7 Fast Facts About AIM to Make You LOL

David Silverman/Getty Images
David Silverman/Getty Images

AIM, the chat service that ruled the '90s and the early 2000s, is dead. AOL’s parent company Oath has announced that it would be retiring the service (which, to be honest, we didn’t realize was still kicking), sending that yellow running man off into the sunset on December 15, 2017. In fond remembrance of the pre-social-media days when the beeps and door-shutting sound effects of AIM were the soundtrack to procrastination everywhere, here are seven facts about the pioneering chat service:

1. IT STARTED OFF AS AN OFF-THE-BOOKS COMPANY PROJECT …

IM-ing had long been a part of AOL’s functionality, but in 1996, a very small group of AOL employees began working on the idea of a free (remember when you paid for AOL?) standalone messaging service. They didn’t pitch the idea to AOL’s executives, and worked on the project unofficially using servers that someone at the company’s data centers had “lost,” as the engineers who started the project told Mashable in 2014. Once it was added to AOL’s public servers, AIM was an instant success, despite the fact that you had to download it directly from a server address—there wasn’t even a webpage for it. By 1999, it had 40 million users and was the “de facto standard for instant messaging over the Internet,” according to The New York Times. In 2003, it was handling about 2 billion messages a day.

2. … AND SOME OF ITS MOST ICONIC FEATURES WERE LAUNCHED WITHOUT COMPANY APPROVAL.

The engineers who had created AIM as an under-the-radar project were also quick to update it without permission from up the chain. This process led to some of the system’s most iconic features, including the buddy icon. Despite the massive successes of the software, the corporate overlords at AOL never quite got behind it, in part because they couldn’t come up with a way to monetize it that fit with the rest of the AOL subscription service.

3. IT CHANGED THE WAY PEOPLE TALKED ONLINE.

AOL offered its users a built-in selection of 16 smiley faces in the late '90s, according to CNN. And then there were the LOLs. In a story on AIM and teens in 2003, The New York Times wrote, “In fact, instant messaging has become an unofficial dialect, and devising misspelled versions of words lacking as many vowels as possible has become a literary form.”

4. IT WAS DESIGNED TO LET PEOPLE CHAT AT WORK, WHETHER THEIR BOSSES LIKED IT OR NOT.

According to Mashable’s 2014 history on the subject, programmers working on AIM “made the program the bane of IT departments.” The engineers were focused on consumers, not their irate bosses, and created features in the software that allowed it to circumvent network blocks, allowing users to ROFL about their bosses unimpeded.

5. IT WAS AT THE CENTER OF A TECH FEUD.

In the late 1990s, AOL fought hard to keep competitors from getting in on the instant-messenger game, and refused to make its software open to outside developers. Both Microsoft and Yahoo tried to create software that would allow their users to see and communicate with AIM users—like how you can send an email to someone even if you’ve got an Outlook account and they use Gmail. AOL was not happy, and blocked the software immediately. Microsoft responded by tweaking MSN Messenger to get past AOL’s block. AOL blocked it again. According to AIM creator Eric Bosco, the two companies went through the same dance 21 different times before Microsoft gave up. For what it’s worth: MSN Messenger shut down in 2014.

6. IT COULD HAVE BEEN THE NEXT NAPSTER.

Another intriguing tidbit from Mashable’s interviews with AIM’s creators: AOL engineers tried to give the chat software capabilities similar to the infamous file-sharing service Napster. They called the project “Aimster” internally, creating functions where users could search their friends’ files and transfer them to their own computers. It never made it out of the development phase. (There was, actually, a file-sharing service called Aimster founded in 2000, but AOL sued the company for copyright infringement, forcing it to become Madster.)

7. IT INFLUENCED GCHAT IMMENSELY.

Unsurprisingly, AOL’s pioneering chat service made a huge mark on the instant messaging of today. Justin Uberti, a lead software architect for Google messaging apps, had also played a large role in AIM. “You can definitely see the influence of the early work that Justin did,” Bosco told Digital Trends in 2016. “You can see a lot of that taking shape in some of the Google offerings.”

9 Classic Board Games You Can Play Online

This man may have just sunk his opponent's biggest ship on the Battleship app.

This man may have just sunk his opponent's biggest ship on the Battleship app.

Ryan Herron/iStock via Getty Images

An energetic round of Monopoly, Catan, or another classic board game is a great way to bond with friends and family. Crowding around a coffee table, on the other hand, isn’t a great way to practice social distancing. Luckily, many of the best board games have been adapted for smartphones and other devices, so you can still indulge in all the thrills of a family game night during isolation—read on to find out about nine of our favorites.

1. Catan Universe

Catan (The Settlers of was dropped in 2015) has been giving serious board gamers a chance to show off their strategy skills for 25 years, and the Catan Universe app has the same appeal. You and two friends can play the basic version of the board game for free, but there are also several other versions—including the “Cities & Knights” and “Seafarers” expansions and a stand-alone challenge called “Rise of the Inkas”—that you can purchase within the app if you’re looking for new adventures.

Download: iOS, Android

2. Boggle With Friends

With the virtual version of Boggle, you can hone your word search skills in single-player mode until you’re sure you’ll come out on top against your friends and family. Not only will you not have to rearrange all those cubes each round, you won’t have to keep score, either—the program does it all for you.

Download: iOS, Android

3. Clue

If anybody knows how it feels to be sequestered in a house with increasingly tense and anxious housemates, it’s Miss Scarlet, Colonel Mustard, and the rest of Clue’s classic cast of characters. Wander the ominous rooms of Tudor Mansion to find the truth about Mr. Boddy’s untimely demise with the beautifully animated $4 Clue app. 

Download: iOS, Android

4. Battleship

For just $4 or $5, depending on your device, you can play the classic version of Battleship and a “Commander’s Mode,” where each commander comes with special abilities that shake up the tactical options for sinking your opponent’s ships. The app also features animated effects and nautical backdrops that really help bring your heroic maritime fantasies to life.

Download: iOS, Android

5. Monopoly

Embrace your entrepreneurial spirit and become the business mogul you were always meant to be—with absolutely no real-world stress or consequences—by investing in the $4 Monopoly app. It’s almost exactly the same as the game you know and (maybe) love, but there are a few additional features that might make your virtual game night even better, including customizable house rules and a “quick mode,” which promises a round that lasts no longer than an hour.

Download: iOS, Android

6. Scattergories

If you can text faster than you can write, you might actually prefer this free online edition of Scattergories to the original one. Fill the virtual room with friends or family and earn points for typing a city that starts with G, an element that starts with C, or any number of other category-letter match-ups. The app has autocorrect capabilities, so you don’t have to worry about losing the round over a spelling error, and you can also dispute the app if it rejects a response that your group considers acceptable.

Download: iOS, Android

7. Risk: Global Domination

The free Risk: Global Domination app offers the thrill of the original game without the necessity of sitting huddled around a tiny world map for hours (or days) at a time. Recommended for anyone whose favorite film scenes are those where generals in tight pants and three-cornered hats are plotting out ambushes with wooden figurines on a giant table.

Download: iOS, Android

8. Scrabble GO

Few things are as uniquely satisfying as landing a triple word score with quiz, quartzy, or another high-scoring Scrabble word—even if it’s no longer than two letters. The free Scrabble GO app gives you the chance to get that feeling from the comfort of your own secluded couch, no calculator necessary.

Download: iOS, Android

9. The Game of Life

It’s never too late in Life to earn an advanced degree or become a brain surgeon, and it’ll only cost you $3. The layout of the board is pretty similar to the one in the real-life game, and the app even includes animated versions of those beloved sphere-topped blue and pink player pieces.

Download: iOS, Android

45 Fun Questions to Ask Amazon Alexa

You can ask Alexa all kinds of strange, silly questions.
You can ask Alexa all kinds of strange, silly questions.
Amazon

Considering that more than 100 million devices equipped with Amazon Alexa have been sold, you probably have an Amazon Echo or Dot sitting somewhere in your home. And while you’ve likely used the smart speakers to play music, listen to podcasts, or order goods from Amazon.com, you can also use the technology for less practical purposes. Here are a few fun questions you can ask Alexa.

1. Alexa, what’s the mass of the Sun in grams?

An image of the sun in space.
Curious what the mass of the Sun is? Alexa has the answer.
robertsrob/iStock via Getty Images Plus

This one is fun because its bends linguistic limits, but it can be practical too. For instance, try asking Alexa: "Alexa, what's the mass of an Amazon Echo?"

2. Alexa, what are the three laws of robotics?

3. Alexa, are you a robot?

A robot toy looking nervous
This is how Alexa feels when you ask if she's a robot.
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4. Alexa, surely you can’t be serious?

There are two answers to this question—and yes, one involves the movie Airplane!

5. Alexa, what do you think of the shirt I’m wearing?

A young woman in a pink sweatshirt against a blue background
Curious what Alexa thinks of your shirt? Just ask her!
deniskomarov/iStock via Getty Images Plus

6. Alexa, what is the meaning of life?

There are a two answers to this one, and you can probably guess at least one of them.

7. Alexa, how much do you weigh?

A scale on a wooden floor
Alexa can't hop on a scale, but she knows exactly how much she weighs.
demaerre/iStock via Getty Images Plus

This question doesn’t have the same answer as the mass of an Echo.

8. Alexa, what day of the week does the Fourth of July fall on?

Sparklers in front of an American flag
Oh say, Alexa, can you see ... what day of the week the Fourth of July falls on?
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9. Alexa, thank you.

The words thank you illustrated in a white speech bubble on a green background
Alexa's done a lot for you ... you should thank her!
Алёна Коваль/iStock via Getty Images Plus

10. Alexa, do you know Siri?

11. Alexa, do you know Cortana?

A man in front of the logo for Cortana.
Satya Nadella at Microsoft's Build Conference in 2014.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Alexa's been hanging out with Cortana, but not with Clippy.

12. Alexa, do you like pizza?

Slices of different kinds of pizza on a wooden table.
Alexa would like a pizza that.
udra/iStock via Getty Images Plus

No word on what Alexa thinks of pineapple pizza.

13. Alexa, play the Kindle Book Caddyshack: The Making of a Hollywood Cinderella Story.

A person reading on a Kindle.
Why read when you can have Alexa read to you?
Manuta/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Alexa will do text-to-speech from Kindle books, picking up where you left off most recently, and there's no extra cost if you already own the Kindle book. Amazon has a helpful page listing the commands Alexa can respond to while in this mode, including skipping forward and back.

14. Alexa, will you be my girlfriend?

15. Alexa, what movie won Best Picture in 1991?

You can read more about the movie here.

16. Alexa, are you blue?

An Amazon dot lit up on a dark blue table.
Ask this question to see how Alexa's feeling.
Karneg/iStock via Getty Images Plus

17. Alexa, what’s the traffic like from here to the airport?

Cars driving on a highway
Whether the roads are congested or clear, Alexa will have an answer for you.
TomasSereda/iStock via Getty Images Plus

18. Alexa, tell me about the movie Iron Man.

Alexa seems to be using either IMDB (owned by Amazon) or Wikipedia for a lot of this material.

19. Alexa, can you rap?

20. Alexa, can you beatbox?

21. Alexa, can you sing?

A microphone in front of a blurry purple background
Can Alexa sing? Yes. Should she? Well ...
Vershinin/iStock via Getty Images Plus

22. Alexa, do you have any pets?

A gray striped kitten sitting on a cat tower
Did you have Alexa pegged as a cat lady?
Nils Jacobi/iStock via Getty Images Plus

23. Alexa, where were you born?

24. Alexa, what is the value of Pi?

The Pi symbol and value written on a chalkboard
How far will Alexa draw it out?
marekuliasz/iStock via Getty Images Plus

25. Alexa, how was your day?

26. Alexa, tell me a joke.

A group of people sitting around a table laughing
Alexa's got jokes!
fizkes/iStock via Getty Images Plus

You can also ask her for a "Yo mama" joke.

27. Alexa, what is your quest?

There are a few Monty Python jokes built in. Try asking about the airspeed of swallows.

28. Alexa, can you spell supercalifragilisticexpialidocious?

If you can more or less say a word, Alexa can spell it for you. This might be super-handy for kids learning spelling.

29. Alexa, let’s play Global Thermonuclear War.

Apparently Alexa is aware of WarGames.

30. Alexa, tea, Earl Grey, hot.

Steaming tea in a clear cup
It's tea time!
OlegKov/iStock via Getty Images Plus

And Star Trek: The Next Generation. (Alexa also responds to requests like "beam me up!")

31. Alexa, is the cake a lie?

Wow, Alexa has even played Portal!

32. Alexa, close the pod bay doors.

I'm sorry, Dave …

33. Alexa, when is your birthday?

A vanilla cupcake with "happy birthday" on it
Alexa has a birthday just like the rest of us.
RuthBlack/iStock via Getty Images Plus

This is Alexa's product launch date: November 6, 2014. Ask Alexa what her sign is, and she’ll tell you that, too.

34. Alexa, do you know the muffin man?

35. Alexa, up up down down left right left right B A Start!

Konami code FTW.

36. Alexa, I’ve got 99 problems.

37. Alexa, are we in the Matrix?

There are a couple of answers to this one.

38. Alexa, what’s the first rule of Fight Club? What’s the second rule of Fight Club?

Alexa knows the first two rules, and all the others, too.

39. Alexa, boxers or briefs?

40. Alexa, make me a sandwich.

A number of sandwiches on a wooden table
Alexa's answer to this might not be what you're expecting.
pilipphoto/iStock via Getty Images Plus

41. Alexa, is your refrigerator running?

42. Alexa, find Chuck Norris.

43. Alexa, my name is Inigo Montoya.

Alexa is not the six-fingered man.

44. Alexa, more cowbell.

45. Alexa, high five!

A woman high fiving in front of a yellow background
Alexa would high five if she could!
Deagreez/iStock via Getty Images Plus

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