While iMessage and even BBM might come to mind these days way before AOL's AIM instant messenger, for some users -- including users of Apple's own iChat for Mac -- it's still an incredibly important part of their online communications. That's what makes recent employee cuts at AOL and more specifically the AIM team, so tragic -- it's leading many to claim the AIM service is dying, if not already dead.

The news of employee cuts came by way of the New York Times, which followed up on previous rumors suggested by All Things D.

The AOL Instant Messenger group took the deepest cut so far. A former AOL employee said the group was “eviscerated and now only consists of support staff.” This person, who asked not to be named because they were not allowed to speak publicly about the company, added that “nearly all of the West Coast tech team has been killed.”

With the news spreading, an update was posted to the New York Times article stating that the West Coast layoffs were just the beginning and many more would happen across the AOL network in the coming weeks.

Stepping back and looking at the situation, with that much of the AIM team gone, it's a pretty clear indication that any more development of the instant messaging service in place since 1997 just simply isn't going to happen, though AOL seems to believe they can still manage to make $25 Million off the service yearly with these cuts in labor.

So what will become of AIM in the long term? Will the remaining users just start to abandon the services and opt to take on other instant messaging clients until AOL decides to lay it to rest? If you're an AIM user you'll have to decide if the service is already dead or just dying slowly and plan your escape route.

Source: NYT, All Things D