ICQ was one of the Internet's first instant messaging services, connecting millions of people in the 2000s. Now it's going offline. An obituary.

ICQ app icon on a screen

The famous ICQ flower logo Photo: imago

Quickly plug the headphones into the power outlet so that no one in the room hears them: the news comes every second. Suppressing the “ah oh” sound that promises so much happiness through communication was one of the most important tasks for many teenagers in the afternoons of the 2000s, when learning vocabulary was a real thing. ICQ was one of the first instant messaging services and provided the hidden dose of dopamine of the online social world. Not only because otherwise they would warn you to finally do your homework, but above all because of the miserable parental question: “Who do you write to?”

With classmates, secret loves, with people from digital youth clubs… At its peak, in 2009, 470 million numbers were registered on ICQ, the service that connected people and worlds. Then it disappeared from many devices. Starting June 26, ICQ will be completely discontinued. Fortunately.

In 1996, an Israeli startup formed by four bored students developed ICQ. After just two years, AOL (the one that owns the Internet CDs) bought the new company for more than $400 million. Because ICQ was magic: it offered the same possibilities as chat rooms, but as a program. You no longer had to type a URL, search for the best websites currently, or sadly walk through rooms. You simply registered and could use a number similar to a telephone number to write to the people you wanted to contact, that is, those you had just seen at school. ICQ means “I'm looking for you.” It made the search unnecessary.

Chatting fun

ICQ was the solution for everyone who always misspelled when making calls, feared that it was their father who answered the phone, and stuttered with excitement. Maybe ICQ is the reason why so many people don't like making phone calls anymore, because he showed us: it's not necessary! You can also just chat. It's more fun anyway and even works at night. When your first love is on a student exchange in the US for six months, you simply set the alarm for 3 am to exchange messages. And if it all gets too overwhelming, you can simply send a YouTube link to a pathetic hardcore tearjerker.

At one time, even the most run-down internet cafe behind the main train station had ICQ on their computers. This was often necessary if viruses were detected while exchanging data via ICQ. Because the service was also: malware, phishing, bullying. But it also had animated emoticons that loudly blocked the screen. The guy who says “I can't hear you,” for example, who sticks his fingers in his oversized ears and sings for more than ten seconds. A wonderfully ironic admission of guilt when you realize you're rightly being criticized, but you don't yet have the format to say, “Well, that was shitty of me.”

Young people continue to want to learn new technologies. ICQ stops. He was not prepared to face the future. It wasn't until 2009, two years after the launch of the first iPhone, that an ICQ app appeared. That same year Whatsapp was founded and it worked with real phone numbers, it was much easier.

a boy is sitting at the computer in the children's room

Photo: Jochen Tack/imago

russian company

At the same time, ICQ lost to Facebook and Co on desktop; They not only allowed chatting, but also a digital bulletin board for photos, opinions and reviews. In 2010, AOL sold ICQ to a Russian company later known as Mail.ru Group, which owns the propaganda-soaked Facebook clone VKontakte. The number of users was only 42 million. ICQ went belly up and not even a desperate relaunch could help.

The service does not have its data end-to-end encrypted and is in Russian hands. Sometimes people there are imprisoned for their VKontakte content. ICQ, you with the cute emojis and the love of your youth, you who did not make the leap to the future and free communication. It's a good thing you're dying now.

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