Why Oath Is Preparing to Pull Plug on Obsolete AOL Instant Messenger

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Why Oath Is Preparing to Pull Plug on Obsolete AOL Instant Messenger

In a move that signals the end of an era, Oath, the Verizon-owned company that includes the internet assets of America Online and Yahoo, announced Oct. 6 it will shut down AOL Instant Messenger Dec. 15. The move only recognizes the obvious: AIM has become irrelevant in a world dominated by mobile text messaging and social media. In that context, perhaps it’s surprising that Verizon didn't shut down AIM immediately after acquiring AOL in May 2015. AIM was one of the most important online services of the 1990s, the height of the dial-up modem era. Many of today’s internet users came of age “IM’ing” each other through AOL’s service.  This slide show will look back at AIM, dig into Oath’s decision and examine today’s marketplace to explain why it makes sense that AIM is about to offline forever.

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A Look Back at AIM

AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) started in the 1990s as a feature in AOL Desktop, which included the AOL browser, AIM and a media player. It became a standalone desktop application in 1997 as people moved to broadband and abandoned the AOL dial-up service. AIM even became a mobile solution in 2008, but its popularity has since waned.

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AIM Peaks in the Early 2000s

AIM gained popularity in the mid-1990s, but achieved its greatest success in the latter part of the decade and early 2000s. It’s estimated that more than 50 percent of U.S. internet users were using AIM to communicate, making it the most popular chatting option at the time. Yahoo Messenger and MSN Messenger were more popular in other countries.

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Mobile Connectivity Overtakes AIM

By the mid-2000s, AIM lost much of its appeal to customers. New chatting applications were introduced that took advantage of newer web technologies, and users increasingly turned to mobile devices to text friends and family. Social networks also presented new opportunities to connect. Competition from mobile and social applications proved to be AIM’s biggest issues as its popularity waned.

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Mobile AIM Fails to Catch On

In 2008, AOL announced an AIM app for the iPhone. It was part of a broader push by the company to appeal to consumers who had turned to other mobile chatting apps. However, the AIM app never really caught fire, as users stuck to built-in chatting apps and third-party services.

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Competitors Close Shop

The end seemed near in 2014, when Microsoft announced it was closing AIM competitor MSN Messenger. Last year, Yahoo shut down Yahoo Messenger, AIM’s other major competitor. It’s unclear why AIM wasn’t shuttered earlier, though some reports suggested AIM still had a somewhat sizable user base.

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Why Oath Decided to Pull the Plug

Why did Oath finally decide to shut down AIM? It likely comes down to money. Oath is the result of Verizon’s merger with AOL and Yahoo. Oath is tasked with cutting the fat out of both those operations and contributing profits to Verizon. AIM was likely viewed as a low-value service that cost the company too much, leading to the decision.

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What Happens to the Buddy List?

There are some practical AIM questions that need answers following Oath’s announcement. For one, what will happen to a user’s buddy list, cultivated over two decades? According to Oath, the buddy list will go away and users won’t be able to save or export that data.

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What Happens to All That Chat Data?

Since Oath also owns an untold amount of user data, including information about chats, preferences and more, there are some privacy concerns. However, Oath said that as of Dec. 15, all of its AIM data will be purged, leaving nothing to access that could be personally identifiable.

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AIM Email Service, Addresses Live On

AIM was used also by some users for email addresses and not necessarily chat. In its statement, Oath said aim.com email addresses will live on with no change to that service. The AIM closure is focused solely on instant messaging.

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Alternatives for Users

With AIM dying Dec. 15, some users are wondering where to go next. Built-in chatting apps such as Apple’s iMessage are good alternatives, as are some outstanding third-party chatting apps including WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Signal. There is no shortage of messaging apps today and many of them work well.

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