In the layer you were writing code, it was routed by the thing you hashed on, so it was sort of SDN like in its ability to separate the application state from the physical hardware. Amazingly good server technology. AOL had all kinds of cool tech - dynamically assigned (/24) subnets, IP Tunnels from the client, giant compression/caching farms that essentially cached all the static assets on the internet, etc. etc. In the 90s that is; those machines Eric was deploying onto were less powerful than your smart phone.
In fact most things Facebook did originally it did poorly: poor quality photo storage (Flickr offered high quality or even original quality for a fee), garbage messaging, etc. It eventually caught up after it got big, because everyone was already using it .. and all the other platforms lost market share or became niche.
We have probably re-invented the exact same systems over the last 30 years, poorly, because companies are too bass-ackward to share their engineering work.
ICQ (the original chat client) was around for a full year before AIM launched.
I wanted to receive messages from friends while I was offline (because, remember, you had to dial into the internet and tie up a phone line...). I was amazed by the utility of store-and-forward network architectures, but I was surprised that SMTP was the only high level protocol that seemed to use it. Why couldn't something send me my messages when I came back online? It seemed so simple (I think ICQ even supported it)
So I found some Perl libraries that could talk the AIM protocol (later OSCAR) and started hacking. I was able to beg my way into a free shell account on a Linux box and used it to mock up a client with a chat interface. Say hello, and it would give you the options: send a message to a friend, get a fortune, play a game, etc. If you sent a message to a friend, it would wait until the friend was online and relay the message. It also had pre-recorded responses for how I imagined people would talk to it.
I don't know how, but word got out about the bot, and eventually I had dozens of people playing games and getting fortunes, and occasionally using the message-forwarder. It was amazing to me that people liked using this dinky chat bot that I put together for fun, and it inspired me to get into open source development. I think was 16 at the time.
I played it in late elementary school and you could write your own levels -- I think they were called "dreams" -- that people could visit with all kinds of conditional logic.
You know how as a kid you'd sometimes daydream about your future? I daydreamed that I would later become a computer programmer and be able to look back and my messing around in Furcadia was my start. For some reason I thought being a programmer was a fancy job that was somehow out of reach.
Now I'm a computer programmer... and yeah, tooling around with computers in the 90s was my "start."
The Perl library was `Net::AIM::TOC` and later `Net::OSCAR`
The away message was invented by AOL "proggers" which included, amongst other features, the Away Message. This was long before AOL simply absorbed that feature. If you remember Fate/FateX, Sublime, Paladin, Magenta, and the other infinite number of tools many of them had this feature. AOL just copied it because like most awesome things, it was invented by the users' creativity.
I enjoyed reverse engineering AIM exploit programs, there was one called subterfuge by sevens from esotericcode.com below... Thanks for the nostalgia!
Now that's a name I've not heard in a long time
Them: "hey whats up"
Me: "nm you?"
Adam: Hey STUD!
Adam: LOL j/k
Adam: What's going on??
Duncan: Not much. brb.
We talk about work-life balance, but these projects had to have been amazing for people to dedicate chunks of their lives to them.
I wonder if we'll ever read stories about building slack and look back it so fondly.
More on topic, AIM as something to grow up with was ehhh. I kind of wish it didn't exist so I would have been more forced to push my parents to drive me to friends houses instead of hogging the family computer. Today I feel like the modern equivalents are probably Discord+Fortnite/Minecraft/whatever on personal machines which from my armchair looks a lot better from a social perspective.
Rinse and repeat until I finally had something worth, uh, saving on a floppy disk.
So I was young enough to not know a time before instant messaging as I graduated from high school in 2005. Are you saying that I'm missing out because I never knew what it was like to not have AIM constantly at my fingertips?
Because I see kids today are absolutely missing out because they never have to be bored and make their own fun.
Are fruit flies not able to fly through the big hole in the middle of the CDROM?
AOL was the lamest online service, it was what your grandma used. No self-respecting hacker or power user would use AOL. But everyone used AIM.
EDIT: lest I forget AIM pr: darkside
What a time to be 10 years old.
Before/alongside AIM was ICQ.
Once MSN came around I remember everyone switching because the fonts were somewhat better. Sorry—not everyone. So you had to have each of the clients to talk to everyone.
Writing things down made people less able to remember things. Just as Google made us incapable of researching and remembering details.
The article mentions the Newsfeed; I don't know how the AIM team thinks distributed status messages (or whatever?) are analogous to the news feed, nor the community sharing/commenting/photos/etc.
But one thing Facebook DID have, when it was curated, was links to EVERYTHING. You could see who was taking the same class as you, even the same section. You could see who lived in the same residence hall. You could search/sort/filter on EVERYTHING. It was amazing.