In late August I opened iChat, as I typically do, only to see that no one was online. Having quite a few people in my buddy list this makes for a strange occurrence. I rarely see an empty buddy list. A few hours go by and I check it again, still - no one. After a little bit of investigation I determined that my buddy list simply hadn't loaded correctly. Since this has happened in the past I decided to go offline, quit iChat, and start over.
That didn't help. I decided to try to View -> Show Offline Buddies. Sure enough, all of my contacts where showing up offline. I asked Eliza if she was online, and she was, so I quickly deleted her from my buddy list, added her back - and she then showed up as being online. I thought that too was odd but I was happy to get it working again. I quickly went through a handful of contacts that I normally use AIM to chat with, deleted them, and added them back in((This process isn't too difficult since iChat stores buddy information in the Mac OS Address Book.)).
Later I signed off of iChat and went on with my day. The next time I started iChat. Same thing happened again, even with the contacts that I had added back using the delete-add-again method. Weird.
Now it was time to get out the shovel.
A Google search or three later I found other people that had experienced similar problems. Some of them solved their issue by logging in and out of AIM a few times and poof, their buddy list returned. Others used the method I described above and the changes held. Others still completely "reinstalled" iChat by removing all of their accounts, preference files, and other related files and starting from scratch. I tried all of these solutions and still no dice.
I recently upgraded to Snow Leopard and so I thought there would be a good chance that the upgrade to a new version of iChat would hopefully help my situation. So I deleted everything related to iChat, upgraded to Snow Leopard, and hoped for the best. Again, it didn't work.
So, I'm down to the point now where I believe that my account at AOL is somehow messed up. I am not sure where to go from here besides trying to contact someone on the AIM team. If you are on the AIM team, and you're reading this, you can contact me and let me know how to fix this - and I will be grateful.