20 years later, AOL Instant Messenger’s retirement is a testament to advancement in R&D

In the not-so-distant past, before direct messaging, texting, and smartphones, before Snapchat, Instagram, WhatsApp, Skype, before the boom of Twitter and Facebook, only one online communication method reigned supreme: AOL Instant Messenger.  Known as “AIM” for short, the AOL messenger, along with its counterparts by Microsoft and Yahoo, changed the way people interacted with each other online.

AIM first appeared on the scene in 1997 and, by 2001, it had over 100 million users. While Yahoo and MSN messengers were widely used outside of the United State, AIM was the most popular instant messenger among Americans.  The messenger’s trademark “buddy list”, screen names, and immediate, simultaneous access to multiple friends changed communication during a time when most people talked to each other over the phone. Now twenty years since its launch, AIM will officially retire by December 15, 2017. Oath, the company behind AOL, announced the news last week. Michael Albers, Head of Communications, stated, “AIM tapped into new digital technologies and ignited a cultural shift, but the way in which we communicate with each other has profoundly changed.”

The messenger had sparked new user behaviours that are now common practice in contemporary social media. Before Facebook statuses, there were AIM’s “Away Messages” which allowed users to creatively update their friends of their whereabouts. Before adding “friends” on Facebook, there was asking for people’s screennames. AIM profile stalking was a precursor to Facebook profile stalking.

While no one has used the messenger in years, nostalgia has burst across the internet reminiscing how the now-obsolete technology was once transformative. Adam Lashinsky wrote in Fortune, “At the risk of oversharing, it is no understatement to say I began dating my wife on AIM. She worked at AOL when I joined TheStreet.com, and she was on AIM as much as I was. I remember early instant messaging chats far more than phone chats.” In The Guardian, Matthew Cantor recalled, “For me, as a 14-year-old, AIM was a revelation. Here was a way I could communicate with my peers – including those who were objectively cooler than me – without stammering or panicking…That’s because, behind the wall of the computer screen, we had the time and distance to craft much wittier banter.”

AIM’s retirement demonstrates how times have changed. The instant messaging era has since been replaced by smartphones and apps. Nevertheless, the technical innovation that sparked AIM and contributed to its decline will continue. Lashinsky poignantly stated, “Like many consumer technologies that went before it, AIM ushered in a revolution that quickly left it behind. I can’t say I’ll miss it. But I sure am glad it existed.”

The rise and fall of AOL demonstrates the advancement and innovation of R&D in the communication technology sector. If you are developing software and programs building on AOL Messenger’s legacy, your R&D activities may be eligible for the R&D tax credit and you could receive up to 14% on your research and development expenses. To find out more, please contact a Swanson Reed R&D Specialist today.

Swanson Reed regularly hosts free webinars and provides free IRS CE credits as well as CPE credits for CPA’s.  For more information please visit us at www.swansonreed.org/webinars or contact your usual Swanson Reed representative.

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