In less than a month, AOL Instant Messenger will be shut down for good. For a lot of ’90s children, it’s the end of an era. Many of us grew up chatting away on AIM to our school friends and, in some cases, making friends elsewhere. I made a lot of friends elsewhere, as a matter of fact, because the world was different then. We weren’t afraid of “strangers from the internet” just yet (even though we now summon them to drive us places and bring us food), so hopping into a chat room with 25 other people spread out all over the globe was no big deal. And for a kid who was awkward like myself, my interactions on AIM helped me learn about human behavior and how to socialize better.
AIM was the first real mainstream way that we could “text message” our friends and family members, before the technology really took off on mobile phones. It was quicker than an email and seemed more personal. We could have real conversations but also still allow the time to think about our responses. There was nothing better, and the author of that article linked up above is right when he says that the service ignited a cultural shift. But the tech world has changed dramatically in the years since AIM’s prominence and a lot of our communication now takes place on social media and in chat apps. But for the small percentage out there who might still be using AIM regularly either socially or for their business, the announcement that it’ll be going away soon has incited panic.
Where do we go from AIM?
Here’s four alternatives to sink your teeth into. And while our emo away messages and the iconic buddy list sounds of doors opening and closing may never again be the same, some of these services might actually just wind up being major improvements!
Social media giant Facebook launched what is probably the easiest messaging app to get into for one simple reason: everyone you know is already using it! I’m pretty sure the number of people with Facebook accounts in this world far outnumbers those who don’t have one by now, and with Messenger, you can send an instant message to almost any of them via Facebook’s standalone web client (which can be found at Messenger.com; brilliantly simple, huh?) and mobile apps for both Android and iOS. Support for emoji, stickers, gifs, Snapchat-like photo filters, and tons of other features have some users feeling like it’s a tad bit bloated, but if you’re into those kinds of things, it just enhances the service that much more. And if you aren’t? Good news: There’s a “lite” version of Messenger available now, too!
Personally, I use Messenger daily to communicate with friends, family, and coworkers in group chats and one-on-one. Though I’m fully aware there are a lot of other apps that have been developed considerably better, Facebook still rules supreme until people learn to get a little braver with the brands they’re used to and start downloading other apps. Until that day, Messenger works just fine.
Tech-giant Google has surprisingly had a checkered past when it comes to launching a successful messaging service. Google Talk was replaced by Google Hangouts, which has undergone a few changes and renovations itself before its current iteration. Now there are two new Google messaging apps: Allo and Duo, one of which is for messaging and the other for video messaging, both of which Hangouts seems to accomplish just fine on its own. Regardless of Google’s confusion, Hangouts is a little less feature-rich than Facebook’s Messenger, but it can be considered significantly more stable for most platforms and users that consider the Facebook equivalent to be slow, buggy, and bloated. Also in comparison to Facebook’s vehicle, Hangouts ties in with the rest of the Google ecosystem, so if you have a Gmail, YouTube, or Google+ account already, you might also have a Hangouts account and don’t even realize it!
What makes Facebook’s Messenger so popular too is how accessible people are since the social media service is so popular. Hangouts doesn’t suffer too much in this department either since you can access Hangouts directly within the Gmail window, and Gmail itself is a popular service for personal email accounts. Unless the person you’re trying to contact is still hanging out on Yahoo or Hotmail, getting in touch with them via Hangouts is a pretty sure bet. Plus, Hangouts basically pioneered the ability to video chat with a group! You can basically host entire video conferences with each member on opposite sides of the globe with this bad boy!
Hangouts also has its own web client and apps available on almost every platform.
When social giants Facebook and Google both have their own forms of instant communication, why seek out another? Well, as it turns out, there’s actually a lot of reasons! WhatsApp was one of the first mainstream mobile messaging apps out there that was also fully-featured. What that means is that WhatsApp wasn’t just instant messaging — their service also includes completely free voice and video calling, which practically would have been seen as revolutionary a decade ago. I mean, there are still people paying for long-distance and international calling when you and the other person can just hop on WhatsApp and communicate for free!!!
WhatsApp also has a whole host of other fantastic features, but more than anything I want to point out that it’s also built with end-to-end encryption enabled by default. If you aren’t familiar with end-to-end encryption, that means that the information and data being transmitted between the sender and the receiver(s) are completely secured between just the sender and the receiver(s). The risk of any sensitive info falling into the wrong hands via hacking with WhatsApp is pretty slim to none!
Just like the previous two options, WhatsApp is also available on both Android and iOS and has a sweet web client.
Quick disclaimer: Discord was built for gamers. But you don’t have to be one to use it. In fact, it’s my opinion that everyone should use Discord! Over the past few years, the developers of this completely free-to-use program have added all the best aspects of Slack, TeamSpeak, and Skype and rolled it all into one really fun and customizable package! Whether you’re joining a public or private chat server, or creating one of your very own, Discord has virtually everything you need: Voice chat, text chat, powerful management and customization tools, private one-on-one messaging and buddy lists, and they’re even currently developing video chatting and screen-sharing! And since the service was built for gamers, it’s a major bonus if you happen to play anything on PC because Discord has some really innovative ways to implement voice chat into your games to create a seamless experience when grouping up with your friends to play!
Discord is personally how I both keep in touch and play online with my sister and nephew out in Kansas and we have nothing but praise for the service. If you aren’t on Discord, you should be!
You can get Discord for your mobile apps as well as on the web.
If none of the above sound appealing to you, here are some other messaging alternatives that might also prove popular with current and former AIM users:
- Telegram: This one seems very much like WhatsApp in that it’s very fully-featured and secure!
- Signal: A private alternative to text messaging.
- Slack: Imagine Discord but for work and business.
- Rocket.Chat: Host your own web chat server like Slack!
- LINE: A Japanese group and community messaging app.
- ICQ: One of the world’s oldest and most reliable instant messengers.
- Yahoo! Messenger: Another one of the old players in the instant messenger game, developed and recently re-designed by Yahoo!
Out of all of these selections, it’s unfortunate that there isn’t an official legacy service for current AIM users to make the move to. It’ll be interesting to see how many websites, APIs, and other multi-messenger clients that have folded AIM into its features for so long will adjust once AIM is taken offline for good.