ICQ, short for the phrase “I Seek You”, laid the foundation for standalone instant messaging clients when it arrived in November 1996. Think how long ago it was …
Microsoft’s pioneering Windows 95 was just a year old, Nintendo had just introduced the N64, and those who had a reason to have a cell phone used it to talk.
Launched after less than two months of development by Israeli company Mirabilis, it preceded and influenced many of the popular chat programs of the time, including AOL Instant Messenger, Yahoo! Messenger and MSN Messenger.
Incredibly, ICQ also outlasted its main competitors. AIM shut down last December, Yahoo’s communications program pointed the finger in mid-2018, and Microsoft suspended its Messenger client in 2014.
ICQ offered a number of innovative features including multi-user chat, asynchronous offline messaging, restorable file transfers, and a searchable directory. Users were issued a unique user identification number, or UIN, upon registration. This number (I somehow still remember mine by heart about 20 years later), along with custom handles and an attached email address, were used to search for other users on the platform.
Mirabilis enjoyed the first-mover advantage, attracting millions of early internet users who were enticed to chat with friends and family in real time. ICQ’s success has also captivated potential suitors, prompting AOL to do so ink a check in the amount of $ 287 million for Mirabilis’ entire estate in 1998. The emergency payments initiated in fiscal 2001 reportedly amounted to an additional $ 120 million, pushing the total deal value to over $ 400 million. .
America Online could grow ICQ’s user base tenfold over the next three years, surpassing it over 100 million registered users by spring 2001.
The next decade will reinvent personal communication once again, driving mouse and keyboard conversations to mobile devices. AOL must have seen the writing on the wall like that downloaded ICQ to Russian investment firm Digital Sky Technologies (now known as Mail.ru Group) in 2010 for $ 187.5 million.
Some may be surprised to learn that ICQ is still around and being actively developed. The latest stable desktop release was two months ago, version 10.0.36981, while the Android and iOS apps have been updated in the last month. Today’s ICQ is very different from the basic UI of yesteryear with a modern design and familiar features like video calls and secure stickers. The core functionality – the ability to chat with friends and family – remains.
According to Mail.ru, the instant messaging platform is used by 11 million people around the world every month. Sure, it’s not as popular as it once was, but it’s still around and that’s more than most of its early competitors can tell. If you are interested in reconnecting with old contacts or want to find out for the first time, ICQ is available for download for Windows and Mac, as well as for Android and iOS mobile devices.