How AOL Instant Messenger Works

By: Dave Roos

Using AIM

AIM users can create Buddy Lists so they know when their friends are online.
AIM users can create Buddy Lists so they know when their friends are online.
Image courtesy of AOL

To start using AOL Instant Messenger, you need to sign up for a screen name. A screen name is like an e-mail address for IM. If a person wants to send you an IM, they need to know your screen name. Here's how to sign up for an AIM screen name and to set up a profile:

  1. Go to AOL Instant Messenger and click on the link that says "Get a screen name."
  2. Select "Create an account" and click continue.
  3. Type in your desired screen name and a password.
  4. Answer the security questions and click continue.
  5. If your screen name is already taken, you'll be prompted to enter a new one. AIM will help you find an available screen name based on your preferences.
  6. Once you find an available screen name, you'll be sent a confirmation e-mail with a link to open your new account.

Now that you have a screen name, you need to download the AIM software client. The latest version is AIM 6.5 for Windows XP and Vista. There are earlier versions available for Windows 98, Mac and Linux users. All of them are free and available for download at


The first time you open the AIM software it'll ask if you want to search your existing e-mail contacts for buddies. "Buddies" is an AIM term for contacts. AIM will automatically search your Yahoo! Mail, Hotmail and Microsoft Outlook accounts for contacts who also have AIM screen names. AIM will then give you the option of adding these screen names to your Buddy List. Your Buddy List is the organized list of IM contacts stored in your account.

When you open AIM, you'll see a main window featuring your Buddy List broken down into different groups. The default Buddy List groups are Buddies, Family, Co-Workers and AIM Bots (automated Buddies for movie times, stock quotes, et cetera). You can add new groups of your own by going to the Edit menu and choosing "Add Group."

When you want to add a new contact to one of these groups, go to the Edit menu and select "Add Buddy." You'll then be asked to choose a group for the contact. You can also enter more information about the person, including his e-mail address and mobile phone number.

Your Buddy List tells you which of your contacts are online and which are offline. The contacts that are online are listed under their group headings. Those that are offline are listed at the bottom in a group titled "Offline."

Now that you have your account and software set up, it's time to start sending instant messages.