• ICQ, one of the biggest instant messaging platforms of the late 1990s and early 2000s, shut down on June 26
  • Among people who used it, many are nostalgic over ICQ's features such as the distinctive "uh oh!" sound that announced a message's arrival
  • ICQ joined other popular messaging platforms that had gone offline over the years
  • They included MIRC, Yahoo! Messenger and MSN Messenger

SINGAPORE, June 29 — Many young internet users today may not have heard of ICQ, but back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, it was just about the biggest online messaging platform around.

For a generation of early-internet users, it was a game-changing tool that many still recall very fondly for features such as the distinctive “uh oh!” sound announcing the arrival of a message.

ICQ shut down its services on Wednesday (June 26), nearly three decades after it was introduced, long before the likes of WhatsApp dominated the scene.

With its name derived from the phrase “I seek you”, ICQ was launched in November 1996 by an Israeli company called Mirabilis.

ICQ preceded other popular messaging platforms such as MSN Messenger and Yahoo! Messenger.

Users who registered for an account would be assigned a unique identification number, which grew longer as more people jumped onto the platform.

People added each other as friends using these numbers, took note of who was online and could start chatting one-on-one with them instantaneously.

Unlike latter-day mobile applications such as WhatsApp and Telegram, chat groups were not a feature back then.

In 1998, Mirabilis’ biggest rival AOL acquired the company, and 12 years later, it was again acquired by a Russian-based social media platform now called VK.

At its peak in 2001, ICQ had more than 100 million registered users.

‘Added colour’ to life in early days of internet

Mr Ashley Liew, 37, remembers back in 1999 when he was in Secondary 1 downloading ICQ onto his family’s desktop computer.

The youngster quickly became totally absorbed by the world it opened up for him.

“ICQ added colour to my life, especially in a time when life was simpler with Nokia mobile phones, which could only store a maximum of 30 SMS without any internet access,” Mr Liew, a chiropractor and former national marathon runner, said.

“Seeing so many other users online at the same time (with the characteristic green flower) made me feel part of a community,” he told TODAY.

“It became an almost nightly routine for me. The characteristic ‘uh oh!’ notification sounds really made my day each time a message came through.”

Mr Liew added that 25 years on, he still maintains contact with many people he met on ICQ, albeit on different platforms.

“There were some really good friendships formed through ICQ, which spoke to the power of the internet, especially then.”

Ms Valeria Sharon Kew, 44, who got into ICQ in 1998, also loved the “uh oh!” message alerts.

Ms Kew, who works as a distributor in sales, said: “I used to date via ICQ. I could stay online, connected with my then boyfriend during working hours.

“That time, I was active with mIRC (another early online messaging technology) as well. So whenever I made a new online friend, the first question was, ‘Do you have ICQ?’

“ICQ allowed me to carry on to stay in contact with my online friends for hours without using mIRC.”

Calling the ICQ closure “bittersweet”, Mr Liew said that ICQ was his first social media platform and it will “remain in a special place”.

However, over the years, the accessibility and access of newer messaging and social media apps on mobile phones greatly affected ICQ’s user base.

The number of registered ICQ users gradually slumped to about 11 million in 2022, VK reported.

As the internet bids farewell to ICQ, TODAY takes a nostalgic look at various other messaging platforms, some of them long gone, others still with a band of loyal users.


Developed by British programmer Khaled Mardam-Bey and released in February 1995, mIRC is an Internet Relay Chat platform for the Windows system designed for users to communicate, share and play with one another on its networks globally.

Still active around the world, it is regarded as the precursor to today’s instant messaging platforms, and involves chat rooms bustling with different communities.

MIRC is widely known for its chat functionality, which supports multiple channels, private messages and file transfers, but it also offers a powerful scripting language that allows users to automate tasks and create advanced functions.

Ms Archita Biswas, 40, recalls first using the chat platform during her post-graduate studies in 2005 at an internet cafe.

“I really, really liked the emojis in mIRC,” the pharmaceutical consultant said.

“It gave a new meaning to express my feelings through emojis at that age. The sadness, happiness, mood swings — all got a new level of meaning and expressing them became so easy.”

She said that the platform was a “saviour” for her and her boyfriend, who were living in different states of India back then to pursue their respective careers.

“Phone calls were not possible throughout the day as it was way costlier to chat for hours compared to mIRC. My parents were also located in a different country. So mIRC came to the rescue to save all the relationships.”

Yahoo! Messenger

Released in 1998 as Yahoo! Pager, the messenger app allowed free texts to friends using the internet, across a variety of platforms.

Beyond text, the platform supported GIFs, images, emoticons, and other files. As long as users were online, they could communicate with friends and family for free.

Yahoo! Messenger introduced the concept of personalised avatars, where users would be able to change an avatar’s appearance to best fit their personalities.

It also once had public chatrooms to have conversations on many different topics with friends and strangers.

The platform grew to about 65 million registered users worldwide in 2005.

It shut down on July 17, 2018, after a 20-year run.

MSN Messenger

Microsoft’s entry to the fast-emerging instant messaging market was launched on July 22, 1999.

By then, ICQ had been around for three years and Yahoo! Messenger had been on the scene for about a year.

Microsoft decided to make the most of the popularity of its email service Hotmail by offering its millions of users the ability to communicate instantly.

It proved to be a success as MSN Messenger had more than 29 million registered users worldwide in early 2001, making it the most-used instant messaging service in the world, Microsoft said.

It soon gained features such as smileys, and allowed users to have webcam video conversations and play games in real-time with contacts.

For IT project manager Siti Halimahtul, 31, MSN Messenger was a big hit among her friends at school in the early 2000s. She described it as “revolutionary”.

“That was the first time I was introduced to using emoticons in messages,” she recalled.

“Our profile status also reflected what our friends were thinking of at the time, so it was one thing that we looked out for each time we logged in to the app, to feed our curiosities.”

our friends were thinking of at the time, so it was one thing that we looked out for each time we logged in to the app, to feed our curiosities.”

She vividly recalled the “nudge” feature that allowed users to “shake” their friends’ app screen “to alert them of our messages if they did not respond after some time”.

Later, MSN Messenger was rebranded to be known as Windows Live Messenger to align with the broader Windows software family.

Microsoft eventually discontinued Windows Live Messenger in 2013 and replaced it with Skype.


Skype was founded in August 2003 by Estonian developers Zahti Heinla, Priit Kasesalu and Jaan Tallinn, Danish developer Janus Friis and Sweden’s Niklas Zennstrom.

The name is short for “Sky peer to peer” and in the early days, the service was limited to only voice calls between computers.

As it gained more features, its growing popularity led to its acquisition by American e-commerce company eBay in 2005.

In May 2011, Microsoft bought Skype for US$8.5 billion (RM40.1 billion) and integrated Windows Live Messenger into the app.

The voice, video and messaging app became popular in the 2000s, allowing families and friends to chat without having to pay any long-distance fees.

In March 2020, Microsoft said that Skype had 40 million daily active users.

Mr Liew, who previously used ICQ, said that he has used Skype actively over the years.

“We also happen to use Skype all the time in the chiropractic clinic I serve at,” he added.

“When I was studying for my chiropractic degree in the United States between 2013 and 2016, I mainly used Skype to video-call family and friends back in Singapore.

“What was novel then was the ability to do free video calls as long as there was Wi-Fi.”

He also noted the distinctive dial tone of the Skype video-call, which “went on endlessly” if the other party was late or unavailable.

During the Covid-19 pandemic when most people were working remotely, Skype faced competition from other platforms such as Zoom and Microsoft’s newer Teams.

Skype is still operating today, but has lost popularity over the years.


Viber was founded in 2010 by Talmon Marco and Igor Magazinnik in Tel Aviv, Israel.

Similar to today’s WhatsApp, the platform allows instant messaging as well as video and voice calling. It also allows users to add other contacts using their phone numbers.

Once dubbed the “Skype killer”, Viber also allows group chats for up to 250 people and calls of up to 20 at once.

Since it was acquired by Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten in February 2014, Viber introduced new features such as custom emojis and stickers to broaden its offerings to users.

Viber is still operating and is most popularly used in eastern Europe though it has users elsewhere, too. — TODAY