David Silverman/Getty Images
David Silverman/Getty Images

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.”

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E. A. Tilly, Library of Congress // Public Domain
The 19th Century Poet Who Predicted a 1970s Utopia
An electric airship departing Paris in 1883.
An electric airship departing Paris in 1883.
E. A. Tilly, Library of Congress // Public Domain

In 1870, John Collins dreamed of a future without cigarettes, crime, or currency inflation. The Quaker poet, teacher, and lithographer authored "1970: A Vision for the Coming Age," a 28-page-long poem that imagines what the world would be like a century later—or, as Collins poetically puts it, in "nineteen hundred and threescore and ten.”

The poem, recently spotlighted by The Public Domain Review, is a fanciful epic that follows a narrator as he travels in an airship from Collins’s native New Jersey to Europe, witnessing the wonders of a futuristic society.

In Collins’s imagination, the world of the future seamlessly adheres to his own Quaker leanings. He writes: “Suffice it to say, every thing that I saw / Was strictly conformed to one excellent law / That forbade all mankind to make or to use / Any goods that a Christian would ever refuse.” For him, that means no booze or bars, no advertising, no “vile trashy novels,” not even “ribbons hung flying around.” Needless to say, he wouldn’t have been prepared for Woodstock. In his version of 1970, everyone holds themselves to a high moral standard, no rules required. Children happily greet strangers on their way to school (“twas the custom of all, not enforced by a rule”) before hurrying on to ensure that they don’t waste any of their “precious, short study hours.”

It’s a society whose members are never sick or in pain, where doors don’t need locks and prisons don’t exist, where no one feels tempted to cheat, lie, or steal, and no one goes bankrupt. There is no homelessness. The only money is in the form of gold and silver, and inflation isn't an issue. Storms, fires, and floods are no longer, and air pollution has been eradicated.

While Collins’s sunny outlook might have been a little off-base, he did hint at some innovations that we’d recognize today. He describes international shipping, and comes decently close to predicting drone delivery—in his imagination, a woman in Boston asks a Cuban friend to send her some fruit that “in half an hour came, propelled through the air.” He kind of predicts CouchSurfing (or an extremely altruistic version of Airbnb), imagining that in the future, hotels wouldn't exist and kind strangers would just put you up in their homes for free. He dreams up undersea cables that could broadcast a kind of live video feed of musicians from around the world, playing in their homes, to a New York audience—basically a YouTube concert. He describes electric submarines (“iron vessels with fins—a submarine line, / propels by galvanic action alone / and made to explore ocean’s chambers unknown") and trains that run silently. He even describes climate change, albeit a much more appealing view of it than we’re experiencing now. In his world, “one perpetual spring had encircled the earth.”

Collins might be a little disappointed if he could have actually witnessed the world of 1970, which was far from the Christian utopia he hoped for. But he would have at least, presumably, really enjoyed plane rides.

You can read the whole thing here.

[h/t The Public Domain Review]

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iStock
NASA Has a Plan to Stop the Next Asteroid That Threatens Life on Earth
iStock
iStock

An asteroid colliding catastrophically with Earth within your lifetime is unlikely, but not out of the question. According to NASA, objects large enough to threaten civilization hit the planet once every few million years or so. Fortunately, NASA has a plan for dealing with the next big one when it does arrive, Forbes reports.

According to the National Near-Earth Object Preparedness Strategy and Action Plan [PDF] released by the White House on June 21, there are a few ways to handle an asteroid. The first is using a gravity tractor to pull it from its collision course. It may sound like something out of science fiction, but a gravity tractor would simply be a large spacecraft flying beside the asteroid and using its gravitational pull to nudge it one way or the other.

Another option would be to fly the spacecraft straight into the asteroid: The impact would hopefully be enough to alter the object's speed and trajectory. And if the asteroid is too massive to be stopped by a spacecraft, the final option is to go nuclear. A vehicle carrying a nuclear device would be launched at the space rock with the goal of either sending it in a different direction or breaking it up into smaller pieces.

Around 2021, NASA will test its plan to deflect an asteroid using a spacecraft, but even the most foolproof defense strategy will be worthless if we don’t see the asteroid coming. For that reason, the U.S. government will also be working on improving Near-Earth Object (NEO) detection, the technology NASA uses to track asteroids. About 1500 NEOs are already detected each year, and thankfully, most of them go completely unnoticed by the public.

[h/t Forbes]

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