May 2024

ICQ 1996-2024: The first universal messenger had a good run, and is leaving us soon

Owner’s announcement that the messaging program is being discontinued

While you probably haven’t thought about it in years, the first mainstream universal messenger app for the Macand just about every other platform will finally be completely retired in June 2024.

Twenty-eight years is a long time for an net-based app to survive. For many early internet adopters, ICQ — “I Seek You” — was their introduction to large-scale, real-time social and private chatting.


Launched in November of 1996, it gave users a simpler and more graphical app in order to chat with friends outside of the previous Internet Relay Chat (IRC) system, and an AOL messenger that was still constrained to the eponymous service.

More on AOL in a bit, though.


ICQ applications were initially available for users on Windows, Linux, and Mac. It quickly spread to other platforms like the Palm Pilot and early smartphones when those came along.

The software was entirely free to download and use, and remained ad-free until 2003.


The Rise and Fall of ICQ

The popularity of the program caused the nascent America Online service to buy it in 1998 for a total of $407 million. This allowed AOL to acquire the patents for the technology, and use it to develop its own AOL Instant Messenger program.


Screenshot of iChat app in use, with video chat, friends list, and text chatting windows open.
iChat (now Messages) was inspired by ICQ and its competitors.

AOL shut down its Instant Messanger app as a standalone service in 2017.


At its peak, ICQ had around 100 million active users. It was later superseded by AOL IM, MSN Messenger, Google Talk and other chat apps.

In its heyday, the service was so popular that the original version of Messages for the Mac in 2002, known then as iChat, would allow ICQ’s User Identification Number (UIN) to add AOL Instant Messenger compatibility.


In 2010, the technology was sold to Digital Sky Technologies, which later changed its name to The Russia-based company has continued to keep ICQ going, primarily as a smartphone app.

Its core user base is now around 11 million active users, mostly based in Russia.


In 2020, announced a new version, which they dubbed “ICQ New” in an effort to attract new users. As its popularity waned, the program started to be used more for illegal file sharing, because of the company’s lack of moderation and automatic filters.


On May 24th, 2024, announced that it would be shutting down the ICQ service and website as of June 26th, 2024. The company has recommended its users switch to its other chat app, VK Messenger.


That mght be hard for most of AppleInsider‘s reader base, though. The company is blocking most US. Canadian, and UK addresses.

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