7 Fast Facts About AIM to Make You LOL

David Silverman/Getty Images
David Silverman/Getty Images

AIM, the chat service that ruled the '90s and the early 2000s, is dead. AOL’s parent company Oath has announced that it would be retiring the service (which, to be honest, we didn’t realize was still kicking), sending that yellow running man off into the sunset on December 15, 2017. In fond remembrance of the pre-social-media days when the beeps and door-shutting sound effects of AIM were the soundtrack to procrastination everywhere, here are seven facts about the pioneering chat service:

1. IT STARTED OFF AS AN OFF-THE-BOOKS COMPANY PROJECT …

IM-ing had long been a part of AOL’s functionality, but in 1996, a very small group of AOL employees began working on the idea of a free (remember when you paid for AOL?) standalone messaging service. They didn’t pitch the idea to AOL’s executives, and worked on the project unofficially using servers that someone at the company’s data centers had “lost,” as the engineers who started the project told Mashable in 2014. Once it was added to AOL’s public servers, AIM was an instant success, despite the fact that you had to download it directly from a server address—there wasn’t even a webpage for it. By 1999, it had 40 million users and was the “de facto standard for instant messaging over the Internet,” according to The New York Times. In 2003, it was handling about 2 billion messages a day.

2. … AND SOME OF ITS MOST ICONIC FEATURES WERE LAUNCHED WITHOUT COMPANY APPROVAL.

The engineers who had created AIM as an under-the-radar project were also quick to update it without permission from up the chain. This process led to some of the system’s most iconic features, including the buddy icon. Despite the massive successes of the software, the corporate overlords at AOL never quite got behind it, in part because they couldn’t come up with a way to monetize it that fit with the rest of the AOL subscription service.

3. IT CHANGED THE WAY PEOPLE TALKED ONLINE.

AOL offered its users a built-in selection of 16 smiley faces in the late '90s, according to CNN. And then there were the LOLs. In a story on AIM and teens in 2003, The New York Times wrote, “In fact, instant messaging has become an unofficial dialect, and devising misspelled versions of words lacking as many vowels as possible has become a literary form.”

4. IT WAS DESIGNED TO LET PEOPLE CHAT AT WORK, WHETHER THEIR BOSSES LIKED IT OR NOT.

According to Mashable’s 2014 history on the subject, programmers working on AIM “made the program the bane of IT departments.” The engineers were focused on consumers, not their irate bosses, and created features in the software that allowed it to circumvent network blocks, allowing users to ROFL about their bosses unimpeded.

5. IT WAS AT THE CENTER OF A TECH FEUD.

In the late 1990s, AOL fought hard to keep competitors from getting in on the instant-messenger game, and refused to make its software open to outside developers. Both Microsoft and Yahoo tried to create software that would allow their users to see and communicate with AIM users—like how you can send an email to someone even if you’ve got an Outlook account and they use Gmail. AOL was not happy, and blocked the software immediately. Microsoft responded by tweaking MSN Messenger to get past AOL’s block. AOL blocked it again. According to AIM creator Eric Bosco, the two companies went through the same dance 21 different times before Microsoft gave up. For what it’s worth: MSN Messenger shut down in 2014.

6. IT COULD HAVE BEEN THE NEXT NAPSTER.

Another intriguing tidbit from Mashable’s interviews with AIM’s creators: AOL engineers tried to give the chat software capabilities similar to the infamous file-sharing service Napster. They called the project “Aimster” internally, creating functions where users could search their friends’ files and transfer them to their own computers. It never made it out of the development phase. (There was, actually, a file-sharing service called Aimster founded in 2000, but AOL sued the company for copyright infringement, forcing it to become Madster.)

7. IT INFLUENCED GCHAT IMMENSELY.

Unsurprisingly, AOL’s pioneering chat service made a huge mark on the instant messaging of today. Justin Uberti, a lead software architect for Google messaging apps, had also played a large role in AIM. “You can definitely see the influence of the early work that Justin did,” Bosco told Digital Trends in 2016. “You can see a lot of that taking shape in some of the Google offerings.”

12 Facts About Guglielmo Marconi

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Today, we take the radio for granted—but just before the turn of the 20th century, the concept of wireless transmissions seemed like science fiction. When Guglielmo Marconi began experimenting with the technology and created the first radio, his invention took the world by storm. Read on for more facts about this enterprising scientist.

1. MARCONI NEVER HAD A FORMAL EDUCATION IN SCIENCE.

Born in Bologna, Italy, in 1874, Marconi had a privileged upbringing. His father, Giuseppe Marconi, was an aristocrat; his mother Annie Jameson was the granddaughter of Scottish whisky baron John Jameson. With his family’s wealth and connections, Marconi studied privately with a series of tutors instead of attaining a formal education in science. One of his mentors was physicist Augusto Righi, who taught Marconi about German physicist Heinrich Hertz’s early research confirming the existence of electromagnetic waves, a.k.a. radio waves. Marconi, with Righi’s encouragement, began operating his own lab in the attic and on the grounds of his family’s estate in 1894.

2. HE CREATED THE FIRST FUNCTIONAL RADIO TRANSMITTER.

Hertz’s discovery had caused a sensation back in 1888, but scientists could not yet discern a practical application for radio waves. According to Marc Raboy, author of Marconi: The Man Who Networked the World, “nothing published at that time in any way suggested a connection between Hertz’s work and the communication of intelligible signals … this was Marconi’s idea, and he was certainly the first to put it into practice.”

Fifty years earlier, Samuel F.B. Morse had demonstrated telegraphy, a process that communicated signals over distances via a wire linking the transmitter and receiver. Now, Marconi started experimenting with wireless telegraphy: using radio waves to transmit signals. Marconi’s first successful transmissions used a telegraph key to send a spark across a gap between two electrodes. This apparatus was connected to an antenna, which would send out the ensuing radio waves to a receiver called a coherer (first developed by a French physicist named Edouard Branly). The key allowed Marconi to make short and long pulses, akin to the dots and dashes of Morse code, across a distance. A coherer receiver transmitted the pulses to a register that printed the sequences onto paper so they could be read.

At first, the transmission distance was only the length of a room, but Marconi then moved his operation outdoors and achieved successful transmissions across longer distances.

3. HE FILED HIS FIRST PATENT AT AGE 22.

In search of a wider audience for his new technology, Marconi traveled to England in 1896 to give a series of presentations to the British government. He filed for his first British patent—Patent No. 12,039, for “Improvements in Transmitting Electrical Impulses and Signals, and in Apparatus Therefor”—that year, when he was just 22; it was granted in July 1897. Marconi also demonstrated for the first time that wireless communication could be achieved across open water—he successfully sent a message across the Bristol Channel to a distance of four miles. With patent in hand, Marconi launched the Marconi Company (which would have several other names throughout the 20th century). Marconi closed out 1897 by establishing the world’s first wireless station at the now-demolished Royal Needles Hotel on the Isle of Wight, while his company would go on to establish transmission stations, file updated patents, and expand wireless technology around the world.

4. THE FIRST TRANSATLANTIC WIRELESS COMMUNICATION WAS A SINGLE LETTER.

Marconi earned widespread attention for his discoveries, but there remained a fair number of skeptics. On December 12, 1901, Marconi claimed that he made the first successful transatlantic radio transmission between Cornwall, England, and St. John’s, Newfoundland in Canada—a distance of more than 2000 miles. The message? The letter S in Morse code. Other scientists, however, questioned whether radio waves could travel beyond the horizon due to the curvature of the Earth. Marconi did further tests that showed that radio waves were interacting with the ionosphere, a layer of the atmosphere that is ionized by solar radiation, which bounces radio waves back towards Earth. (Because the composition of the ionosphere changes depending on the presence or absence of the sun, some radio waves travel farther by night than during the day.) By 1902, the Marconi Company had built permanent wireless stations at Glace Bay in Nova Scotia and Cape Cod, Massachusetts to complement those in Europe, forever making transatlantic communication possible.

5. TEDDY ROOSEVELT RADIOED THE KING OF ENGLAND ON MARCONI’S WIRELESS.

In a powerful demonstration of his invention, Marconi radioed a greeting from President Theodore Roosevelt across the Atlantic to King Edward VII of England on January 18, 1903—the first successful transmission of a complete message. “In taking advantage of the wonderful triumph of scientific research and ingenuity which has been achieved in perfecting a system of wireless telegraphy,” Roosevelt wrote, “I extend on behalf of the American people the most cordial greetings and best wishes to you and all the people of the British Empire.”

6. MARCONI WAS ONE OF THE YOUNGEST NOBEL LAUREATES.

Marconi was just 35 years old when he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1909. He shared the prize with German physicist Karl Ferdinand Braun, who is widely credited with inventing the cathode ray tube, the basis for the first televisions. Braun was experimenting with wireless telegraphy around the same time as Marconi, and Marconi even credited Braun’s work in some of his patents. The two men were honored by the Nobel committee “in recognition of their contributions to the development of wireless telegraphy.”

7. MARCONI OPERATORS SAVED LIVES ON THE TITANIC.

Although most of the staff on the RMS Titanic were employed by the ship’s owner, the White Star Line, wireless operators Jack Phillips and Harold Bride were employees of the Marconi International Marine Communication Company. When the ocean liner hit an iceberg and began to sink on April 15, 1912, Bride and Phillips continued to send wireless distress messages throughout the unfolding disaster. Eventually, their signals reached the RMS Carpathia, which picked up the more than 700 Titanic survivors just as dawn was breaking. Sadly, Phillips did not survive the evacuation from the Titanic, but Bride lived [PDF]. Marconi was later hailed as a hero, with newspaper cartoons depicting him as a sea god lifting lifeboats out of the water himself.

Marconi was scheduled to give a speech in New York on April 17 and had been offered a berth on the Titanic’s maiden voyage, free of charge. He chose to sail instead on the RMS Lusitania, which was sunk in the North Atlantic by a German torpedo three years after the Titanic disaster.

8. AFTER WORLD WAR I, MARCONI FELL IN WITH THE FASCISTS.

In the 1920s, Marconi became enamored of the rising Italian nationalist movement under Benito Mussolini. In 1929, Italy’s King Victor Emmanuel III, a Mussolini supporter, made Marconi a marquess, further cementing his prominent position in Italian society. The following year Mussolini appointed Marconi president of the Royal Academy of Italy, an organization the dictator founded to promote Italian arts and sciences with a nationalist, anti-Semitic bent. In this capacity, Marconi did not allow any Jewish scientists to become members of the academy, writing the letter E (for Ebreo, the Italian word for Jew) next to their names when their applications were under review. Marconi later proclaimed his pride at being the “first fascist in the field of radiotelegraphy,” a cringe-inducing play on words—the Italian term fascia means “beam.”

Despite his right-wing politics, he remained widely admired before and after his death; in 1938, President Franklin Roosevelt even approved the installation of a memorial to Marconi in downtown Washington, D.C.

9. ITALY GAVE HIM A STATE FUNERAL.

Marconi died of a series of heart attacks in Rome on July 20, 1937, at the age of 63. The Italian government held a state funeral for him at Rome’s Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels. People crowded the streets for the funeral procession, which included military formations, a horse-drawn hearse, and a profusion of flowers. Many in the crowd raised their arms in the fascist salute as the hearse went by, acknowledging Marconi’s political leanings.

10. MARCONI IS HONORED AROUND THE WORLD—AND BEYOND.

Marconi’s inventions have been commemorated in numerous monuments, plaques, and even song lyrics. In 1934, Italian astronomer Luigi Volta discovered and named the asteroid 1332 Marconia after the inventor, and the Marconi Crater on the far side of the Moon honors him as well. Starship’s 1985 hit “We Built This City” gives him a shout-out (“Marconi plays the mamba/Listen to the radio …”). And in 1988, the National Radio Hall of Fame in Chicago inducted Marconi as a pioneer in its inaugural class of radio luminaries, alongside Edward R. Murrow, Orson Welles, and Groucho Marx.

11. A FORMERLY ABANDONED MARCONI MONUMENT IS GETTING A NEW HOME.

In 2018, the city of Coltano, Italy, welcomed a 45-year-old monument to Marconi that had been commissioned by U.S. soldiers stationed at a military base near there. Through an agreement between Italian government officials, the U.S. Army, and the Marconi family, the monument has been moved to the future site of a planned Marconi museum in Coltano, which is a significant spot in Marconi history. “In memory of Guglielmo Marconi,” the monument reads, “who near this site on 21 November 1911 linked the continents of Europe, North America, and Africa by means of wireless communication, thus establishing Coltano as a focal point in the development of worldwide communications.”

12. MARCONI’S TECHNOLOGY IS STILL USED TODAY (AND NOT JUST IN RADIO).

Marconi was way ahead of his time, envisioning a global network of wireless communication long before the digital age in which we live. Today, radio waves are used in many common devices, including cell phones, radar, Bluetooth speakers, GPS signals, garage-door openers, baby monitors, drones, and more. The next time you scroll through the apps on your phone or use a monitor to check on the baby sleeping in the next room, you can thank Marconi.

This Phone Charger Connects at a 90-Degree Angle—And It Makes All the Difference

They fray. They crack. They snap. Usually at a rate of once every four months. We’re talking about phone chargers here, and we deserve better.

To put an end to the madness once and for all, electronics and mobile tech brand Aukey created an alternative: a highly bendable charger that stays out of your way. As The Strategist notes, the charger’s USB plug and connector both extend at a 90-degree angle. This prevents you from pressing down on the cable (a common cause of breakage) every time you use your phone while charging it.

Even though the cord will be shifted away from your hands, Aukey has wrapped the cable in durable braided nylon, just for good measure. The company says the charger can withstand 10,000 bends (although who’s counting?). As The Strategist puts it: “That would allow you to bend your cable 10 times a day (though I can’t imagine why you would need to) every day for nearly three years.” Looks like you won’t need to make an emergency trip to the nearest department store for a new charger anytime soon.

The Aukey lightning cable is compatible with iPhones and Apple devices, and it’s available for purchase on Amazon for $14.99.

[h/t The Strategist]

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