For anyone using the internet in the late 1990s and early 2000s, AOL Instant Messenger was ubiquitous. When I was in middle school, AIM was the only chat service anyone cared about. Sure, ICQ and and IRC existed, but everyone I knew had AIM.
Sadly, after 20 years, AOL shut down the service on December 15 of last year. Now, a small team of developers has resurrected it with a private server. The new chat service is called AIM Phoenix, and it works by running the messages through a private Dynamic DNS run by Wildman Productions, a non-profit group of hobbyist programers. This isn’t a new AIM client, it literally uses the old software running on a new server, so it looks and feels exactly like AIM.
It’s simple to set up. First, you download an old version of AIM from the AIM Phoenix website, register for a new username, tweak the settings to reroute through Wildman Productions’ server, and then open yourself up the nostalgic glory of Web 2.0. The old versions of AIM are touchy on new machines and I had to play with a few different versions before I got 5.0 working on my Windows 10 machine.
To be clear, AIM Phoenix only resurrects the original AIM software, and it doesn’t return your old buddylist. You’re effectively starting from scratch. But I was able to snag my old username and convince some friends to join me. In a few short minutes we were trading memories of middle school crushes and running home to kick siblings off the phone so we could sign into AOL and check our messages.
The pleasant plink of AIM’s original notifications are all there in AIM Phoenix, and they pushed a strange dopamine rush through my brain. It was, possibly, the last time a push notification didn’t make me want to throw my phone into the ocean.
Get six of our favorite Motherboard stories every day by signing up for our newsletter .