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"They didn't have any central presence information," Appelman said."They didn't know anything about [the users]." Not so for AOL.

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Even that number would eventually be much too small.

That requirement meant AOL's messenger would need its own code, particularly as the resources allotted to the project — technically none — would have trouble with that scale.

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.

At first, AOL users who logged on were not greeted with a list of fellow friends online.

But AOL did have a manual way to search for said friends, if you knew their exact screennames.Patent US 6750881 B1 "User definable on-line co-user lists" was born, a.k.a, the buddy list. You didn't have to check whether somebody was on, but it told you," Appelman said.Far from a giant development product, Appelman discussed it with only his close colleagues, as AOL did not have a great amount of oversight at the time. Two months later, AOL would switch from an hourly rate to a flat fee.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.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.

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