When my wife and I were discussing social media, and I mentioned that at Third Solutions we use Skype for IM, and at ASG Group we were using Twitter, she asked me if we had gotten old? When I arrived at MIT in 1997, I ran ICQ for friends from home + Zephyr for talking to classmates, the next year the freshmen showed up with big lists of AIM friends, and by the time I left school, ICQ and Zephyr were basically dead and AIM dominated communication.
Here is it, over 10 years later, and I still use AIM as a constant business communication tool, but it certainly lacks any hype or excitement. Gmail accounts form the basis of OpenID, yet AOL with 20 years of AOL accounts and 10-15 years of AIM accounts couldn’t make themselves the login option of choice for the community web or the Web 2.0 world.
An old AOL hand asks, “Could AIM Have Been Twitter?” AOL fought third party integration, mostly because Microsoft was at the time masters of embrace and extend, and the only on-ramp was the weird open access AOL published for the Tik client that we ran on Unix, with limited access. While AOL had the users, they didn’t have the culture of centrality. Openness may have helped, but the open-IM groups pushed by Yahoo and MSN fizzled, Jabber went nowhere, and even though Google via Google Chat supports Jabber, Facebook chat seems more vigorous.
I think that AOL could have done a lot with their platform. But the corporate culture, more than the business around technology, prevented them from being cool. Everything AOL bought saw talent flee to start-ups and generally fall apart. Other than picking up Time Warner for a steal, they weren’t able to use their early lead in the Internet, perhaps because of their Internet for the Masses reputation, they couldn’t be “cool” to the technologists, so even if the masses used AIM, nobody was building upon AIM. That, more than AOL’s internal walled garden mentality, is why AIM didn’t become Twitter.