ICQ -- you know it, you love it; how do they do it?

Recently, I heard that there are about 8 million people using the ICQ service worldwide. I’ve worked in the ISP business long enough to know that 8 million users would require huge staffs of technical personell. And yet, ICQ is free. No charge, no banners, just free, simple, and effective online communication. How do they manage to do it, and how long can they continue to do it?

Since AOL bought it, they have tried to upgrade the software adding new features, I think they will slowly be adding banners and the such, but right now there is nothing. I don’t know how long it will continue, but, as far as I can stick with the old version I will be happy.


This is speculative, but many important internet companies have started up by offering something for free and then trying to turn a profit once they have established a strong niche. My guess is that ICQ doesn’t turn any sort of profit yet, but it seems likely that they might start adding things like banners, and they could also charge other internet services for accessing their servers (to send messages through custom interfaces, or the like).

What’s it stand for?

It doesn’t stand for anything (that I know of) just say it aloud.
It sounds like “I seek you”


ah. that’s kinda cleaver, in a valley girl sorta way.

I fully understand the concept of speculative internet “virtual” companies. And I can understand that a company would have a product less expensive that the “other guy” in order to build a huge customer base. Amazon.com is a perfect example. They lose money on almost every order, but they have a large customer base and a good brand. The difference between ICQ and Amazon.com, though, is that Amazon.com does have revenue, if not profits. They can still PAY their employees. ICQ can’t, can they?
So its simple to say that “Well they are going to start charging one of these days!” But they have been around for almost four years! If my company didn’t have ANY revenue for four years, I’d be broke.

I think ICQ was started and maintained the first couple of years in the hopes that they would be bought out. Then last year (I think? Maybe this year.) and the people who started ICQ made their money back from the money AOL paid to buy the company.

8M? That’s probably way off. When I got it at www.download.com a few months back, it said there 50M people already downloaded it.
Just for that site, too.

That is a big ad base, lots of money in ads. That’s how they do it these days. Takes 2-3 years to get back the capital that way. Not sure about ICQ, after all, its just a little program, so not much capital needed.

Yahoo Messenger works well too, again, free. AOL won’t let it interface with their messenger anymore though.

One other thing. Does anyone notice how hard they make it to uninstall ICQ or Yahoo Messenger? Boy! They don’t make it easy.

The 50M could just be the same people downloading a more recent version of the software. 8M is probably based upon the number of UINs registered under ICQ.

Oh yeah? Try removing Microsoft Internet Explorer from your system. You are shown warnings informing you that if you delete those files, you risk deleting files that will cause your entire operating system to stop functioning.
Of course, ( shudder ) I am in NO WAY criticizing Microsoft. Or any of their products. Or subsidiaries. Or programmers. Or marketing agents. Or retail outlets. Or advertising. <<whew>>


ICQ, AOL IM, and Microsoft whatever all use UDP (as opposed to TCP) packets, which were designed for instant IP-to-IP datagram communication. The actual program sends out UDP packets on one port and listens to another. On a third, probably, it communicates with the server. Unlike TCP, which is a connection-oriented protocol involving streaming and reassembly of multiple packets, UDP is connectionless. Its used for sending a little piece of information between computers, when expediency is more important than completeness. FTP, for example, uses TCP because guaranteed delivery of all packets involved in a file transfer is important. For a time-of-day server, though, you don’t care if a packet gets where it’s going or not- what you want to know is that there be little overhead involved with the transport layer because the packet has to get there right on time. UDP is much simpler than TCP. Usually you are sending only one at a time.´ Unfortunately most firewalls block it- you might not get an ICQ connection at work.
The server’s role is critical but not demanding. Basically what it’s there for is so that everyone will know who is currently connected to the network and at which IP they are at.
When you connect, you send information about your current IP, as well as who is on your contact list, to the Mirabilis server. The server sends you information specifying which of your friends are online. It also maintains a copy of your contact list during the connection, so if one of your friends drops or connects, you get a UDP telling you about it. During the connection you exchange periodic “keep-alive” UDP packets with the server so that the server knows your IP is still good for UDP communication (these packets contain information about your recent mouse movement, keypresses, etc. so that the server will be able to tell your friends that you’re away. It’s very efficient for messaging but wouldn’t be so hot for email. One limitation of messages being contained in UDP packets means that there is a size limit for your messages. You can only send about 400 alphanumeric characters in an ICQ message (not sure which version).
ICQ does resort to using TCP sometimes, for example, when you are sending someone a file. But it uses UDP for everything else. When you and a friend send messages to each other, you and him are sending UDP packets directly through the network to each other’s current IP addresses. The ICQ server is not involved (except, obviously, if you send an “offline message”- these do involve Mirabilis’s server in a role somewhat like a POP server).
I’ve used ICQ and AOL Instant Messager, and ICQ has a much cleaner and more functional design. AOL IM generates frivolous error messages when you disconnect and tends to get in your way. It has fewer options and insists on showing you ads. The only thing it has going for it is its convenient access for messaging with all of the idiots out there who are using AOL software. Small wonder that Microsoft targetted AOL’s IM format instead of ICQ’s. If the same idiots who designed the interface also had anything to do with the connection protocol that IM uses, then Microsoft’s decision is probably a disaster from a technical perspective. But Microsoft doesn’t care a whit for quality. What they want is the market.

Apples and oranges. After you install MSIE, its completely interchangeable with your standard windows explorer by replacing some dlls. While I suspect this was done more to imporve marketing leverage than to serve the users, its actaully a pretty good idea.