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RE-AOL Is a Faithful Recreation of AOL 3.0

A team of nostalgic programmers have reverse engineered AOL 3.0 and put it back online for everyone to enjoy. It’s called RE-AOL and it aims to recreate the ‘90s era version of the early internet, complete with low-fi graphics, chat rooms, and all the noises you’re familiar with from the days of AOL Instant Messenger.

The project is the brainchild of Canadian programmer Mike Killingbeck, who first got the idea to bring AOL back during the pandemic. He told Motherboard he was depressed and that he needed a project to keep his mind in the right place. “Reminiscing about my days as a ‘90s teenager on AOL provided me an escape from a looming midlife crisis. The 90s were an amazing time for so many reasons,” he said.

During one of his reveries, he got the idea to see if AOL was still around in any shape or form. But after AIM finally went offline in 2017, it was all gone. He decided to bring it back. Killingbeck reverse engineered the code by using a similar project as a base. The previous project was someone else’s interpretation of AOL’s P3 protocol. He put this together with some old incomplete technical manuals, and after a few months of trial and error was able to make make a server that would talk to a AOL’s old client software.

I’ve messed around on RE-AOL and, to be honest, there’s not a whole lot going on there right now. You can make a friends list and chat with people on its version of AIM and wander into random chat rooms, but that’s about it. The news does not update and email does not work. It does, however, nail the sights and the sounds of ‘90s era AOL. Killingbeck and his team perfectly copied the washed out color palette and iconic noises of AOL 3.0.

Anyone can get access to RE-AOL by signing up for the Patreon and hopping on the Discord. Those without accounts can still log in as guests and poke around. “Classic AOL represents a snapshot of a decade that many of us never stop looking back upon fondly,” Sophie Miller, another member of the RE-AOL team, said. “Despite it being the uncontested king of ISPs during that time, very little remains of the original AOL for its former users to re-visit, or for younger folks to see what it was all about…what started out as an escape from grim reality has blossomed into a passionate community endeavor, and we can’t wait to see what the future of Re-AOL holds.”

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