Before the Facebook status, the tweet, or even the simple text message, there was one way anyone with an Internet connection could instantly find a friend and chat: AOL Instant Messenger.
And though it has long since faded into the background in an age saturated with text-based communication, an AOL IM account was like a keepsake from youth many forgot they still had.
On Friday, however, AOL, now called Oath, announced that AIM is going offline for good on Dec. 15. Those remaining users now have just a few months to peruse their old buddy lists, set their away messages, and say goodbye to the 20-year-old platform where a generation of moody teens had their first social media experiences.
The company is not planning a replacement.
Even for people who hadn’t used AIM in years, the announcement brought forth a rush of nostalgia, and some even conjured up their old screen names and logged in for old time’s sake.
“My world was so small! It was all organized into groups on my buddy list,” Sarah Bolt of Boston typed in an AIM exchange with the Globe as she looked around her account for the first time since roughly 2010. “The AIM days were the glory days of high school and college and it’s so connected to that time in my life.”
To a degree, reactivating an AIM account is like cleaning out a box in your parents’ attic. Some of the stuff is familiar, some of it embarrassing, and some of it only vaguely recognizable.
Bolt, 29, found one group of friends that she just couldn’t place.
“I have an entire group on my buddy list for someone named ‘Nick’ and I don’t have a clue who Nick is,” she said. “I don’t have any friends named Nick.”
Beyond the specific memories of any one mothballed account, the format of AIM brings back recollections of a time when the service was a primary way for young people to create a digital version of their personality.
AIM screen names were often carefully chosen and sometimes overwrought reflections of how young users wished to be seen. And the away messages people used when they were offline were often melodramatic statements about what they were thinking or doing.
“AIM was our first chance to not only put ourselves on near-constant display but also offer a livestream into our lives: status updates on whether we were doing homework, who we were in a fight with, or when we would ‘brb,’ ” said Travis Dagenais, 31, of South Boston.
“In hindsight, it was the first ushering of a fast-bite style of communication; but I relate to AIM with so much nostalgia because of its singularity,” he said. “Back then, you didn’t feel a need to post updates ‘across platforms’ — you just put it on your away message. A simple and singular entry point into a brave new world of communication.”
Anna Rutenbeck, 23, of Jamaica Plain, said she grew up in a rural area and made many friends online through a writing group who communicated through AIM.
“I have clear memories of getting home as fast as I could to log on to AIM and talk to my friends who didn’t go to my school,” she said. “I was building real connections at the time, and I was doing it in a way that wasn’t controlled by my parents or by school. And the connections and friendships that I built on AIM have lasted me.”Andy Rosen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @andyrosen.