So long, AIM: Our favorite memories

AOL Instant Messenger was embarrassing and messy. We CNET staffers wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

CNET staff
7 min read

AIM helped us learn to type, sparked new friendships and shaped our earliest internet experiences.

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Of all the things we expected to be nostalgically heartbroken over, the fall of AOL Instant Messenger didn't even rank. And yet, here we are.

When AOL announced last week the historic chat program will be, well, history -- as of Dec. 15 -- our team here at CNET started to share amongst ourselves. AIM helped us learn to type, sparked new friendships and shaped our earliest internet experiences. Who would have thought that an outmoded instant messaging platform bearing the name of a defunct internet service provider could spark such passion?

That nostalgia felt wasted sitting in Slack and email, so instead we're sharing them with you. These are CNET's memories of AIM: our stories, our away messages and our horrifically embarrassing screen names.

Do you have an AIM story to share? Add yours in the comments section below. 

Bridget Carey

Screen name: I'm not telling you because I still use it

I spent way too much time crafting away messages in high school and college. Usually some cryptic song lyric or obscure TV show quote that shows I'm thinking about deep things but maybe it's all about you -- but you'll never know.

And I don't even care to shake these zipper blues
And we don't know just where our bones will rest
To dust I guess
Forgotten and absorbed into the earth below

Sean Buckley

Screen name: "Green_Skates," because I had skates. And they were green.

My parents were at an impasse. My teachers were telling them that the internet was a wealth of educational knowledge, but the news warned that the web was filled with predators. There was a compromise. I could use the internet, but had to stay away from chat rooms and forums, and making friends was strictly off-limits.

AOL Instant Messenger was where I broke those rules. Not on purpose, at first. I started using AIM as a way to talk to my school friends, but over time, that changed. Kids they met in other chatrooms started showing up in our chats, links were given out to video game forums and, before long, we were making friends with 12- and 13-year-olds all across the world. In secret. To talk about Pokemon, mostly. Good times.

Laura Hautala

Screen name: wileywordgirl

When I got into AIM my freshman year of college, I found a place where people were solidifying their friendships and shaping the way people saw them. And it was surprising how essential it was for getting to know people. In other words, it was just like modern day social media but completely stripped down.

Unlike the platforms that followed, you shaped your AIM identity relying only on your choice of screen name, a clever away message, and a buddy profile that could be formatted just with different font types and background colors. No selfies, no hashtags, and certainly no videos with filters that could automatically detect your face. (You could use an animated buddy icon and they were wonderfully stupid. One of my screen names had a bouncing image of Pom Pom from Homestar Runner attached to it.)

It was amazing how expressive these few tools could be. You could show off who your close friends were by quoting your own conversations in your away message. You could hint at the deeply important drama of your life in your buddy profile with song lyrics or by referring to people and events without giving details -- a precursor to vaguebooking and subtweeting.

And while there were other options for presenting an online identity (LiveJournal, GeoCities websites and BBS chat boards, to name a few), this was the most important tool for interacting with your IRL friends online.

And all those horrible times when you couldn't download the AIM software onto your computer and desperately needed to talk to your friends? Thank God for AIM Express!!

Jason Parker

Screen name: Not telling because I still use it for other things

My first experience of AIM is pretty embarrassing because it's where I learned one of the oldest Internet acronyms: lol. I kept seeing it come up in conversations in chat rooms and -- not knowing what it meant -- I thought it was a sort of symbol for a football referee holding up his arms to signal a touchdown. Like I thought it meant "that is correct!" or something. Fortunately a friend finally told me it meant "laughing out loud" and proceeded to laugh out loud at what I thought it was. Yeah, I don't know what I was thinking either.

Ashlee Clark Thompson

Screen name: goodgrrl2003, because goodgirl2003 was taken.

After "TRL" aired each day, I'd double-check with my mom to make sure I could use our one phone line to get on the internet. (She usually gave me an hour.) Then, I'd hop on my desktop computer and discuss the music videos that the daily countdown show featured. With AIM, we didn't have to wait until homeroom the next day to talk Backstreet Boys, Korn, Limp Bizkit or Juvenile and how high their videos ranked on "TRL." (It was an interesting time in pop music.) We could just scoot on over to our computers and have a private conversation without parents or siblings meddling close by, even if you were like me and had a time limit on how long you could keep the phone line tied up.

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Alexandra Able

Screen name: balletgirla

I wasn't supposed to go on AIM without my parents, so my dad set it up for me while I wasn't standing there. I really don't know why, but he did. And at the time I had been doing ballet, and he just thought it was such a cute username. I was so mad at him because I didn't even like ballet that much, and he just made it while saying "but sweetie you're so cute when you dance!" I then used it to talk to boys I liked ... I don't think my dad intended me to use it that way. 

Sean Hollister

Screen name: StarFire2258

You know when someone says how a piece of technology (or these days, food) totally changed their life? Don't roll your eyes quite yet: I don't think it's a stretch to say AIM made me the person I am today -- and not just online.

It's the place I learned how to talk to people and share opinions and thoughts and dreams I'd never found the courage to voice in public. It was the place where I, an awkward, homeschooled kid attending public school for the first time, was able to make and hang onto friends. And it was the place, 14 years ago, that I finally convinced my high school crush to go out with me. (I've still got the chat logs.) We've been together ever since.

Oh, and it was the place I created my first and only online identity: StarFire2258. No matter how many people tease me about Teen Titans (a comic/show I wasn't aware of at the time and have never tried since), I keep it alive -- to remember where I came from.

Morgan Little

Screen name: writinggeek88

AIM was a strange introduction into the *real* internet, beyond early forays into Lego.com or googling "When is Van Helsing showing?" It set the stage for everything we love and hate the internet for today. Projection, subtweeting, sharing things we wouldn't publicly admit to enjoying, drama, celebration, poor grammar and inside jokes that seeped into lunchroom conversation.

What happened on AIM the night before is what drove the conversations at school the day after, which is a bizarre mirror of how we're all living our lives today.

Lexy Savvides

Screen name: I don't remember

While my IM platform of choice was always ICQ (uh-oh!) followed by MSN (R.I.P.), AIM was still a huge novelty for me living in Australia. I was first introduced to it when I installed the client from one of hundreds of AOL Online CDs that I collected from various PC and gaming magazines in the late '90s/early '00s. (In case you were wondering, America Online was still called that Down Under.)

Thanks to AIM I was introduced to the wonderful world of A/S/L and always pretended I was 18/F/Miami. I don't know why, but I thought it sounded really cool.

Scott Stein

Screen name: neoscott

AIM was a mysterious door. I picked neoscott way, way before "The Matrix" even existed: "Neo" was something I just thought sounded cool. Also, it was the New Me. I remember dialing up, finding a room and trying to talk. Sometimes conversations happened. Sometimes they were chaos. It was a preview of the entire world we live in now.

Later on, it became a way to chat quickly with someone I knew on a computer. But the original world of AOL, way before the messenger app, was so much stranger. I wrote a play about chat rooms in 1995, called "Utopia Parkway." I directed it my senior year in college, and we used a projector to show a chat simulator on stage on a screen while actors wore masks. Few people went online to chat regularly back then. Now, it's not a mystery world ... it's just the world.

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