.

WhatsApp has the trick that it automatically connects you with everyone you already have in your phone's address book (even if the phone number they used to have belong to someone else now) , the other apps you mention don't do that. I suppose this feature helps, although according to a data protection officer who consulted my company he could sue all his friends for uploading his phone number to WhatsApp's server...

... that's exact;y why I don't use Whatsapp - the mandatory total contacts slurp.

Not mandatory in Android. I denied the permission and it still works. Just had to add the few people I wish to write to manually

The latest version of WhatsApp that I tested on Android, last week, starts OK without Contacts permission but can't add a contact manually; it constantly reprompts for access to Contacts in order to save it. So basically useless.

One workaround would be to export all Contacts to VCF, then prune the list to only those for WhatsApp, run it, let it import, then deny permission and then merge all the exports back into Contacts. But then that's only a keypress away from an accidental full-slurp and you still can't add newer contacts manually.

Usability. And if you look at all of the above none of those company really have a product or vision of messaging app.

At one point in time, All AOL, MSN and ICQ really did was try to prevent orders from working on their network. ( AIM / MSN )

And other point ICQ were trying to turn itself into Yahoo, an internet portal.

Google Chat? It couldn't even get the basic right.

MSN started to displace ICQ when it was faster, better and Icons pack ( before Emoji ). And ICQ somehow manage to react to this threat by keep boating itself.

At some point before 2007, MSN won. AIM were still being used in US but the trend was clear, people were slowing moving to MSN in US while the rest of the world has switched away from ICQ to MSN.

Being Microsoft who in my mind has never created any decent product, thought they won and decide not to do much about it. It was the era before iPhone. The era when everyone would question, what is going to bring down Microsoft?

Then came the iPhone that shocked the world. Well least in broad sense of it. The UI were revolutionary. But the tech or dreams wasn't. Pocket PC, Palm, all had similar idea before and HTC were ODM at the time. We had a lite, useless, slow Windows Mobile that couldn't do much at all.

Everyone thought, surely linking MSN Messenger between the Desktop and iPhone / Android would make perfect sense?

Not at Microsoft. And when they finally did? It was too late.

Whatsapp manage to became the dominant platform because it was good and simple. Somehow the tech industry took nearly two decade to figure out.

what's even worse whatsapp is the only one without a desktop client even the webclient requires your phone :(. I guess Line is the best alternative it works on all platforms and without phone number as identifier except it's mostly popular in Asia

Personally, I think XMPP with Omemo is the best you can use today.

You have classic desktop clients for all operating systems (e.g. Gajim for Linux and Windows) and there are clients for android (conversations) and iOs (Chatsecure). Most of the clients (pc+mobile) are open source. What's more, you don't need to disclose your phone number and the privacy enabled by OMEMO is great without any usability nightmares.

On top of that, the network is highly decentralized. There are many providers for free and paid accounts and you could also host your own server.

There's an official Whatsapp Electron app for MacOS and Windows.

Which doesn't work unless your phone is on

I know Whatsapp apparently has a ton of users but I honestly know nobody that has ever used it. A lot of Discord, Telegram, Facebook Messenger, a little Hangouts, and back in the day MSM, Yahoo Messenger, and AIM. I guess I missed that step in the ladder or something. Same with SMS - from the time I made the leap to Smartphones there were already enough general XMPP clients / Hangouts was good enough to never think about using a third party, especially proprietary, service like that.

My understanding is Whatsapp took off outside the US entirely because it seamlessly used SMS when data was unavailable and that was certainly a killer feature in many parts of the world.

I live abroad now and I can tell you EVERYONE outside of the US uses it.

At least in large sections of the world. Businesses have WhatsApp numbers. You see it on signs everywhere. I now find it a pain that people back home in the US don't use it. I use it daily. I literally just typed a message on there 10 seconds ago.

Well to be fair half of those were on their way out long before WhatsApp came on the scene. Facebook replaced most of them. I knew a large community of music producers who only used aim to send tracks to one another, Dropbox and soundcloud soon replaced that

Phones beat the PC.

Back in the day I had to use a few different chat programs (AIM/ICQ/MSN), then came along Trillian, and I could just run the one program. I've since switched to Pidgin (or whatever they called themselves before the rename), it was quite nice not having to bother with all those separate programs.

Now we have Discord/Slack/Whatsapp/A myriad of voice chat programs and I'm back where I started.

Edit: For those curious, AIM for Counter-Strike, ICQ for random internets, and MSN was pretty big here in Canada.

You can kinda use http://meetfranz.com/ for that... unfortunately it's mostly wrappers around web clients, not a real client that unifies your contacts and such.

There's a native client for all of the above:


Even just hearing the name Trillian makes me angry all over again. It had the worst UX on the planet. Its refusal to abide by any coherent set of OS/Window management standards made it miserable to use.

Gaim, I believe it was AOL that made them change their name to Pidgin. Pidgin lives on and AIM is fading into history.

They tried for many years to get us to change the name, but it never came down to any real legal battles of any sort. The name change occurred after I left the project, but I think it was a conscious choice on the project's end to finally change the name, give it a new identity. (Someone from Pidgin correct me if I'm wrong -- I was pretty out of the loop during that time period.)

The networks that pidgin supports are slowly dying off though.

Which now leaves me using Google Chat on Pidgin and Skype as my last instant messaging services. I haven't moved to any other newer platform because the mobile-based UI and huge amounts of whitespace are a huge turnoff for me (and I almost tossed Skype when they went that direction.)

Indeed. Pidgin is so useful as far as the myriad IMing services it supports, and yet so many of them have shut down or moved to a non-supported protocol.

Just imagine 20 years down the line, all of the products of today that will shut down.

Use Google and find out in 5 years! </s>

I'm hoping Matrix at least might stay around and evolve into something pervasive like SMTP, but not as shitty. Right now its a great API to implement and use in my experience.

> With AIM on its way out the door, now’s your last chance to write that perfect away message.

Interesting in hindsight then how some platforms adopted this one element, turned it into a log of away messages, dropped the messaging, and created "social media".

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