AIM and the importance of preserving conversations
I noticed around 1:30 AM EST today, December 15, 2017, that AOL Instant Messenger had disconnected for the last time, apparently right on schedule.
I have been signed into AIM since it became available to non-AOL subscribers in the late 90s, but really, I preferred ICQ, and only started to use AIM more regularly as ICQ lost popularity. Then as Messenger began to surge in use, AIM became a secondary client with those few contacts who still used insisted on using it. In more modern times, I delegated both ICQ and AIM to multi-service software, at this moment, that is Trillian.
Unlike Messenger, I never considered AIM itself that important, it was just a tool I used to communicate to others. Although I’m particularly fond of Emily is Away and its sequel, I felt the software was fairly generic and didn’t offer that much.
When the announcement arrived of AIM’s shut down this past October, I went through my AIM contacts, reading through the screen names of friends that have long since added me on other messaging platforms, plus the endless sea of friends of friends with whom I hadn’t spoken to in over a decade. How would I preserve this list of people? Then I realized I already had, and a lot more.
Originally using AIL and then DeadAIM, any AIM conversations from the year 2001 onward were automatically saved, lovingly preserved in HTML, complete with “Direct Connect” assets, as well as the original AIM colouring, and other formatting fully intact. This archive comprises 8446 files and takes up 345MB of space, hardly anything for what I consider priceless data.
Unlike other communication mediums, even other electronic ones, instant messaging has a huge advantage of being easily saved and preserved. What I have found worrisome of late is that the more modern instant messaging tools are mobile-centric and lack easy logging capability and even worse, have limited options to allow third-party software to do this job for you (aka DeadAIM or Messenger Plus!).
In doing some research for this post, I was pleased to discover that work has been done to try and mitigate this problem (note: I have not tried most of these), for example, tg-export (Telegram), DiscordChatExporter, and WhatsApp Export. Additionally, Google Takeout or Facebook’s “Download my data” will provide archive file(s) of their respective chat services. However, despite being recently updated, Microsoft’s Privacy Dashboard still has no way to export your Skype conversations. A significant problem if you’ve been upgraded to the non-Classic versions of Skype, or are using the built-in Windows 10 application, as they have no local conversation store. Still, with all of these options, they require manual, regular updates to keep your archive current, as well as some degree of trust if the conversations are stored on the server.
After reflecting on AIM’s shutdown today, it seems that when instant messaging services shut down, it’s not about the software, it’s really about the communication and the memories you made while talking to others. When you have those memories preserved, you have the ability to re-visit them whenever you want, regardless if the service is still running or not.
So, the next time you use any instant messaging tool, be sure to consider if you have a way to preserve those conversations, because no service will last forever but your archived instant messaging logs will.