Aunt Asya’s Departure: Editor-in-Chief’s Thoughts on Hackers

Yesterday, June 26, 2024, a significant event occurred – the ICQ service ceased to exist. Let's remember what our “Aska” was like and how it happened that we parted with her a long time ago.

ICQ first appeared in 1996. The program was created by the Israeli startup Mirabilis, which consisted of only five employees. The service turned out to be convenient and quickly gained users.


In the first two years of its existence, 12 million people already had ICQ numbers, which is a huge figure by the standards of the early Internet. It's no joke – about 10% of all users. And this without any marketing! People simply advised each other to put ICQ, dictated UIN and were happy to communicate.

In 1998, in the wake of the dot-com boom, Mirabilis was bought by the American corporation AOL, at that time the largest Internet provider in the United States and the owner of many other services. A lot of money was paid – $400 million.

ICQ 99a

It is difficult to say how the sale affected the fate of ICQ. On the one hand, the company was left untouched at first: the headquarters remained in Israel, and the five founders continued to work on their brainchild. On the other hand, the same AOL created a direct competitor to ICQ – AOL Instant Messenger, or AIM. It was this that was promoted most actively.

At the beginning of the 2000s, the number of registered users of AIM and ICQ was equal, and AIM by that time had a more active user base. But the main competitor to both programs was MSN Messenger, released in 1999, later renamed Windows Live Messenger.


In Russia it was difficult to notice, but MSN Messenger at its peak was ten times more popular than ICQ. The reason for its success is the same as for Internet Explorer: MSN came with Windows. Users who had not yet sat on the needle of Askin’s “ah-ay” decided that he was good enough.

It was not Microsoft that killed ICQ. Rather, its competitors, Apple and Google, are to blame, since the main blow to early messengers was the emergence of smartphones.

Yes, ICQ mobile clients have existed since time immemorial, but they were not suitable for the new era. Perhaps, behind the veil of nostalgia, you have already forgotten how ICQ originally worked, but I will remind you. If a person was not online, it was impossible to write to him: the messages simply did not arrive.

ICQ 2001b
ICQ 2001b

The fact is that communication between client applications took place directly: having received each other’s IP addresses from the Mirabilis server, they sent all the data without his participation. Accordingly, the correspondence history was also stored only locally. If they wrote something to you and it came to your computer while it was on, then when you log in from your phone, you will no longer see this message.

Following smartphones came a new wave of messengers: Viber, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Messages from iOS, Telegram and others, which solved this problem. It’s only been a few years, and few people remember about ICQ.

At that moment, ICQ was just changing its owner and was moving from AOL to the Russian Digital Sky fund, and in the same 2010 it went to Group. For reasons that are still a little mysterious, Russians have become the most persistent users of ICQ.

Somehow it turned out that MSN seemed like an incomprehensible foreign thing to our people, but “Asya” seemed like our own and dear. By 2013, 12 million people continued to use ICQ, of which about 8 million lived in Russia. However, this number was rapidly declining. People en masse switched to either WhatsApp or the latest innovation of that time – Telegram.

The news that ICQ is being actively modernized and adding more and more new features was only received with a smile: it’s nice, of course, that “Asya” is still alive, but you don’t mean that someone will seriously use it?

Logo evolution
Logo evolution

Reading the history of ICQ updates on Wikipedia, you are amazed: it turns out that video calls were added to the official ICQ client back in 2003 (at that time I was using either Miranda or Pidgin, where there was no trace of them). In 2011, integration with Facebook and Twitter appeared. In 2016, they finally added correspondence history and even stickers!

Did you manage to send someone a sticker via ICQ? Me not. “Five-digit” and “six-digit”, alternative clients, requests to pisat' translitom, a to odni zakoryu4ki, multiple attempts to send a file and drama about who was online when – all this is now history.

If you want to remember a little more about the times when “Asya” was young and beautiful, I pulled out for you from the 61st issue of “Hacker” Dmitry Dokuchaev’s article “Asya on a silver platter.” Please don't let your tears fall on the keyboard!