AOL to shut down free Instant messaging service, World Expected to Panic, Possible Martial Law


DULLES, VA — AOL LLC, a division of Time Warner Inc. (TWX), announced Tuesday that it will be terminating its popular free AOL Instant Messenger™ service, commonly known as AIM, at midnight PST on the morning of May 1st of this year. AOL cited cost as the primary reason for discontinuing the service.

Paid services utilizing the instant messaging network will continue to function normally, so the shutdown will not affect AOL users, mobile users, or AIM@work. AOL has not announced any plans regarding ICQ, another messaging service owned by the company.

While AIM may seem as important as a public utility to an entire generation, AOL is in no way obligated to maintain the service, which has been available to users free of charge since 1997 and handles a reported 1.6 billion messages each day. Users of new communication services have increasingly relied on them for everyday communication, including business users. In a recent patent dispute, word spread that Research In Motion Limited's (RIMM) popular BlackBerry wireless email service may be shut down in the US by an injunction, causing many businesses to reevaluate their reliance on the system.

According to AOL, the free offering has become a money-losing operation. Functioning for many years through an ad-supported client application, the service has met tough hurdles in recent years. Many users have switched to ad-free alternative clients, and increased activity by "spam bots" has also taxed the network.

AIM has been the most popular instant messaging platform, however, many alternatives exist, including ICQ, MSN Messenger, Yahoo! Messenger, Skype, and services using the Jabber protocol. Current AIM users are expected to flock to these other services, although it remains unknown which will prove to be the most popular. Owners of these services, including Google (GOOG), which operates a recently launched Jabber-based "Google Talk" service, are likely scrambling after today's news to come up with an effective marketing plan to win millions of displaced users.

Initial reactions to the announcement have ranged from shock to rage.

The fact that users have over three weeks to inform current AIM contacts of screen names on an alternative services did nothing to quell the concerns of AIM user lolgrrrL87!, a self-described "attractive 25 year-old marine biolagist [sic]" who requested that we maintain her font choices in our article.

lolgurrrL87!: NOOOOOOOOOO
lolgurrrL87!: u dont understaaaanddd!!1!
lolgurrrL87!: my buddy list
lolgurrrL87!: its catagorisedddd
lolgurrrL87!: i hav ale
lolgurrrL87!: rts
lolgurrrL87!: alerts lol
lolgurrrL87!: i have custum icns
lolgurrrL87!: i hav ppl i haven't talked to since hi skool
lolgurrrL87!: my buddy list
lolgurrrL87!: my buddy list
lolgurrrL87!: i heart it =(

At this point, lolgurrrL87! slammed her head on her keyboard and sobbed uncontrollably.

An AOL spokesperson explained lolgurrrL87!'s disappointment.

"We understand that the Buddy List is one of our most popular features. We suggest that AIM users evaluate similar services with presence awareness capabilities, and remind them that AIM users who purchase an AOL subscription before May 1, 2006 may transfer their existing screen name and Buddy List to the AOL service. New AOL customers receive a free installation CD and 720 free hours on our network."

lolgurrrL87! responded:
lolgurrrL87!: ur a communist

Some, however, welcomed the closure.

"I was kinda tired of AIM anyway," said John Rezamo, 22. "In fact, I've been avoiding it recently. If someone needs to talk to me, they'll call my phone. It's nice, because people generally only call when they actually have something to say. They don't just call and ask, 'Sup?' Plus, the end of the conversation is never ambiguous. You just say, 'Goodbye,' and hang up.

A broader public opinion is probably already beginning to emerge in the vocal "blogosphere," but this reporter didn't feel like reading any of that.

Posted: Tuesday - April 04, 2006 at 09:34 PM