Lockdown feels like high school. Let's pretend Slack is AIM.

Now is the perfect time for some nostalgia.

Justin Pot
Justin Pot / Published May 26, 2020

The majority of my social interaction happens on Slack now. That's just the reality of working from home during a lockdown.

It feels familiar, in a way—I can't go out at night, my emotions are totally out of control, and instant messaging is the primary tool I have for connecting with other people. I'm back in high school, basically.

I think it's time we all lean into that feeling and straight-up pretend that Slack is AIM or MSN. I asked my Zapier coworkers to do exactly that—and they delivered. It felt weirdly like traveling back in time.

Joey's away message: i never wanna act my age, what's my age again?

Status messages were filled with song lyrics. The phrase "a/s/l" came up multiple times. And our business casual profile photos were replaced by scene kids, marching band geeks, and more than a few senior photos.

Carly's away message: in 2 deep

I was shocked (and delighted) by how quickly this all happened. Was it productive? Not at all. Was it nice to have something—anything—to talk about with my coworkers besides These Very Challenging Times We All Live In? Yes it was. Here's how your team can do the same thing.

Add some vintage status icons

AIM and MSN status icons

Away messages were the best part of retro instant messaging services. Theoretically they were for letting people know when you were away from your computer, but we all know how we really used them: to broadcast our feelings to all of our friends in the hopes that they'd ask us about them.

Bringing this feeling back requires vintage status icons, so I compiled a few and scaled them up. You can download them here, then add them as custom emoji in Slack so people can use them while setting their status.

Setting a status in Slack

Turn your Slack status into an away message

Amanda's away message: I told you time and time again you sing the words but don't know what it means

Now it's time to pair your icon of choice with an era-appropriate away message. It's probably been a while, but don't worry: writing these is like riding a bike. The basic options include:

  • A song lyric relevant to your mood. Ideally something angsty from the late '90s or early 2000s.
  • Some unnecessary random symbols, for emphasis. This could just be a couple of asterisks, or you could head to 1 Line Art or this kaomoji collection and grab something. Stylish text also works.
  • Optional: your a/s/l.
erin's away message: sing me something soft, sad and delicate or loud and out of key, sing me anything

Craft a message for yourself. Make sure it's just right.

Feeling stuck? My coworker Krystina made a Zap (an automated workflow on Zapier) that pushes a random AIM-style away message to your Slack status, so you could use that instead. I won't tell anyone that you're not creative.

Change your profile picture

Now for the important bit: setting a retro profile picture. There are two competing schools here. The first is to use an era-appropriate pop culture icon; the other is to dig up some photo of yourself from back in the day.

A couple of different choices

There are truly no wrong answers here, but I highly recommend you go with the second strategy. Find something weird from your past and make that your profile picture. People will notice and join in.

it looks like teen katie is chatting with teen breetel and that makes me very happy

Your profile picture might even inspire art.

I am now the son of rambo

But we're getting ahead of ourselves.

Invite everyone to join in

Now that you've set yourself up, it's time to invite everyone else. Explain your bizarre choice of profile picture and status, then invite everyone to play along. I posted in the company's #general channel because I love attention, but you could just as easily only invite your team and see if it spreads from there.

Clint's away message: love is dead

This seems silly because it is. That doesn't mean it's not important. It's easy to feel isolated while working from home—especially now—and things like this can help.

Oh! And here's a bonus for you. You can give Slack an AIM color scheme. Just copy this block of text.


Head to your Slack preferences, and you'll find a place to paste that—check our article about customizing your Slack sidebar if you're not sure how.

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