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This app reimagines the glory days of AIM Away Messages

It's like AOL Instant Messenger all over again.


Mike Wehner


Posted on Jun 12, 2015   Updated on May 28, 2021, 2:34 pm CDT

Do you remember AOL Instant Messenger? If you’re in your mid twenties through mid thirties, there’s a really good chance that AIM was your primary communication tool for many years, before smartphones, Facebook, and Twitter took over the scene. Free, a new social app that debuted today, wants to bring us back to our AIM roots, and remind us of a time when making plans was as simple as checking an Away Message.


Much like AOL Instant Messenger trained us to put our social status into one of three categories—available, away, or busy—Free’s primary function is to tell your friends what you’re doing at any given moment.

Looking for something to do? Green face.

Reading a book because you have nothing better to do? Yellow face.

Heading to the theater and setting your phone on silent? Red face.


Browsing your list of friends shows you who is available and who isn’t, and if you want to coordinate a quick get-together you can do so via handy messaging and location-sharing features built right in. In short, it’s a stripped-down, simplified social experience with none of the complication of Facebook and the persistent statuses that texting just doesn’t have.

It’s definitely a neat idea, and the fact that it doesn’t try to revolutionize with useless gimmicks is a nice surprise in an age where every app tries to be its own unique snowflake.

That said, the app itself appears a bit laggy on both of the devices I tested it on, especially when rapidly switching between friends. Additionally, while the app works with anyone on your iPhone’s contact list, you won’t get the full experience—timed statuses, etc—unless you’re both using the app, and that means anyone without an iOS device can’t get in on the action yet. 

Photo via seanmcgrath/Flickr (CC BY SA 2.0)

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*First Published: Jun 12, 2015, 5:48 pm CDT