The Old Web

2024-05-30 · 10 min read

Last week (it's the end of May 2024 right now), I discovered some fan-made recreations of AOL Instant Messenger, MSN Messenger/Windows Live Messenger, ICQ, Yahoo Messenger, Classic AOL, and Quantum Link. All of those applications and "services" are being lovingly re-built, mostly from scratch, by a community of absolute chads under the umbrella(s) of Escargot and NINA. Why are they doing this, though?

Back in 2015, AOL Instant Messenger, better known as AIM, was acquired by Verizon in a deal where Verizon would own the entirety of America Online, including AIM. However, while that ownership structure would last until 2021 when Yahoo would buy AOL from Verizon, AIM only lasted another 2 years, being killed off in 2017. Having lasted approximately 20 years, AIM was incredibly popular with the youth of the 1990s and is seen today as one of the tentpoles of the "old web," as I think of it. But that's not all there is in these two projects, and that's what excites me.

Having been born in the early-90s (1993, specifically), I didn't get to experience a large portion of the early internet, and my family didn't use AOL, we used Juno for dialup service. But, once we had Broadband internet in the early-2000s, I was turned on to AIM by some friends in middle school (remember, this was before Facebook was popular or even available for the most part). I was also pre-Myspace (which is now "available" as spacehey), and as my friend group and local community was more built around AIM for one-on-one messaging outside of a few of us who used Skype, I didn't have anyone who used MSN, ICQ, or anything else like that. But something about those different services always intrigued me at the time, and still does today.

Today, in 2024, everyone uses Discord, Steam Chat, Text Messages (or iMessage if you want to be specific about it, because reasons), Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger, and Instagram. But those are all boring as hell compared to what you used to be able to do with AIM, MSN, and ICQ. Aside from Discord, you can't really set custom statuses or profile decorations, and while Discord does allow for those, it's not quite the same. Gone are the days of setting "away" messages that auto-respond when you're not at the computer but still logged in, everyone always has their phone on them. No more nudging, just send messages until they respond. But not everything about modern messaging is bad, we can now send larger files, being "always connected" is sometimes a big benefit, and the ability to easily share your screen with others is wonderful.

But why NINA and Escargot? And what are they?

NINA and Escargot are "modern" recreations of the server-side of AIM/AOL/ICQ/Yahoo and MSN Messenger, respectively. NINA handles the first "four" services, though some are in alpha, while Escargot handles just MSN Messenger for now. However, being that both projects somewhat aim to do the same thing, just for different services, they've combined forces to a degree and work together on a few things. NINA offers free access to Yahoo Messenger, which interoperates with Escargot's MSN Messenger services, and for $5 and $50 respectively, you can get access to AIM/ICQ and AOL services.

So, why join these services and participate? Because it's fun!

I've been on a sort-of "old web" kick for a while now, and while the level I "participate" on waxes and wanes from time to time, it's something I really enjoy looking into. I have my website hosted on a modern server, but it looks like an old website from the late-90s (somewhat) while taking advantage of modern technologies where it's needed, such as implementing modern back-ends (I build the site with Eleventy, it uses modern Linux and webservers, etc.) when I need to.

But that still may not answer your question of why join the services, especially if you can't convince your friends to join, or even drag them off Discord or wherever. For one thing, it's not about taking all your friends with you everywhere you go, it's more about making new friends, experiencing older technologies, and reminiscing with people about "the good old days" before the internet was fraught with enshittification and big corporations buying up all the little guys and killing them. Are AOL, Verizon, Yahoo, and others big companies? Absolutely, but NINA and Escargot are fans, not companies, and they plan to not let these services go down again. And that's what I love about the Old Web and Indie Web groups. They want to preserve things as best as they can, not just wait for a big company to buy them out and become millionaires. They want as many people to experience these things as they can. And that's just fantastic.

If you want to check the projects out, you can find them Here for NINA and Here for Escargot


I'm Nexan, the owner of this site, and an overall nerd. Read more about me at the About Page