The Falling of a Giant: AOL and AIM's fall into irrelevance

n 1991 America Online was founded, immediately becoming a vanguard in the internet space. America Online, now known as AOL, soon became famous for it's website greeting, "Welcome! You've got mail" sparking what many refer to as the beginning of the Information Age. Just 3 short years later AOL became the first website to pull a majority of revenue from advertisements reaching a million members in 1994. From here AOL expanded exponentially with the 1995 debut of AOL.com and following premiere of AIM 1.0, the Buddy List, and it's Running Man logo. At it's mean AOL's services exceeded 35 million active members in 2002 just before a mass exodus from the company. After a merger between AOL and Time Warner in addition to questionable advertising deals, multiple senior executives leave the company following criminal probes and investigations from the SEC and Justice Department respectively. After inflating $190 million in advertising deals and multiple missteps by the company's leadership a revised direction for the AOL and its partners aimed to revive their business model, however this "new direction" never got it's chance. Come 2006 most of AOL's services become free to use including e-mail, AIM and a majority of it's web services beginning it's fade into irrelevance.

AOL Instant Messenger. A program synonymous with online communication and a breakthrough in messaging technology allowing the mainstream for the first time to communicate in real time, a luxury many of us now take for granted.

After it's launch in May of 1997, AIM became the de facto standard for Internet communications with applications built to run on a majority of operating systems including: Windows, Mac OS/X, Linux and more. Many companies, most prominently Apple Inc. created standalone clients built right into their computers, yielding to the birth of 7 generations iChat. Seemingly adding to its major success AIM along with iChat added support for multi-person video and audio calls. AIM never lived without challengers however with the launches of Skype in 2003, then Google Talk (gChat) in 2005. Furthermore the recent challenge from FaceTime, iMessage, and Facebook have caused more issues from the former king.

That brings us to March of 2012. AOL decided to lay off over 100 employees, ending future support and development for AIM essentially killing their once revolutionary software. AOL and AIM leave behind a legacy with no clear successor. Skype, after its recent acquisition by Microsoft charges for most of its premium services. Google Talk (gChat), a fairly irritative piece of software, has one major flaw, the requirement of a Gmail account, one that many do not fulfill. Going on we look at Facebook's continued rise with launch of its mobile Messaging app as a possible replacement for AIM, however many forget its underlying videochat software is yet again, Skype. With more and more people beginning to question Facebook's privacy policies, this alternative again falls short. Finally we're left with iMessage. (BlackBerry fans, yes I know BBM came first) iMessage is truly the best messaging platform I've tried; allowing Read Receipts, typing indications and delivery delivery prompts on my Mac, and iOS devices. Yet, again we're faced with iMessage's largest flaw, you have to own an Apple device. As we've seen with Research in Motion and it's own BBM, the idea of a closed platform technology (iMessage/BBM/Etc.) is one that will clearly fail in time.

As AOL and AIM go dark we truly leave behind us an era of free and open internet. The cross platform nature that brought the rise of this giant, is the same element that ultimately caused its demise. Sadly we wave goodbye to what once was AOL Instant Messenger as America goes offline.

RIP AOL 1995-2006