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April 16, 2014 6:46 AM   Subscribe

The Rise and Fall of AIM, the Breakthrough AOL Never Wanted
posted by motorcycles are jets (84 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
My favorite line in this article:

"AIM became how all Wall Street communicated," Appelman said.
posted by Fizz at 6:56 AM on April 16 [1 favorite]


Patent US 6750881 B1 "User definable on-line co-user lists" was born, a.k.a, the buddy list.
Ugh.
posted by Flunkie at 7:00 AM on April 16 [9 favorites]


Wow. This explains a LOT. Also there is a lot of nostalgia in those screenshots for me, dang.
posted by NoraReed at 7:03 AM on April 16 [3 favorites]


Sounds like an interesting story, but the writing is just atrocious.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 7:03 AM on April 16 [8 favorites]


Poor old AIM. I never could understand why AOL wanted to give away the most useful and unique part of their product for free (buddy lists and instant messaging) but I was always grateful they did.
posted by davros42 at 7:05 AM on April 16 [1 favorite]


AOL seems to be the posterchild (along with Blockbuster) about how to completely fail to adapt to transformational change within the marketplace and how to squander market leader status utterly.

It's interesting to how how obsessed AOL was with monetizing everything and how there are parallels with some current tech leaders.
posted by vuron at 7:06 AM on April 16 [6 favorites]


That was really interesting, thank you for posting it! It's fascinating to learn about the development of something that was such a big part of my personal experience. I had a really, really rough time in middle school and I felt like I didn't have any friends. I made friends my freshman year of high school and AIM was how we communicated (actually ICQ initially but we all migrated). I can't really convey now, from an adult perspective, how incredibly important and meaningful that was to me. My friends and I weren't really phone people and besides, you could only talk to one person on the phone at a time and also it was an active sort of demanding of attention; calling someone felt terrifying to me because it was like saying "yes I know you are in your own home but I demand some of your time" and they sort of had to talk to you whether they wanted to or not. Going on AIM just demonstrated you were passively available and then someone could get in touch with you if they wanted.

As I said, I seriously cannot even tell you how unbelievably important this was to me; I could go on-line and four or five people would IM me! Friends! Getting in touch with ME! I didn't know that could happen! To this day I have a physical reaction to that "you've just been messaged!" sound, that sound that means "someone has reached out to you and chosen YOU for a conversation". When I was fourteen, and that sound meant that someone cared and someone though I was worth talking to, it might literally have saved my life.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 7:09 AM on April 16 [91 favorites]


I still use AIM occasionally (in Pidgin form, obviously). There's friends on there that have had the same username for over a decade and we haven't found a compelling reason to switch to something else.

I actually did a lot of work on TiK, an early open-source AIM client that was originally made by AOL and later taken over by a few folks on Sourceforge. TiK used the TOC protocol which didn't have as many features as OSCAR so we did all kinds of stupid stuff to do things like view somebody's Away message without having to ping them. (The answer: ping them with a formatted message that we stripped but of course no other client did. I think we eventually convinced GAIM to strip the message too.) I remember writing a plugin that would allow you to control your computer remotely via AIM too, which is just mindbogglingly stupid when I think back on it.

In the end we just couldn't compete with GAIM (now Pidgin) but hey at least I learned Tcl/Tk. Which of course I've never used since.
posted by kmz at 7:10 AM on April 16 [6 favorites]


Yeah seriously with the horrible writing - are my reading comprehension skills just getting worse or did they do a really poor job of explaining exactly why AOL "never wanted" AIM which I thought was going to be the meat of the article? Because it was being offered for free and that's it? Why was it being offered for free to begin with if that was an issue with the higher-ups?
posted by windbox at 7:13 AM on April 16 [3 favorites]


Oh, the AIM away message. When away messages became a Thing, my family still had a dial-up connection that we shared with the phone, which meant I never really had the opportunity to use one, because my internet was largely restricted to when I was Actually Using It. I remember writing down song lyrics and quotes in my notebook for use as away messages when I finally convinced my parents to ditch the dial-up connection.

I loved AIM, and kept using it for longer than most people on the internet I think. I was still using it daily until I finally made the switch to Gchat, around 2007 or 2008.
posted by likeatoaster at 7:22 AM on April 16 [6 favorites]


AOL's market cap: $3.5 billion
Sale price for Whatsapp: $19 billion
posted by chavenet at 7:23 AM on April 16 [3 favorites]


I still use AIM, though it's through Adium, because there are a couple friends I still talk to on it and we're basically internet fossils.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 7:23 AM on April 16 [3 favorites]


As I said, I seriously cannot even tell you how unbelievably important this was to me; I could go on-line and four or five people would IM me! Friends! Getting in touch with ME! I didn't know that could happen! To this day I have a physical reaction to that "you've just been messaged!" sound, that sound that means "someone has reached out to you and chosen YOU for a conversation". When I was fourteen, and that sound meant that someone cared and someone though I was worth talking to, it might literally have saved my life.

This expresses my own feelings about AIM better than I ever could.
posted by pemberkins at 7:26 AM on April 16 [6 favorites]


Oh, the AIM away message. When away messages became a Thing

Those were the days! I spent much of my college years choosing and formatting quotes for my away message. I was convinced I would NEVER be one of those people who dared to put up a generic, colorless away message. That's for old people! I shall stay young forever!
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:26 AM on April 16 [25 favorites]


AIM was a huge part of my experience back in the day. I could keep in touch with people while at work! And nobody would know that I was chatting! There were so many workarounds when the companies I worked for tried to shut that down, but because we weren't on the phone all the time, they realized it wasn't much of a loss for them.
posted by xingcat at 7:31 AM on April 16


I don't know the last time I used AIM-- probably it was for doing group chats with roleplayers. But it's still on Adium for me. I still use status messages too.

It likely saved my life, too, though in retrospect if it hadn't been around we would've likely made do with IRC.

I remember when I first realized I could read away messages in people's profiles. They thought I was so clever, responding to their text before I "could've read it".
posted by NoraReed at 7:31 AM on April 16


Oh, the memories of being up late at night in the UK and catching friends from fandom, frequently in their mornings. I had an array of away messages and used to make my own buddy icons, depending on fandom du jour.

So many fanfics written, edited and discussed over AIM, so many friends and conversations. Ahh, nostalgia wave...crashing..over...me
posted by halcyonday at 7:31 AM on April 16 [1 favorite]


I had multiple accounts on AIM, depending on how many people I wanted to chat with. The idea is perplexing to me now, that I could have too many chat windows to handle and had to actually construct an additional account to cut down. Or to avoid people I didn't want to talk with, without offending them.

AIMster, wow. That would have been amazing. A huge security risk, but imagine if that had been implemented and kept up to date.

After the merger with Time Warner, everyone at Time Warner had to get get AOL accounts (free, but it was their email address, etc.). I believe they tried to force people to use them for actual business stuff for a while.
posted by Hactar at 7:32 AM on April 16 [1 favorite]


How many chat systems have we been through in the last fifteen years? ICQ. AIM, Yahoo Chat, Google Chat/Hangouts, MSN Chat, Facebook messaging, Snapchat, WhatsApp.

What's the next hot messaging system that will get bought out for too much money?
posted by octothorpe at 7:32 AM on April 16 [4 favorites]


It's astonishing to me that a GUI client for glorified "finger" and "ytalk" Unix commands - essentially what IM programs are - keeps accumulating stupid crazy money for proprietary platforms on the regular. Whatsapp got what, 15 billion?
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:32 AM on April 16 [15 favorites]


Woah. 0.7% market share? I'm a dinosaur! RAWWWR!

I'm on AIM right now... yes, the *actual* AIM program. So what do all the cool kids use these days? Is there something better that doesn't require to keep my web browser open?
posted by yeti at 7:36 AM on April 16 [1 favorite]


I'm expecting people to start using IRC again any moment. In the meanwhile jabber is where it's at.
posted by vuron at 7:36 AM on April 16 [1 favorite]


It's kind of funny. I never had a personal AIM username (just one when I worked for Oracle in the early 2000s) so it was never a big deal for me. We were always on IRC and then later ICQ and even later then that MSN messenger. AIM for me was that kinda ugly client that never really mattered :)

To that point it's kinda odd that the article is so heavily AIM focused (to the exclusion of the other protocols)... It's not like AIM was alone in the world or really all that revolutionary a program.
posted by cirhosis at 7:40 AM on April 16


Meh. ICQ was doing all of that before anyone even heard of AIM. I still have my original 6-digit ICQ number, and use it every day (albeit via Pidgin).
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 7:42 AM on April 16 [2 favorites]


I never had an AIM username and was only ever on ICQ. I disliked AOL so much that I would refuse to use anything associated with the company even if it was free.
posted by koolkat at 7:43 AM on April 16 [1 favorite]


vuron: "I'm expecting people to start using IRC again any moment. In the meanwhile jabber is where it's at."

My last job had an internal IRC server that we used to all internal chat with a separate channel for each team for serious discussions and some general channels for informal chat. It worked really well for collaboration.
posted by octothorpe at 7:46 AM on April 16 [5 favorites]


a GUI client for glorified "finger" and "ytalk" Unix commands

I miss the sense of community of being logged into the same Unix shell with other local users. Back in the 80s and early 90s, when unix shells were the interface to the Internet, before the web and SLIP (ie. TCP/IP over a modem). There is something cool about working on the same computer with other people - seeing what they are doing, traces of activity, competing for resources. Obviously that still happens since we are all "on" the same MetaFilter computer(s) but it's different. Sort of like the difference between a local radio station and satellite radio with a billion channels.
posted by stbalbach at 7:47 AM on April 16 [6 favorites]


For whoever asked, the cool kids today seem to be using Skype if they're at work since it's really easy to call from it (every place I've worked in the past few years has used Skype and had a bunch of Skype chats) and otherwise it's a mix of GChat and Facebook messenger, at least among my demo.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 7:49 AM on April 16


AIM was great because it worked outside of AOL's walled garden. When I went to college, it was pretty key to our social interaction, to the point where getting someone's AIM name was more important than their phone extension.

And this brought back vivid memories of people's away messages, which in some cases got pretty damn elaborate.
posted by graymouser at 7:49 AM on April 16 [4 favorites]


"The warning feature internally was called 'electronic vilification,' and we wanted to label the button 'evil,'" Bosco said. "The AOL corporate marketing team absolutely refused to let us label the button 'evil.'"

To borrow a phrase from my AIM years, LMAO.
posted by Gordafarin at 7:50 AM on April 16 [2 favorites]


That sounds interesting octothorpe did you guys use DCC for filesharing or a separate application/service? I'd like to challenge my current organization to break away from the idea of using jabber/email/sharepoint to a more collaborative communication model and it's always a struggle to get people to break old habits.
posted by vuron at 7:51 AM on April 16 [1 favorite]


Aw man. AIM was basically the reason I convinced my parents to change from CompuServe to AOL when I was in middle school - I wanted to IM with my best friend. (Well, it was that, and the bills I ran up on charged-by-the-hour CompuServe versus AOL's all-you-can-eat flat rate). And it was such a THING, with the away messages, and profiles (oh, the passive aggression!), and changing your AIM name was a big deal but sometimes necessary, like when you went to college and wanted to leave your childish high school AIM screen name behind... oh good stuff.

It's funny, I use Adium now but I connect it to AIM (for my mom, who still uses an AOL account for email and chat for some reason), Google Talk for pretty much everyone in the world, and Facebook chat. But I still refer to the ability to talk over any of those channels as "AIM" in the same way that all tissues are Kleenex, I guess. I telecommute and rely on IMing to keep in touch with most of my project team on a daily basis, and when I was in the office recently I asked one of our new entry level guys -- about 23 years old maybe? -- if he had a AIM screen name. He gave me the weirdest look and just sort of politely said "Um, no." I then scrambled and said "Well I mean, it doesn't have to be AIM, like, Google Talk or something?" but it was too late, I was marked as an Old. And I'm not even 30 yet.
posted by olinerd at 7:51 AM on April 16 [3 favorites]


AIM was pretty good to me in the early 2000s. I make music on my computer, and it was a real lifesaver for collaborations--you could send larger files over AIM back when doing so over email was difficult or impossible and things like dropbox didn't really exist (or weren't known to me at least).
posted by Hoopo at 7:59 AM on April 16 [3 favorites]


> I never had an AIM username and was only ever on ICQ. I disliked AOL so much that I would refuse to use anything associated with the company even if it was free.

AOL bought ICQ, you know. (Sold 'em after the dotcom bust. But still.)
posted by ardgedee at 8:05 AM on April 16


and changing your AIM name was a big deal but sometimes necessary, like when you went to college and wanted to leave your childish high school AIM screen name behind

Or if you needed to move away from a screen name picked for the online Star Wars gaming group that you didn't want your real life friends to ever know about.

I mean, hypothetically.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:07 AM on April 16 [6 favorites]


I just realized that my answer to the eternal Metafilter profile question "What's the deal with your nickname?" is "Well, first, it was my AIM handle..."
posted by MCMikeNamara at 8:11 AM on April 16 [2 favorites]


Being able to change usernames whenever one wanted was also quite handy if you had personal angst that could only be expressed through increasingly deep and sad usernames. Or if you kept thinking up new jokes that could only be expressed through usernames. Or if you just didn't have enough musical ability or friends to start a band but still had the overwhelming desire to come up with names for one and had to express that somehow.
posted by NoraReed at 8:12 AM on April 16


and at least when you changed your AIM nickname you could just tell your friends about it and they could add you under the new one and it didn't BREAK EVERY LINK YOU EVER POSTED ON YOUR BLOG

growls quietly at tumblr

posted by NoraReed at 8:13 AM on April 16 [4 favorites]


Ghostride The Whip: "I still use AIM, though it's through Adium, because there are a couple friends I still talk to on it and we're basically internet fossils."

Same. I connect to quite a few ex-AOL staffers through their old aol IM addresses.
posted by zarq at 8:13 AM on April 16 [1 favorite]


The decline of AIM is a real opportunity for MeFi. Can we replace flagging with warning?
posted by michaelh at 8:13 AM on April 16 [2 favorites]


Or better yet, can we have an internal IM system?
posted by zarq at 8:14 AM on April 16 [2 favorites]


In high school, I was obsessed with Radiohead and for a long time my AIM away message was the following lyric from "Life in a Glass House:"

Well of course I'd like to sit around and chat/Well of course I'd like to stay and chew the fat/But there's someone listening in

I thought I was very clever.
posted by breakin' the law at 8:15 AM on April 16 [1 favorite]


I think I was a teenager at exactly the best point in history: before cell phone cameras, and during the advent of AIM. AIM meant that I could stay up until odd hours of the morning typing with friends; the phone had a strict 10 pm cutoff. It was such a crucial application to helping me develop a private life outside of my family in the rural, sidewalk-free area where I grew up. It was place where you were completely stranded without access to a car, but I could talk to friends miles away about BS at 2 in the morning on a Saturday without waking up my parents.

AIM was, in fact, very crucial to shaping my future. In my high school years I was convinced that I couldn't be a programmer for the (in retrospect, dumb) reason that I couldn't type fast enough. But a year and a half of conversing with three or four friends at a time via AIM got me up to the speed where I could type nearly as fast as I could talk, so when it was time to choose a major on college applications I wrote in 'computer science' without hesitation.

I met my husband through random coincidence via AOL profiles while we were both 18.

Wow, my life would be very different if AOL had never existed.
posted by Alison at 8:20 AM on April 16 [11 favorites]


Gosh. . .AIM, YIM, ICQ, PowWow, IRC. . .the heady early days when all of that felt like a miracle. Even with the insane lags due to 200 baud dialup.
posted by Danf at 8:21 AM on April 16


With AIM's popularity waning, the operation's staff, which had ballooned to around 100 at its peak, was repeatedly cut back.
AIM had a staff of about 100 people at one point? That doesn't exactly sound like an operation with no corporate support.
posted by moonmilk at 8:24 AM on April 16 [1 favorite]


The most amazing thing with Away messages was the variable substitution. I remember the first time I saw something like "Hi there [myusername], I'm away right now!" and feeling like it was magic!
posted by kmz at 8:26 AM on April 16 [1 favorite]


I went through my old burned CDs a while back and decided to listen to a few of them. On one of the songs, in the background, you can hear the AIM sign off notification, then moments later, the sign on sound. Even now, years later, those sounds are so ingrained into my brain that I immediately began looking around for my buddy list... only to remember that I didn't have AIM anymore, and that I wasn't even at a computer and was in fact riding a bicycle. I'm willing to bet that if I made the IM sound my alarm I would wake up instantly in the mornings.

(The song was "All the Things She Said" by tatu. I always thought it was just that particular rip I'd gotten of it but apparently the sounds are on the actual album.)
posted by sephira at 8:38 AM on April 16 [4 favorites]


I love the "Related Posts" at the bottom of this thread...


Related Posts
AOL owns Instant Messaging? December 18, 2002
AOL has been actively blocking Trillian users. January 31, 2002
InfoBots are coming. April 25, 2001
FCC: Open up AOL’s messaging September 13, 2000
Love those open instant messaging standards.... August 11, 2000

posted by slogger at 8:57 AM on April 16 [9 favorites]


Metafilter:I thought I was very clever.
posted by Carillon at 9:01 AM on April 16 [6 favorites]


My whole first few years using the internet were as a not-computer-literate person with a college VAX account which means almost all of my internetting was based on usenet, email, and chatting...

I had to use AOL when I was away from school though, so If I couldn't use some costly colorful software to do the basic stuff my stupid text-based school account could do, I would have been SO PISSED.

I'm not sure if I even knew there was a web browser in there for the first year.
posted by SharkParty at 9:03 AM on April 16


One thing that's odd is somehow still nobody has made a more useful person-to-person file transfer protocol/system/application than AIM.
posted by General Malaise at 9:16 AM on April 16 [2 favorites]


I loved ICQ because you could see someone's typing in real time, so you could see when they committed a freudian slip or typed in the wrong window. I caught many an internet paramour "cheating" that way.
posted by desjardins at 9:17 AM on April 16 [6 favorites]


They had ideas to make it a social landing page for its users, where people could have a profile, access message boards and generally drive AIM's popularity back to the web. That idea was roundly rejected.

And with that, they managed to bungle their way into not accidentally creating MySpace before Tom.
posted by General Malaise at 9:18 AM on April 16 [1 favorite]


Upgrading to Mavericks broke AIM for me, as it no longer recognizes my password for some reason. (The was an issue in some previous version of OS X as well which was solved by writing your password in lower case. No such luck this time.) It's just as well I took this year off from dice baseball--we used the fact AIM would roll dice for you to play over the internet.
posted by hoyland at 9:27 AM on April 16


I still sort of miss the //roll commands in AIM chat. I didn't ever use them for actual games, but sometimes you just wanted to confuse everyone by rolling dice with 238925 sides. It really impressed people who didn't know how to do it.
posted by NoraReed at 9:33 AM on April 16 [1 favorite]


I often wonder what would have happened if AOL were forced to have followed through on an interoperability plan for AIM. I forget the details, but part of an anti-trust decision on AOL at some point (maybe the ICQ acquisition?) was that they would have to support open interoperability with competitor's IM networks, notably MSN Messenger. They agreed to do it, then claimed it was impossible, and dragged it out long enough a court let them off the hook.

A big part of why email works is it's interoperable; you can have many email providers. The IM balkanization really has hampered the whole medium, both chat and ad-hoc file sharing. Nerds like us in the know use Adium or Pidgin or whatever but it's always a bit of a crapshoot as to whether it will work, and anyway it's not a majority experience.
posted by Nelson at 9:34 AM on April 16 [4 favorites]


I went through my old burned CDs a while back and decided to listen to a few of them. On one of the songs, in the background, you can hear the AIM sign off notification, then moments later, the sign on sound. Even now, years later, those sounds are so ingrained into my brain that I immediately began looking around for my buddy list... only to remember that I didn't have AIM anymore, and that I wasn't even at a computer and was in fact riding a bicycle. I'm willing to bet that if I made the IM sound my alarm I would wake up instantly in the mornings.

(The song was "All the Things She Said" by tatu. I always thought it was just that particular rip I'd gotten of it but apparently the sounds are on the actual album.)


You, me, and every person I knew who admitted to having that mp3 had the exact same version. Those notification sounds successfully trolled me more times than I can count.
posted by phatkitten at 9:48 AM on April 16 [4 favorites]


Back around 2000, I got involved in my adult LEGO hobby. We had Lugnet for our message board, but AIM served as our realtime chatroom. I've made some lifelong friends via AIM, so I'll always have fond memories.
posted by Fleebnork at 9:48 AM on April 16


My god, an editor! And another return line!

But still... *ploink*

Ahhh.. the opening of a window and its *ploink*.

/tips 40oz

Aim Ad Hack is still at the same domain!! /swoon
posted by cavalier at 9:49 AM on April 16 [2 favorites]


Fun fact: until pretty recently, an AOL username was still a primary account choice for signing up with iTunes. How crazy is that?

My brief leadership experience at AIM in a nutshell: The diminishing legacy revenue streams interfered with progress at many turns. An excellent engineering team was in place, but not a single position above VP was willing to take a genuine risk in marketing, feature innovation, or business strategy for AIM.
posted by massless at 10:02 AM on April 16 [2 favorites]


I used to work for Barry and met with Bosco many times and still have a friend who's in the photo of the team. What a weird way to start my morning. I'm struggling to say anything positive about the experience, so I'll leave it at that.
posted by jewzilla at 10:05 AM on April 16 [2 favorites]


So what do all the cool kids use these days? Is there something better that doesn't require to keep my web browser open?

IRC

Ideally with a ZNC bouncer.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 10:09 AM on April 16 [1 favorite]


AIM is probably why I can type-- we had to get laptops in high school (with wireless cards with the little antennae!!) and hacking access to AIM was the number one choice of library pursuits. Sure, I had to take notes and write papers, but AIM chats, that's the true corpus of my life in 2001.
posted by jetlagaddict at 10:32 AM on April 16


From the article:

"Eric Bosco joined AOL in August 1996. Two months later, AOL would switch from an hourly rate to a flat fee. People could suddenly spend as long as they liked online. AOL’s infrastructure had trouble handling the transition. "Every single server in production was crashing because of the load," Bosco said."

Yeah, no doubt. This was life before memcached, which we developped over at LiveJournal... because we were running up against the same constraints that AOL presumably had to deal with. Storing all that data and all those images in real time was a nightmare, server-wise.

Basically, the server architecture didn't scale linearly. The more hardware you threw at the problem. the lower the return-on-investment. And when you're dealing with as much data as AOL in its heyday, that's huge.

It's really easy to criticize AOL as becoming an uncreative behemoth, but if you think about what they must've been dealing with, just to scale their service to handle all the growth, well... that explains a lot.

"Offering a piece of AOL's system for free to everyone went against the company's entire subscription-based model."

I faced similar criticism when I suggested several features for LJ, such as having people able to easily create and host their own LJ servers, which would seamlessly interact with each other.

Also, around 2001-2002, LiveJournal's nested web commenting system was far better than the other ones out there. Blogger didn't even have commenting for quite some time, and even then, you originally had to use 3rd party tools to do it, and they were *really* prone to spamming.

I suggested that we basically offer our commenting / user profile system for everyone out there, for free, with comments stored both locally and on our network, driving the creation of basic LJ accounts as a nice added benefit... but not only was this seen as *gasp!* offering our services to non-members, but also -- more justifiably -- as a major burden on our servers.

Still, though... the idea of what was then a major open-source project owning the way people interacted with each other on the Internet? That would've been priceless. Instead, all that belongs to Facebook and Twitter, both of which have inferior commenting systems than what LJ had 13 years ago, and do a fine, fine job of locking their customers into their service.

Ah well... decisions have repercussions.
posted by markkraft at 10:35 AM on April 16 [11 favorites]


haha oh though I do blame them for letting me communicate solely in ten point turquoise papyrus on a black background for years, no one needed to read that, sorry to everyone whose eyes I ruined then
posted by jetlagaddict at 10:40 AM on April 16 [3 favorites]


>Or better yet, can we have an internal IM system?

We do. chat.metafilter.com is an XMPP server. Your username is zarq@chat.metafilter.com and we hang out in mefi@conference.chat.metafilter.com
posted by LogicalDash at 10:42 AM on April 16 [5 favorites]


I'm still mad about the horrible Pidgin chrome after GAIM was forced to change its name/ branding. We went from a nice, compact view where my upper-right-corner buddy list was maybe a couple of pages tall to one where I had to have the buddy list window the same height as the screen and it was still something like six pages tall. Fuck AOL for that. It was a horrible precursor to the modern age of PEOPLE ARE USING THEIR SCREENS TO VIEW INFORMATION, WE MUST STOP THIS BY USING MORE SPACE TO SHOW LESS INFO
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:51 AM on April 16 [2 favorites]


Oh, and when I say "inferior commenting systems", I mean it quite measurably.

It's not just that I have a preference for nested commenting, strong, identity-based user profiles, strong controls over banning and blocking comments / commenters, etc... though I do. It's that I measured the number of readers for any given post on LJ vs. several other services, and compared them to the number of comments left, across a large variety of random pages, using a large enough sampling to be statistically relevant... and found that LJ's system far surpassed other commenting systems.

This matters a *LOT* if you want to use the Internet to organize groups of people to accomplish actual things in real life. (i.e. corporate intranets, Yahoo!-like groups, etc.) It was such a large, profound difference, as far as how much more people tended to reply, that it pointed strongly towards ways of vastly improving such tools to greatly enhance online work and collaboration... in truth, this has been a big, big field that people have overlooked and haven't studied systematically enough, in order to create powerful apps and services for doing this.

(No offense to MeFi, which is older school than even LJ, and thankfully has a community that values high-quality content.)
posted by markkraft at 10:58 AM on April 16


"AIM became how all Wall Street communicated," Appelman said.

I'm imaging stock broker types sitting in their offices admiring each others' business cards. Suddenly there is an explosion and the wall caves in. Smoke is everywhere, a hazy darkness pierced by shockingly bright beams of purple-pink light. Gordon is vaporized. Chuck gets his arm cauterized off. The sprinklers go off.

Several figures dressed in what look like yellow beekeeper outfits pour in through the gaping hole in the wall. Their leader advances on Chuck, who is screaming.

"Mmrm mrmph furr mum blrp," says the leader.
"What?" cries Chuck through the pain and noise.
"Mmrm mrmph furr mum blrp!" repeats the leader.
"I don't u-u-u-umderstand.. please don't hurt me!"
The leader's shoulder slump and he removes the mask, revealing a bespectacled face, thin and drawn with annoyance. "Kettering-Sloan needs to push back the meeting to next Thursday."
Chuck stares at the stump of his arm. The pain has faded, but he can still feel his missing fingers twitch. "Oh. Uh. Okay?"
"Let's movie!" shouts the leader before putting his cylindrical mask back on. "Mrr-mpmf!" he salutes.
"Mrr-mpmpf!" his minions reply. They all turn and head back to the large metallic orb that's been floating outside the 34th floor for the past five minutes.

Once everyone is buckled in, the leader activates his radio. "Message delivered, MODOC!"

Miles away a giant head with an equally giant receptionists earpiece sighs with satisfaction. "Excellent! Now report to Lehman Brothers at once! There is an Assistant Vice President there awaiting a report that has been unavoidably delayed due to the disintegration of an analyst last week." There is an awkward pause as everyone recalls the fate of Dr. Bensos. "Go there now and inform them the report will be complete on Tuesday!"

"As you will, MODOC," comes the reply over the giant head's earpiece.

The Machine Organism Designed Only for Communication smiles. Who said there were no second acts in life?
posted by robocop is bleeding at 11:03 AM on April 16 [4 favorites]


LogicalDash: "We do. chat.metafilter.com is an XMPP server. "

True! :)
posted by zarq at 11:05 AM on April 16


Between LJ and Reddit on one side, and Metafilter and Something Awful on the other, I've come to very strongly prefer linear comments to nested. With a nested comments system you always end up in a situation where nobody's even seeing the discussion outside of their particular thread or threads and there's no meaningful way for an overarching tone or progression of a discussion or debate to develop. Linear isn't perfect, but in my experience it's far, far less prone to the running in circles, fragmentation, and aimlessness that nested comments seem to breed.

And that's a personal preference, of course, because ultimately I guess in a community setting I like to see a single discussion rather than several, which a linear system is better (again, in my experience) at producing.

If we're talking about LJ getting things right, though, the Friends page aggregating both internal content (other LJ users) and external content (who remembers hating LJ RSS feed points?) was great. Facebook's efforts to cripple their equivalent for money are going to end up killing it, I think. The other thing is privacy settings. LJ's filters model was outstanding (to the point that I'd consider stepping away from couching this as my opinion and say that it is the objectively correct way to do privacy settings) and the only system I've seen that seems to have learned from it was the Google+ circles. I remember saying such on + early on and getting a comment from Brad Fitzpatrick that simply said ";)".
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:06 AM on April 16 [2 favorites]


I still use AIM to communicate with my team at work. Incidentally, the iPhone app (the actual AIM app) works better than any of the competitors.
posted by koeselitz at 11:58 AM on April 16


BREAK EVERY LINK YOU EVER POSTED ON YOUR BLOG

growls quietly at tumblr



put a blank blog up on your old url, customize the theme and put this in the head tag:

<script>
window.location.replace('http://newurl.tumblr.com' + window.location.pathname);
</script>

posted by p3on at 12:08 PM on April 16 [5 favorites]


"With a nested comments system you always end up in a situation where nobody's even seeing the discussion outside of their particular thread or threads and there's no meaningful way for an overarching tone or progression of a discussion or debate to develop."

That does happen, though part of the solution to that is another idea I had which wasn't implemented...

Basically, you need a way of rating comments -- even nested comments -- and having them "pop", be mirrored, sticky'ed, or even manually moderated -- out of the nested comments system, so that they are visible to others.

This would've been a bit like an advanced, editable, moderatable version of a ratings system... a more advanced version of what Slashdot had, certainly.

But really... there is a lot of work that can and should be done in researching and designing better systems of commenting and automated moderation out there, as good, high-quality comments are oftentimes more valuable than the post itself, which is usually a mere introduction to a topic.

Comments are, frankly, what are most powerful about the Internet. If you took FB and took away all the comments, you'd see it shrivel and die within months. People wouldn't spend more than a few minutes a day there.
posted by markkraft at 12:19 PM on April 16


I still use AIM, though it's through Adium, because there are a couple friends I still talk to on it and we're basically internet fossils.

Me too, though through Trillian. It annoys all my other fossil friends, who all seem to have moved to Apple's walled IM garden (whatever that's called).

AIM still functions, the way a ghost town silently weathers on.

Gee, thanks.

AOL declined to provide numbers on active users for this story, but a 2011 report said AIM held a 0.7% share of the world messenger market.

Part of the 1% at last!
posted by The Bellman at 1:07 PM on April 16


AIM and most of the other conglomerate-backed messenger systems came and went, but the Citadel-based BBS that I use is still going strong.

It was a sad day at my big huge company when they blocked AIM at the firewall in favor of the then-current Microsoft client. Made working with third parties more difficult, but at least some of the user names were cleaned up, I guess.

Jabber plays an extraordinarily important part of EVE diplomacy and corporate communication.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 1:44 PM on April 16 [1 favorite]


Rich flood of nostalgia feelings. Sad lonely kid in rural Newfoundland staying up super late to be on AIM when friends on the west coast signed on (4.5 hour time difference!). We're talking 2, 3, even 4 am on school nights. Always ready to cut the power and make a soundless dash to my basement bedroom if I heard my parents stir upstairs. Absolutely vital to the survival of 15-year-old me.
posted by erlking at 2:22 PM on April 16 [2 favorites]


God i miss AIM.

Every single damn person i knew had it. all of them. It was more reliable than texting, or facebook chat, or anything that exists now i can think of. Some people i can only really get ahold of by snapchatting them a pic and seeing if they'll respond, some people will reply on fb chat but never anywhere else, some people only text, etc.

With AIM, if someone showed as online and you messaged them you were almost guaranteed to hear back if they actually wanted to talk to you.

Also, mostly what i miss, is that me and all my friends spent a lot of time trying to get the best names we could possibly get. Mine was "Internet Serious"(the exact max number of characters, and i later changed the display name to include the space which they allowed even though it was over the max! i tried to do this again with another name later and they had closed the hole, but mine remained).

Other all-stars included "A 14 year old girl" in some spacing(or was it a 12 year old girl?), "lol i'm hacking", and plenty of offensive ones designed to play on the whole "$insertname is typing" thing(like "a donkey rapist", etc). Everyone had to have some really clever name.

I guess i'm also pouring out some malt liquor for usernames in general. Now that everything wants you to sign in with facebook connect, other sites are jumping the bandwagon, and facebook itself bans not using your real name... they're kinda dying a slow death.

A username could tell you a lot about someone. Was it from a show/song/band/some other media they loved? Was it just something odd they have come up with? Was it some witty joke? Was it a quip that only they thought was witty?

It was sort of a precursor to how much you could tell about someone by looking at their myspace for 10 seconds, which i miss too. Facebook is just way too sanitized of personality at times, and AIM had some of that personality too.
posted by emptythought at 2:33 PM on April 16 [3 favorites]


So am I the only one who took away from that article that the executives who resisted AIM's continued development were kind of right to do so? It sounds like it took a lot of resources to support and any network effects that it did have mostly led to more free AIM signups rather than AOL signups. The cross-platform direction was interesting, but it doesn't seem like there was any economic or technological framework existing at the time that would make it worth holding on to. I loved AIM as much as anyone, and it certainly wouldn't be wrong to accuse AOL of a company-wide culture of short-sightedness, but I don't see how AIM as it existed could ever have been a good investment for them.
posted by invitapriore at 3:18 PM on April 16


After 21 more Microsoft updates that attempted to connect to AIM, AOL threatened to introduce malicious code into MSN's system. Checkmate.

AOL had triumphed.
Wait, what? I'm very curious how they'd have managed to do this with their protocol. Does this mean that AIM at one point tried to execute some arbitrary code sent to it over the protocol in order to verify that the client was legit?
posted by Aleyn at 3:28 PM on April 16


So am I the only one who took away from that article that the executives who resisted AIM's continued development were kind of right to do so?

It would seem that way at a glance. However...

Consider though that, as SMS began its adoption, phone carriers were paying AIM per message to ensure an audience for their not-yet-accepted mobile devices in the US. As a result, there was an opening for AIM to capture a worldwide portion of all SMS use given feature overlap. Even as a small slice, that could have been...a modest market opportunity.

(In 2011, the worldwide mobile messaging market was worth US $202 billion.)
posted by massless at 6:49 PM on April 16 [1 favorite]


I was still using AIM up until about a year ago, but over the previous 3-4 years it had dwindled down to just one or two of my old friends that kept it up. Most everyone had moved on by that point. Now I keep in touch with those people via texts, the occasional facebook message or not at all (and so my social life has dwindled considerably unfortunately). It used to be so easy to jump on and be having 4-5 conversations going within minutes. If someone was online, that meant they were at home with presumably not much going on. But with texts or smartphones you have no idea if they're busy/without a signal/etc. so there's no reasonable expectation that someone will get back to you quickly.

(And like a number of people here I suspect, my current MeFi name is the same as my old AIM name, so instead of the sophisticated wit an adult would put forth/appreciate I'm stuck being identified by words a 12 year old found funny to say.)
posted by fishmasta at 7:03 PM on April 16


I often wonder what would have happened if AOL were forced to have followed through on an interoperability plan for AIM. I forget the details, but part of an anti-trust decision on AOL at some point (maybe the ICQ acquisition?) was that they would have to support open interoperability with competitor's IM networks, notably MSN Messenger. They agreed to do it, then claimed it was impossible, and dragged it out long enough a court let them off the hook.

A big part of why email works is it's interoperable; you can have many email providers. The IM balkanization really has hampered the whole medium, both chat and ad-hoc file sharing. Nerds like us in the know use Adium or Pidgin or whatever but it's always a bit of a crapshoot as to whether it will work, and anyway it's not a majority experience.


I'm still upset that they didn't follow through on the interoperability thing—and that Google ruined Google Talk/AIM integration with its updates, too. I used to have hundreds of people on my buddy lists across multiple usernames, and I could talk to them all by opening up Gmail. I spent so much time in college hacking AIM (changing the icons with ResHack, customizing it with DeadAIM...) and writing away messages. (I even had a friend who started a blog that was nothing but a record of his incredibly witty away messages, sort of Twitter-like in itself.) I had friends who built multiple AIM bots for the fun of it, the way people now make Twitter bots.

My college blog pretty much started with some vague stuff (what would now be called "subtweets") in my AIM profile (and subprofile—remember those?). And remember AIM Express? That was a lifeline when I got sexiled to the computer lab... AIM's crappy icons are also one reason why, to this day, I still put spaces in my smileys. : ) (The other reason being that they just space out better that way, in my opinion.)

Now, AIM circa 2009 was a lonely, lonely place. And it was dying even in 2008. But after Google Talk and AIM divorced, no one except apparently me actually tried to add their AIM friends to Google Talk by adding @aol.com to their AIM usernames (and no one accepted my invitations using that format), and the lack of interoperability pretty much destroyed anything that was left of AIM's user base.

Every single damn person i knew had it. all of them. It was more reliable than texting, or facebook chat, or anything that exists now i can think of. Some people i can only really get ahold of by snapchatting them a pic and seeing if they'll respond, some people will reply on fb chat but never anywhere else, some people only text, etc.

Yep, this. When I got a smartphone a few years ago, I tried a few IM clients and eventually settled on IM+ Pro, which lets me stay logged into Facebook Chat and AIM all the time, sort of reproducing what I once had with AIM via Gmail—but nowhere near as many people are available that way. Some people seem to stay logged into Facebook a lot of the time on their phones—but out of my 500-plus Facebook friends, only a handful seem to be available on chat at any given time.

It's just so damn sad that the promise of IM interoperability was so handily destroyed at the hands of megacorporations with no appreciation for their user base. How quickly we forget that AIM was part of what birthed Twitter.
posted by limeonaire at 10:16 PM on April 16 [1 favorite]


I kinda feel like AIM is a part of my past now. And not a big one. When I reboot my computer, Adium signs into AIM, and I get people I haven't really talked to very much popping up. And I remember why I don't talk to them much, and then I quietly disconnect from AIM after a conversation has trailed off, and don't talk to them again until the next reboot. Which is usually not for months. There's a couple people I kinda miss due to this but, well. Babies and bathwater, I guess. Maybe someday I should clue those folks in to my current IM preferences, though they also know my email address and will use it when they need to.

Pretty much all my real-time one-on-one conversation happens over Google Talk these days. It probably helps that my phone is pretty much logged into GTalk all the time; I've just trained people to expect that I may reply instantly, or may take hours. And Twitter's where I hang out with my friends. Who, when the subject comes up, will all talk about how much they miss Livejournal.

I'm really not sure if the fragmentation of IM is a good thing or a bad thing. I kinda like the way I can quietly cut whole swathes of people in and out of my life by just changing what network I'm present on.
posted by egypturnash at 1:33 PM on April 17 [1 favorite]


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