Ask almost any nerd my age about AOL Instant Messenger (AIM), and I’d bet you $8 they have a whole medley of memories about “away messages,” the ephemeral statuses you’d set when you were online but (ostensibly) away from the computer.

On a lark — which is to say, after months of thinking about how companies always seem to gobble up the best parts of the web and then shut them down — I built /away, a silly little page on my website that recreates the simple, versatile fun of setting a short message for my friends to read:

A web page styled to look like a Windows 98 window with the title 'Away' and a message that reads 'setting up my away message'

Like AIM, there’s no timeline to get lost in; no faving, no boosting. Just text, some simple formatting, and maybe an anachronistic emoji or two ☺️

Under the hood, a Markdown file that (crucially, in 2022) is easy to edit from my phone gets smooshed through Eleventy and extruded into HTML styled with 98.css, bringing back the AIM-on-Windows vibes I remember so fondly.

There’s also a JSON-formatted version available at /away.json, which is maybe even sillier than the page itself!

    "message": {
        "markdown": "setting up my away message",
        "html": "<p>setting up my away message</p>"

But it’s fun to think about hosting little barnacles of information served at informal, well-known URLs or micro-endpoints — like /uses and /now pages. (I’m imagining a group of enterprising pals might build something like Robin Sloan’s “Spring ‘83” — a board (or list!) of their friends (i.e., “buddies”) and their away messages. Silly? Absolutely. Fun? Maybe!)

For now, though, it’s enough to send secret messages with song lyrics.