Venerable ICQ messaging service to end operations in June

Suggested heir is Putin-approved and hard to download outside Russia

Venerable instant messaging service ICQ has announced it will shut down for good in June.

A brief statement on the service's website states "ICQ will stop working from June 26" without any explanation, and suggests VK Messenger as an alternative.

More on that potential successor after we revisit ICQ's history, which starts in 1996 when Israeli outfit Mirabilis developed the tool.

Instant messaging (IM) was reasonably popular at the time, but early tools like Internet Relay Chat weren't easy to understand or adopt for the hordes of folks coming online with Windows 95 and Netscape.

ICQ was more accessible, and quickly accumulated over ten million users.

In 1997 America Online (AOL) – the dialup ISP/portal that dominated the internet at the time – saw text-based chatting as a valuable service for its members so created AOL Instant Messenger (AIM).

In 1998 it acquired Mirabilis to get its hands on ICQ. Reports of the acquisition from the time quoted AOL CEO Bob Pittman as saying "Acquiring ICQ fits perfectly into our multiple-brand strategy."

"Like CompuServe, ICQ substantially broadens our reach in important markets not served by AOL-branded products. In addition to its international reach, ICQ has tremendous appeal among young, technically sophisticated web users and there is remarkably little overlap with AOL."

The messaging market soon heated up, as Yahoo ! and Microsoft created their own competitors. AOL fought bitter wars with its rivals over interoperability, which is why in 1999 The Register carried an open letter from the boss of rival portal Excite in which he argued for messaging to be made open.

ICQ continued to operate independently of AOL and – despite some difficulties with unsavory users – reached 100 million users.

But as AOL waned with the end of the dialup age, competing products emerged, and ICQ's popularity declined.

By 2010 AOL decided to offload the service – a task made difficult by its reputation for having many criminals as members and for the prospective buyer being Russian firm Digital Sky Technologies. US authorities worried that the sale would make it harder to investigate ICQ users.

But the deal went ahead, and Digital Sky eventually adopted the name VK.

Which brings us back to VK Messenger, the suggested alternative to ICQ.

It's not much of an alternative, actually. VK's apps were booted from app stores run by Google and Apple in 2022.

Which leaves ICQ users outside Russia without an alternative that shares any of ICQ's lineage, and a thread of internet history at an end – even as countless IM threads are created daily using Google Chat, Slack, Teams, WhatsApp, Zoom Team Chat, WebEx, Alibaba DingTalk, Tencent WeCom, iMessage, and messaging services bolted to just about every social network. ®

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