402852360. This number seems to have been knocked out somewhere on the cortex of the brain, and even after a decade of oblivion, it is remembered on the move several times faster than one’s own date of birth. This number is a donkey in memory as the first line of the poem, which we learn in school years. This number – UIN – identifier of the user who was used (and still is still used) to log into the ICQ. About the rise, rise and fall of the first mass instant messenger ICQ will be our story.
A week ago, the ICQ messenger stopped supporting the old versions of the official application, as well as unofficial clients. Mail.Ru Group, which now owns the messenger, motivated by the fact that the old protocol no longer supports many “new good features”: calls, audio messages, stickers and group chats.
Until May 2019, the UIN will still be supported, but with the entry into force of the Russian rules for the identification of users on the phone number from ICQ, in fact, there will be nothing that would connect it with the past. The trump fivesigns and six-letter signs will be replaced with telephone numbers, and the coffin with anonymity will be completely stabbed.
How it all began
In 1996, the innovative Windows 95 was one year old, Sergey Brin and Larry Page were just working to create the largest search engine in the world, young gamers on the Game Boy were hacked to Pokémon Red and Blue, Deep Blue chess supercomputer was losing Garry Kasparov, John Carmack spawned Quake and in many countries on the planet of the Internet and mobile phones still simply did not exist.
In November 1996, after spending two months developing, the Israeli company Mirabilis released the first instant messaging program, ICQ. This is not an abbreviation, but an acronym – the slogan of the messenger I seek you (“I’m looking for you”). In the summer of 1996, Mirabilis was founded by four Israelis: Yair Goldfinger, Arik Vardi, Safi Viziger and Amnon Amir. They all met while working in the same technology company and united around a breakthrough idea at that time. They were all about 20 years old. The fourth founder of the company left her for the second month to go to university. He financed the development of Yossi Vardi, the father of one of the founders, who invested a couple of hundred thousand dollars in the project.
“If Mirabilis has been musical group, Sefi Viziger would be their lead singer and songwriter, – wrote the American Forbes pro team ICQ founders in 1999. “ Goldfinger is improving the database, Vardi is writing code, and Wiziger is engaged in the fancy design of the ICQ interface.” It was Wiziger who invented the ICQ icon and its metamorphosis depending on the status of the user: whether he is busy or not online.
“The icons that he invented, or something similar to them, will become the generally accepted visual vocabulary in the next 10 years. Think of them as road signs of cyberspace. Wiziger is the genius who invented them, ” – and so the co-founder of ICQ spoke 20 years ago, Jerry Michalsky, who was then president of a major technology consulting company in San Francisco.
A triple of Mirabilis settled in a three-room apartment in the city of San Jose, California, where Internet access was cheaper. “We were in the submarine phase, ” Goldfinger told in 2003 in an interview with israel21c. “ We didn’t watch TV or movies for half a year, we didn’t go to restaurants, we just worked all the time, developing and maintaining service, making the product better.”
The advantage of ICQ was that the program was distributed absolutely free. At first, about 40 friends of the founders used the messenger, but by May 1997, 850 thousand users were already chatting online. By April next year, the figure had grown to 9 million people, of whom 2.5 million used the program every day. And every day thousands more people downloaded the program. At the same time without any marketing: word of mouth worked.
How to make a loss on hundreds of millions
In June 1998, the American corporation AOL offered to buy ICQ for $ 407 million. The guys did not think long: the messenger did not generate any profit, while 12 million people already used it. It is noteworthy that 20 years later, in the new fully computerized world of mobile technology, the numbers again fell to this value.
ICQ of the late nineties was the personification of that Internet era. 20-year-olds created a product that didn’t generate income, didn’t have a business plan, or even an idea how to monetize everything. But in two years, the founders of ICQ turned into multimillionaires, which gave rise to the “Mirabilis effect” among young Israeli IT people.
True, the transfer to their accounts of tens of millions of dollars did not greatly affect their lifestyle. As Goldfinger said five years after the deal, he had the same car, he lived in the same apartment, wore the same jeans and T-shirts. Is that a little more of them: “I have never done anything wild with this money. None of us did. ”
AOL did not just buy the product, but acquired the entire company. The newly baked multimillionaires under the contract had to work on the product for two more years, but already as a part of a corporation. After this period, they dispersed on their own projects, which, however, could not gain the same global popularity as ICQ.
Goldfinger, for example, set about financing various Israeli niche startups:
“It doesn’t matter if they are bigger or smaller than Mirabilis. I do what I like. Some people like to drive fashionable cars, travel the world or write books. I like to create software and programs.
I look at programmers as artists. They do not draw, but create something new out of nothing. I consider my work art. Most artists are not doing this for money. They don’t care as long as they can create. It’s the same with me: I enjoy it, I love it. I am lucky as I earn my hobby.
Money gives you the opportunity to choose what you want to do, without looking at how you will work by the end of the month. ”
The founders eventually abandoned their offspring, but this had no effect on the growth dynamics of ICQ. By spring 2001, the messenger had more than 100 million registered users. It has become the most popular means of communication in the network. Estimate yourself, if according to different estimates of specialists in 2001, only 550 million people had access to the Internet. Already by 2005, the same number of accounts was registered in ICQ.
Third-party clients for the messaging protocol on which ICQ worked began to appear rather early. Already in 2000, Roland Rabien presented a minimalist clone of ICQ, which was called Miranda ICQ and weighed only 100 KB. No message history or plugin support is just an ascetic messaging client.
The main developers of Miranda were constantly changing, sometimes they simply mysteriously disappeared from the Internet forever, and other caring people picked up their banner. The client acquired plug-in plug-ins, support for other messaging protocols, but retained the most important thing – the lack of embedded advertising, through which AOL tops earned ICQ users. No one has yet thought of that stickers or emoticons can be sold in batches for money.
In 2005, QIP 2005 was born (Quiet Internet Pager – a silent Internet pager). This was probably the most popular third-party client for the OSCAR protocol (on which ICQ worked) in the CIS countries. Unlike Miranda, which, like a naked young lady, should have been “sprinkled” with plug-ins, QIP came with a rather broad basic functionality.
In this program, there was a built-in anti-spam filter: the user could write a question and answer, which the contact who was not in the address book had to enter to communicate with him. The user could set himself over a dozen statuses – from “Invisible to all” to “Eat” or “Depression”.
With stealth modes you could play quite flexibly by customizing your list of contacts that could receive valuable information about your online presence.
Frankly, emoticons-cones in QIP were much cooler than analogues from the official ICQ client. And in principle, the number of settings in the program was larger than the official version of the messenger.
Yes, and such a useful feature, as removing yourself from the contact list of another user, today seems to be something extraordinary!
Over time, the QIP developer added new features, reworked the client, releasing QIP PDA for Symbian phones, QIP Infium, QIP 2012, the client added support for Jabber, Mail.Ru Agent, IRC and some social networking protocols.
Largely due to the number of settings, whistles and fakes QIP 2005 and gained such popularity, eclipsing ICQ. And the thing was not always in advertising, just the Russian equivalent was much more convenient.
And it noticeably pissed off the tycoons at the helm of ICQ: they contain a database, support the protocol, provide servers to support the ICQ operability, and cannot make money on a significant part of their users. That is why at the end of the zero AOL has become increasingly frequent changes in the protocol OSCAR. As a result, alternative messengers could fall off the network for a day, and sometimes even longer. ICQ, in fact, fought against its own users.
So, in July 2008, changes on ICQ servers led to the shutdown of many unofficial clients. Contacts that used these clients received an official notification from ICQ Systems. This situation repeated several times in 2008 and 2009.
Against the backdrop of the fight against windmills, ICQ’s popularity declined – mainly due to strong competition from social networks. Both Facebook and VKontakte have made popular communication very popular. Strange as it may sound, but now we will explain. ICQ has always been an anonymous messenger. Yes, there were some kind of questionnaires that could even be searched by users all over the world, but rarely did anyone enter their real data there. Everyone hid behind their nicknames, and half of their contact list could not even be known by name – just some friends from zhezhechka from anonymous forums. The ICQ account was not attached to the mail (initially), and the long UIN number served as the only identifier.
Facebook, and then VKontakte brought the conversation out of the shadows into the light of day – we began to correspond and flirt under real names and surnames.
In April 2010, ICQ was sold to Mail.Ru Group. Russia and the CIS countries by that time were almost the only region where the fall in the audience was not so significant. However, for example, only from December 2009 to December 2010, the monthly ICQ audience decreased by 17.6 million and amounted to 33.5 million people. Catastrophic numbers.
In addition, ICQ managed to miss the boom of mobile platforms. Yes, Java clients for mobile phones have existed for a long time, but not to say that they were ubiquitous. ICQ was perceived as a desktop story, and most of the clients for mobile phones were exactly what was not always convenient tracing paper from the desktop version of clients. Yes, and the growing popularity of Skype, offering free calls, could not be ignored. On the desktop, he badly damaged the ICQ blood, especially in the business user segment.
Today ICQ is another story altogether. The story of a product that is trying to recover from falling from heaven to earth, who is trying to rejuvenate, overgrown with masks, group calls and stickers, who receives raw updates, colas and deuces on Google Play. Nevertheless, it is pleasant that the very first messenger remains in service 20 years later, let it be for many people dead.