Remembering AOL Instant Messenger

Remembering AOL Instant Messenger

Recently it was announced that AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) would be shutting down in December of this year. This news has taken the internet by storm. AIM was huge in the 90s and part of the 2000s, and many people online now were frequent users of the popular chat program. Even though it’s been largely abandoned by most of us for years, replaced with more modern chat apps, many people (myself included) feel a bit sad at the idea of AIM ending forever. Just for fun, let’s take a look back and remember some of the things you might have encountered if you used AIM when you were young (or at least younger).

Screen Names

Oh, AIM screen names. Screen names back in the day were a lot of fun at the time, though they might seem a little embarrassing now. I’m not sure where all the x’s and numbers came from—maybe necessity, since so many usernames were taken—but they kept things interesting (and harder to read). You might have seen screen names with two x’s at the beginning and end (xxEMOGIRLxx, for example), or 0’s instead of o’s, or mIxEd Up CaPiTaLiZaTiOn, or even better, all three at once (xXeM0gIrLxX?). I don’t know about you, but I found it a little difficult sometimes to tell who had signed on since the screen names were such fun, jumbled messes.

Buddy Icons

Buddy icons were a fun way to further personalize our profiles. The tiny, often-pixelated pictures were changed often on my friends’ profiles (and I think I changed mine about once a week). It was particularly fun to find animated icons. (Animated icons! They moved! Who knew pictures could do that.)


I know I’m not the only one who was good friends with SmarterChild. In case you’ve forgotten your BFF, SmarterChild was a ‘bot that could automatically reply to your messages. You could ask questions, play games, get the weather, find movie times, and just chit chat. I remember being amazed and impressed at the way SmarterChild could actually talk to me. With “people” like Siri and Alexa available today, SmarterChild can seem really outdated in hindsight. But the bot was pretty groundbreaking at the time and was great fun to hang out with when no one else was online at 4am.

Extensive Profiles

If you used AIM a lot back in its earlier days, you might have had a crazy profile like my friends and I all did. We all liked to put our basic information (a/s/l), stuff we liked, who our friends were, etc. And for some reason, we all felt like we couldn’t make our profiles long enough, so we started using the SubProfile website. We could add a link to our profile that led to our SubProfile with even more information. It seemed like we spent as much time building our SubProfiles as we did actually talking to each other.

Ridiculous Away Messages

It’s possible that our away messages were sillier than our profiles. Typically, away messages added by young people on AIM didn’t give any indication about where the person was or what they were doing. They were almost never useful or informative, it seemed. Instead we would focus on putting bright background colors with clashing (sometimes unreadable) text, lyrics from songs that we thought were deep, and quotes from our friends (for some reason a lot of us thought it made us look cooler). Oh, and you might have had a lot of fun adding the code into your away message that would display the screen name of whoever was reading it, which made it seem like the message was personalized to them.


However silly it may have been sometimes, AIM gave a lot of people some good memories of chatting with their friends. Even if you didn’t really get involved with the crazy stuff mentioned above, you probably had a good time catching up with friends, some of whom you might not have ever met in person. Even though we have plenty of chat apps we can use today, we’ll miss you, AIM.

(Featured image: Business Insider)