Adrian Covert and Sam Biddle make a great case at Gizmodo that AOL Instant Messenger served as a Facebook-like social network for those of a particular age. "There was a stretch of time in the '90s and early '00s when AOL was a social requisite," they write. "This was short lived, of course, but the AOL name remained powerful, and the screennames we accumulated from it stuck with us. AOL was a bloated horror creature of the Internet -- but AIM was graceful, and because of the former's monopoly on the web, the seed was planted widely. Everyone had an AIM handle."
I, too, was part of the AIM generation. AIM didn't feel like "the Internet," which smelled nerdy even to those of us who loved it. Because everyone was on AIM, it couldn't be stigmatized or othered, even if you accessed it through the Internet and it was clearly a direction where the whole, not-quite-social Internet was heading.
"And when we all finally got broadband, it was always on. Your friends were always right there on your buddy list, around the clock," Covert and Biddle say. "This was the first time that it felt like we had presences online -- that our friends were out there in some sense, and easily accessible."
Without trying to, we'd slipped into the always-on world and many of us have never and will never emerge from it.