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AOL Instant Messenger

AOL Instant Messenger (abbreviated AIM) is an instant messaging and presence computer program which uses the proprietary OSCAR instant messaging protocol and the TOC protocol to allow registered users to communicate in real time. It was released by AOL in May 1997. Stand-alone official AIM client software includes advertisements and is available for Microsoft Windows, Windows Mobile, Mac OS, Mac OS X, Android, iOS, BlackBerry OS.[1] The software, maintained by AOL, Inc., at one time had the largest share of the instant messaging market in North America, especially in the United States (with 52% of the total reported as of 2006).[2] This does not include other instant messaging software related to or developed by AOL, such as ICQ and iChat. As of June 2011, one reported market share had collapsed to 0.73%.[3] However, this number only reflects installed IM applications, and not active users.



In September 1995, the "Buddy List" precursor to AIM was launched internally to AOL employees. In March 1996, the Buddy List was opened up to AOL subscribers running Windows 95. The buddy List feature became available to Mac users sometime later in late 1996 to mid 1997. The standalone AIM became available to non-subscribers in 1998.[4] The release of AIM came over a decade after AOL's prior QuantumLink incarnation had offered "On-Line Messages" (OLMs) to its subscribers.

Since version 2.0, AIM has included person-to-person instant messaging, chatroom messaging, and the ability to share files peer-to-peer with buddies. Version 4.3 introduced storing user contact lists on AOL servers and allowed for a maximum of 200 buddies to be stored. Also, in the 4.x versions, the AIM client for Microsoft Windows added the ability to play games against one another using the WildTangent engine. The first version released with WildTangent did not warn the user that it was going to be installed. Newer versions do, because many spyware scanners flag WildTangent software as spyware.[5]

The successor to AIM version 5.9 was originally named AIM Triton. Compared with version 5.9, Triton's programming code was rewritten and featured a brand new UI engine called Boxely. The first beta version of Triton (0.1.12) supported only Windows XP[6] when released. For the first time in developing a new version of AIM, these preliminary versions were made publicly available on the AIM home page for any user to test and provide feedback.

In September 2006, Triton was renamed to AIM 6 and a new beta version was made available. This version slightly changed the UI. The final stable version of AIM 6.0 was released on December 15. New features included connection to AIM Pages, additional customization, and compatibility with address book programs and sites through a "Universal Address Book" powered by Plaxo. Further, the upgrade unified away messages and general user updates into RSS feeds and added the ability to send messages to offline users. Certain features that were missing from the prior version were also re-added, such as global font customization and a smaller cache usage, although the Get File function has yet to return. Also new in this release was opening AIM to developers,[7] which allowed anyone to create plug-ins or custom AIM clients for Windows, Macintosh, or Linux.

The next version, 6.1, added Buddy List docking, support for inserting images into Buddy Info, the ability to change the highlight colors of the UI, improvements in displaying Linked Screen Names, several bug fixes, and improved Windows Vista support.

Version supports status messages (similar to away messages), and has improved cell phone integration.[8]

In version 7.4 for Windows and version 2.1 for Mac OS, AIM added support for Facebook, allowing users to login using their Facebook ID and chat with their Facebook friends.[9]

Version 7.5 has added the voice call option between AOL users and the ability to share photos and videos. The 7.5 version also allows people to download the program for Windows Vista. Users can now also connect their AIM account to Twitter, Foursquare and MySpace.[10]


The standard protocol that AIM clients use to communicate is called Open System for CommunicAtion in Realtime (OSCAR). Most AOL-produced versions of AIM and popular third party AIM clients use this protocol. However, AOL also created a simpler protocol called TOC that lacks many of OSCAR's features but is sometimes used for clients that only require basic chat functionality. The TOC/TOC2 protocol specifications were made available by AOL, while OSCAR is a closed protocol that third parties have had to reverse-engineer.

In January 2008, AOL introduced experimental Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol (XMPP) support for AIM,[11] allowing AIM users to communicate using the standardized, open-source XMPP. However, in March 2008, this service was discontinued. As of May 2011, AOL offers limited XMPP support.[12]


AIM and AOL use several terms for elements of their instant messaging that are different from other messengers. These include:

  • Away message: A function of some instant messaging applications whereby a user may post a message that appears automatically to other users if they attempt to make contact when the user is unavailable. It is analogous to the voice message on an answering machine or voice mail system.
  • Block: An AIM user may block a specific screen name on their buddy list. The blocked user cannot contact or see the status of the blocker. Both users in this case will always see each other as offline until the blocker "unblocks" them.
  • Buddy Info: Information about the user that may be edited by the user. The user's buddies are able to view the information as a pop-up. There is a character limit that cannot be exceeded.
  • Buddy List: The centerpiece of AIM, a list containing the status of up to 1000 buddies stored on an AIM server so the user can access this list from any instance of AIM. The status of the buddies can be seen as "online", "away", "idle", "mobile", or "offline".
  • Direct connection: AIM users can, instead of relaying messages through the AIM server, connect to each other's computers directly via this method and send various forms of media.
  • Screen name: Term for user name with AOL origins. These are available for free with registration at the AIM website, and range from 3 to 16 characters long.
  • Rate limiting: This prevents a user from sending too many messages in a short amount of time. Once a user is rate limited, they are unable to send messages for about 10 seconds, though they may still receive messages during this time.
  • Warning: If a user feels a received instant message is inappropriate, the recipient can "warn" the sender, which increases the sender's warning level. Warning levels reduce the rate at which users can send messages and can eventually cause a given screen name to be unable to sign on for a period of time. Since it was often abused, the feature is no longer supported in AIM Triton or AIM 6. For a while, warnings had not been disabled serverside, meaning that older AIM clients, third-party clients, or user-written add-ons may still allow users to bypass "soft" removal of warning abilities.
  • AIM Closed List, Allow Only, Buddies Only, or Privacy refers to the option on the AOL Instant Messenger client to allow only users on a user's buddy list to contact them. This is to prevent harassment or spamming and is also a secure way to chat.
  • Icon: Also termed an avatar, a small, personalized picture that a user can set up to appear whenever they message another user.


For privacy regulations, AIM has strict age restrictions. AIM accounts are only available for children over the age of 13; younger children are not permitted access to AIM.[13]

Under the AIM Privacy Policy, AOL has no rights to read or monitor any private communications between users. The profile of the user has no privacy.[13]

If public content is accessed it can be used for online, print or even broadcast advertising etc. This is outlined in the policy and terms of service, "you grant AOL, its parent, affiliates, subsidiaries, assigns, agents and licensees the irrevocable, perpetual, worldwide right to reproduce, display, perform, distribute, adapt and promote this Content in any medium". This allows anything one posts to be used without a separate request for permission.[13]

The question of how secure is AIM has come up to question. AOL has taken many steps in order of preventing the access from unauthorized member. However it is not guaranteed that personal information will not be accessed.[13]

AIM is different from other clients such as Yahoo! Messenger in that it does not require approval from one buddy to be added to another's buddy list. As a result, it is possible for users to keep other unsuspecting users on their buddy list to see when they are online, read their status and away messages, and read their profiles. In fact, there is a web API to display one's status, away message as a widget on one's webpage.[14] However, one can block another user from communicating and seeing one's status, though this does not prevent the user from creating a new account that is not blocked and therefore can still track the first user's status. A more complete privacy option is to select a menu option allowing communication only with those on one's buddy list; this causes blocking (thus appear offline to) all users not on one's buddy list.

AOL recently teamed up with Facebook, allowing you to login to AIM using your Facebook account. However, many privacy advocates claim that the convenience comes at a high price. In order to sign up for AIM Express, the more lightweight, web-based version, you must accept all of their account access stipulations. These include access to your photos, videos, messages in your inbox (including private), custom friends list, friend requests, and more. You must also allow AIM to access your account when you're offline, as well as post messages and videos on your wall. If you refuse to accept all the terms, the sign-up process stops.

New release logs all conversations and there is no opt-out.[15]

Chat Robots

AOL and various other companies supply robots on AIM that can receive messages and send a response based on the bot's purpose. For example, bots can help with studying, like StudyBuddy. Some are made to relate to children and teenagers, like Spleak, others give advice, and others are for more general purposes, such as SmarterChild. The more useful chat bots have features like the ability to play games, get sport scores, weather forecasts or financial stock information. Users were able to talk to automated chat bots that could respond to natural human language. They were primarily put into place as a marketing strategy and for unique advertising options. It was used by advertisers to market products or build better consumer relations.[16]

Before the inclusions of such bots, the other bots DoorManBot and AIMOffline provided features that are provided today by AOL for those who needed it. ZolaOnAOL and ZoeOnAOL were short lived bots that ultimately retired their features in favor of SmarterChild. As of November 18, 2008, the SmarterChild bot for AIM was retired and is no longer offering any services, although still available through MSN.[17]

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