Mashable has a fascinating oral history of the rise and fall of AOL Instant Messenger, a product that was innovative, near-ubiquitous (everyone I knew in high school and college had an account), and, because it was free, completely neglected by AOL’s senior management. With messengers like WhatsApp being acquired for $16 billion and Snapchat turning down a $3 billion acquisition offer, it’s amazing to think of what AOL threw away by marginalizing and ignoring such a popular product.
Early success did little to convince AOL management that a free product was of any good to the company. Bosco, who was eventually promoted to a management position and still worked on AIM, had to fight to keep it afloat.
“My biggest job as a manager was to keep AIM alive internally, because every single executive vice president wanted to shut it down and kill it. They could not understand the concept of giving away for free something that was of real value to the paying subscriber base,” [Former AOL engineer Eric Bosco] said.