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The end-and lasting impact-of AIM

In a world of Slack, WhatsApp, Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, will anyone truly mourn the passing of AIM, despite 20 years in business? And yet, the impact of the instant messenger service should not be underestimated. 

We Xennials, the first teenagers of the internet, used it to do so much more than gossip about which boys we liked, who they probably liked, and what kind of Solero was the best. Through AIM, we started to define what living online meant, and how social life worked in this new virtual world. This is the legacy of AIM:

Social Media Addiction: now a thing 

Hi! Oh, hey! What you up to? Nothing much! You? We logged in and out, hoping our crush would notice. Were we “doing homework on the computer” as we promised out parents? Hell, no. That craving to connect has now been fed by a whole industry of apps and platforms. And nobody knew we wanted that – we didn’t even know ourselves – until there was AIM.

Texting > talking 

We realized that’s it’s easier (though not always wiser) to send a quick message rather than to look someone in the eyes and talk. Obviously, we migrated this concept onto our phones as soon as we got them. And the era of Nobody Being Able to Commit to Dinner Plans was born.

Customization: it’s all about me 

In the absence of gifs, emojis or cat ear filters, customization back then basically meant committing to away message lyrics that expressed the very essence of your soul. Or were Spice Girls songs. Either or. Now? Customization is the foundation of all online life.

The rise of the personal brand 

We named ourselves. For the first time we got to define our identities. No longer Katherine–call-me-Kate! Now we were PickacuLuvsHoney! (just an example…) Today, of course, everyone has a personal brand, backed up with a carefully curated Insta. Back then, the name had to do all the work.

We can all type (not a joke)

I remember NOT being able to type. Like many of my friends, I had a computer on a Computer Table – we had literal furniture for computers back then – in my bedroom, and I played games on it and picked out the occasionally essay with two fingers. I’m sure we all would have got the hang of real typing eventually, but AIM accelerated our progress.


Back in 1997, AIM pinged onto our screens and into our lives promising to be the future of communication – it was right. So as we look back on its impact and legacy, what can we learn?

First isn’t everything.

Of course there’s immense value in being first, but not if you stop there.

Keep innovating.

Try to think about the basic human need that you are fulfilling and ask, is there a faster, smarter, more fun, way to do this? If you don’t, you can be sure your competitors will.

Keep your eyes and ears open.

Notice what’s capturing people’s attention. What’s different from how we used to do it? What are people interested in right now? Unplug from your headphones, and listen to what people are talking about.

The future is coming – notice, innovate, and be a part of building it.


Senior Verbal Identity Consultant