Is Snapchat the New AOL Instant Messenger (AIM)?

Imagine this. An electronic device has the ability to run programs. One of these programs is a list of the people you know. These are individuals you know in real life. You have had lunch with them, know their parents and have had many in real life (IRL) conversations. They are not followers or randos that happened to find you on the Internet. Said program allows you to have individual conversations with IRL friends or to leave an “away” message letting your friends know what you are doing.

In 2000 this was AOL Instant Messenger and in 2015 it is Snapchat. Here is the twist: as the Internet has progressed we are now using video, instead of text, to communicate. When looking at Snapchat in 2015 it is easy to see ways in which it compares to AIM. People want to stay connected and what is the best way to do that? With a program on an electronic device.

When I entered college in 2000 almost every student had what was called a “desktop computer”. We all forced mom and dad to purchase a CPU tower and the brand 17 inch flat panel monitor which weighed half a ton. Once it was set up in our dorm rooms we were free to roam the wild west of the Internet. The first thing we all did was get the screen name of those on our hall. First you would get the screen name of your roommate. I have no idea why we did this since he or she was sleeping a mere 15 feet away, but we did! After our roommate, we wandered around the suite to meet the others that would be living close to us. The first thing we did was to add them on AIM.

Whenever we met someone in class or wanted to “cyber stalk” the cutest girl we would add them on AIM. Just the other day I was reminiscing about AOL Instant Messenger finally figuring out how to allow users to not “come back from idle.” Those that lived in the AIM era know exactly what I mean. On the first few versions of AIM it would show the time a user idle or away from the computer. When the user came back their name became darker and they “came back from idle”. Users would then be swarmed by AIM messages from anyone and everyone. Later, they allowed us to set our away message to not display idle time. What a great invention!

The AIM list was a group of people you knew. You probably had their phone number and you ate breakfast, lunch or dinner with them. These were individuals that you would cyber stalk but you also had the ability to walk out your door and go knock on theirs. You were friends with, well, friends!


Somewhere along the way Facebook and Twitter encouraged users to follow everyone even if they did not know them. This completely changed Internet relationships. Anyone that has a Facebook or Twitter account probably follows someone they do not know in real life. Around 2008 or 2009 I predicted that Facebook and Twitter would struggle because there were too many broken relationships that weren’t real. It took a little bit longer to happen but now it is expedited by Snapchat

Snapchat is the modern day AOL Instant Messenger. You have a list of in real life friends in which you can directly communicate. Instead of using words through messages like AIM you now use photos through snaps. AIM had an away message feature and Snapchat has a stories feature. They both serve the same purpose. AIM allowed you to know when someone signed on or read your message. Snapchat allows you to see when someone viewed your Snap or read your Snap text. Both programs encourage users to create unique and funny screen names that cannot be duplicated.

Over the course of the next few years I fully believe Snapchat will be the dominating force of social media. Snapchat has picked up where AIM left off in 2003 or 2004. It is a way to continue to build relationships with the people you actually know. There is no way to fake it on Snapchat. Your face is seen by the other user. You cannot hide behind an avatar or fake profile the way you can on Facebook or Twitter.

Unlike AIM, Snapchat now has plenty of ways to monetize through sponsored stories and advertising within other areas of the app. I will be interested to see how the big players like Google, Twitter, Facebook and Apple value this app. In my opinion, Google should throw $30 billion at the app and be done with it. If they continue to wait there is no way they are going to be able to make the purchase.

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