We'll Miss You: Pioneering instant messaging program ICQ is finally shutting down after nearly 30 years

Original ICQ logo
(Image credit: Mirabilis (VK))

There was a time when ICQ—that's "I Seek You"—was as ubiquitous as mIRC and a good FTP program. But after nearly three decades of operation (much of it, I'm sorry to say, in obscurity), the end has finally come: A message posted on the ICQ website (via PCMag) says the software will stop operating on June 26.

It's hard to overstate just how big ICQ was at the turn of the millennium. It was released by Israeli developer Mirabilis in late 1996; I came to it in '97 by way of an in-the-know friend who breathlessly regaled me with tales of this exciting new program that let us talk to online friends anywhere, at any time—no more having to wait for your pals to show up on Undernet! Believe me, this was huge.

At one point ICQ had more than 100 million registered users, but it didn't take long for other companies to get in on the IM action, leading to ICQ's slow decline. AOL, which had acquired Mirabilis in 1998, sold it to Russian company Digital Sky Technologies—despite its decline in the West, ICQ remained popular in Russia—in 2010, at a significant loss. 

A new version of the program was released in 2020, but it's been neglected since; a Techspot report says the last stable desktop release arrived in April 2023, while the mobile versions were retired in favor of current owner VK's own messenger system.

I haven't used ICQ in many, many years, but even so I retain a soft spot for it. I not only remember my user identification number—1302192—I still have it. Technically, anyway: I remain in the ICQ user database, but the password (and the recovery email attached to it) are long gone.

(Image credit: Malygris Six)

It's me!

That makes the moment a little sad. ICQ had been out of my life for years—decades, even—but I always knew in the back of my mind that it was still out there, quietly thrumming away, doing its thing, a small island of software stability in a great black sea of dead and forgotten software. I even occasionally imagined that I would one day wake up from a deep sleep and holy cow, I remember my password! And I would log back in, one last time, to look at all those friends from so long ago. 

Hell, I'd even fire off a message. Maybe someone would hear it.

The end for ICQ came not with a bang, but a whimper: A simple, two-line message at icq.com states, "ICQ will stop working from June 26. You can chat with friends in VK Messenger, and colleagues in VK WorkSpace." Not the sendoff it deserved by any measure, but I do take some small comfort in knowing that at least it's not getting into NFTs.

Farewell, old friend. We had some good times.

Andy Chalk

Andy has been gaming on PCs from the very beginning, starting as a youngster with text adventures and primitive action games on a cassette-based TRS80. From there he graduated to the glory days of Sierra Online adventures and Microprose sims, ran a local BBS, learned how to build PCs, and developed a longstanding love of RPGs, immersive sims, and shooters. He began writing videogame news in 2007 for The Escapist and somehow managed to avoid getting fired until 2014, when he joined the storied ranks of PC Gamer. He covers all aspects of the industry, from new game announcements and patch notes to legal disputes, Twitch beefs, esports, and Henry Cavill. Lots of Henry Cavill.