How AOL And AIM Paved The Way For Apple, iMessage, Twitter And Facebook

Zinger Key Points
  • “Good artists copy, great artists steal. We have always been shameless of stealing a great idea.” - Steve Jobs
  • The future of instant messaging could see 4 waves led by instant translation, augmented reality, chatbots and the blockchain.

Before every cell phone had text messaging and social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter Inc. TWTR existed, there was AOL Instant Messager, better known as AIM.

Here’s a look at how AIM helped pave the way for social media platforms and even influenced Apple Inc. AAPL.

What Happened: The team at Loup Ventures recently shared insight into the creation of AOL and AIM through a series of interviews.

“It was AOL that laid the foundation for the first-ever social network,” Loup managing partner Doug Clinton says in the video’s voiceover.

AOL was one of several companies that used the internet to help shorten the distance between people with messaging services. The company, which started as PlayLink, renamed itself AOL and went public on March 19, 1992. The stock was among the top performers of the 1990s.

AOL continued to expand the line of its products over the years; from 1994 to 2016, it acquired 77 companies. The company saw its user base go from three million to 12 million users by 1998 and was prominently featured in the film “You’ve Got Mail.”

AOL acquired a messaging service in 1998 and helped build the original social network. The company saw adoption increase and broadband usage increase sharply. However, the transition into a media company by way of a merger with Time Warner — a deal that valued the company at $350 billion — ultimately backfired.

AOL was later acquired by Verizon Communications VZ for $4.4 billion. Verizon sold AOL and Yahoo! for a combined $5 billion to Apollo Global Management APO in 2021.

While the company fell from its peak, it provided the strong foundational groundwork for how instant messaging and connections between people would change history.

“The killer app of the internet is people,” former AOL CEO Steve Case said.

Related: The Teenage Existential Crisis: In Memory Of Our First AOL Instant Messenger Screen Names

Why It’s Important: One of the key elements of the video is how AOL influenced Apple.

“Good artists copy, great artists steal. We have always been shameless of stealing a great idea,” Apple co-founder Steve Jobs says in the video. 

Apple and AOL entered into a partnership, which saw the Apple brand licensed to AOL and the creation of AppleLink. Eventually, Apple ended the deal and tore up the contract.


Apple launched its eWorld service, which was an aggregator of news and email and an attempt to provide a social ecosystem for users. The company closed the service in 1996 with less than 150,000 users and told its users to go to AOL instead.

Years later, Apple cut a deal to connect with AIM and allow its users to sign in to the instant messaging service with iChat using its address as a username. Jobs and others held demos at Apple events on how to connect the two platforms.

In another move to get away from AOL, Apple introduced iMessage in 2011 at its Worldwide Developers Conference event. The new platform served as its own messaging service that operated off of iOS 5 and could help grow iPhone usage.

AIM's market share eventually went to 1% as iMessage grew in popularity.

What’s Next: Loup argues that the future of instant messaging could see four waves led by instant translation, augmented reality, chatbots and the blockchain.

“Our methods of communication evolve,” Clinton said.

The video shares a belief that there will be a persistent need for low bandwidth communication like text messaging and also a need for high bandwidth items like TikTok and video conferencing with Zoom Video Communications ZM.

Instant messaging led by AIM improved communications via mediums like email on a scale of 10 times. Technology and phone companies took instant messaging to the next level with text messages that were 10 times better.

Loup sees a persistent evolution to create communication tools that are 10 times better than the current thing.

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Posted In: EntertainmentTechMediaGeneralAIMAOLDoug ClintonInstant MessagingLoup VenturesSteve CaseSteve Jobstext messaging
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