### The Digital Time Capsule: ICQ's Legacy and Enduring Charm

When ICQ closes its doors, it will draw a line under an era in the fast-moving world of technology. After a remarkable 28-year run, the pioneer of instant messaging is shutting down. This is the story of how ICQ began, how it rose to fame, and why its era is ending.

#### From a Serendiptious Inception to a CLASSIC Messaging Giant

ICQ’s history is a story of accidental success that redefined digital communication. Born from a group of tech-savvy, Israeli dreamers, the chat client was developed not for the purpose it became most known for, but as a byproduct of an earlier project to automate beeper messages. It was this pivot that gave birth to a service that would presage the future of communication – not just instant messaging, but social networking as we know it.

In the early, halcyon days of the internet — when you could still have to dial up and the most you could do was keep a card on a profile — ICQ was a new kind of constant open line to someone, halfway around the world or right next door, with whom you might never have had a chance to speak otherwise.

#### A CLASSIC Cultivator of Online Communities

With other paths closed, ICQ’s adoption was organic, viral – a phenomenon that rippled outward from online communities that were just beginning to flourish. ICQ was the classic forum tool, aimed at nerds, gamers, and other early adopters. The resulting pop-up society, now stitches together every inch of the world. For all that, we probably wouldn’t have Discord without ICQ.

Though its popularity was eventually surpassed by AIM and later MSN and, still later, social media networks, ICQ remains one of the pioneers of the instant messaging revolution. It was the first to go mainstream. Its sale to Mail.ru (eventually VK) kept it alive as a popular mode of communication until today, particularly among Russian-speaking communities, as the case remains.

#### Reminiscing Digital Connections: A Personal Touch

It wasn’t just about messaging with ICQ. It offered unique, one-of-a-kind user numbers and user profiles that helped us connect on a deeper, more human level – not just for day-to-day communication, but for friendships, romances and everything in-between. It was the backdrop for many personal stories of our lives, in a similar way that most summer teen romances for generations of the 1990s were.

Looking back at the part ICQ played in his life, our senior editor Samuel Axon wrote: ICQ endured – it became the platform for my first few steps into social networking, for the first girl I dated in high school, for so many of the firsts of my life that it bled into my internal timeline […] ICQ was part of our lives and, for many of us, our lives became part of its. ICQ was more than an app. At the time, it was a central part of many people’s lives, creating indelible marks upon their personal histories.

#### The Quintessential "Uh-oh" and Beyond

It would be impossible to talk about ICQ without mentioning its ‘uh oh!’ message notification noise — already, an impossible-to-forget aural thumbprint of the program. It was so odd when it came out, it seemed delightfully quirky. Today, it’s a classic.

#### The Curtain Call for a CLASSIC Platform

But before we write its obituary, let’s remember that it was more than just a service – it was part of the fabric of digital culture. Its impending shutdown serves as a reminder that technology and online spaces are temporary, but also an opportunity to pay tribute to the lasting influence of this classic service on the culture that we’ve built around it.

#### Understanding the CLASSIC Appeal of ICQ

The reason why ICQ continues to be beloved now is the same reason why it was beloved when it was first released: it was the first wide-spread client to introduce true human connectivity to the online space. Long after we’ve forgotten what AOL was and Yahoo has been buried out of reach of society, ICQ remains.

Despite its vulnerabilities and inevitable demise, I hope we still look back fondly upon ICQ as it enters the digital afterlife. Its history – one of innovation, community-building and connection – will become one of the great stories of the internet’s infancy.

May 30, 2024
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