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Millions of subscribers paid AOL monthly for the ability to sign online. The "You've got mail" notification became the sound Americans associated with their first email accounts, as well as a movie with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.Barry Appelman, Eric Bosco and Jerry Harris worked at AOL in the 1990s and early 2000s as engineers on AOL Instant Messenger, known commonly as AIM. Appelman and Bosco programmed in the Unix operating system.
Appelman joined after his time at IBM, where he worked on some of the first standards to connect computers over the Internet (through what are known as Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol or TCP/IP).
Before building a messaging program for the Internet, he created something else that would eventually spawn AIM.
"They didn't have any central presence information," Appelman said.
"They didn't know anything about [the users]." Not so for AOL.
The concept is simple — companies concerned with its current products, profits and customers often fail to recognize and adapt to change even from within. AOL is still pivoting away from its days as an ISP.
Under the leadership of Tim Armstrong it now focuses on video and its ad network.
In another life, before a disastrous acquisition of Time Warner, it brought the Internet into the homes of Americans and controlled the program that popularized online messaging without ever really meaning to.
It would be easier to call AIM ahead of its time if it had not become so wildly popular almost immediately after its launch.
Once the dominant force in digital messaging and a source of innovations other companies spun off into billions of dollars of businesses, AIM is now mostly dormant.
Mashable sat down with three of the early engineers of the program to learn about its origins, why AOL never quite embraced the concept of a free messaging service, getting hacked by Microsoft and the features that never quite made it to users. It had risen above competitors in Prodigy and Compu Serve to become the dominant Internet service provider for American households.
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