ICQ (pronounced I Seek U) was created by an Israeli firm called Mirabilis based in Tel-Aviv. In June of 1998, America Online purchased 100% of the assets of Mirabilis for $287 Million. By February 2001, ICQ claimed 88 Million registered users, while AOL's AIM claimed 84.|
Lets talk about downhill since then. What AOL really did with the purchase of ICQ, was buy the competition to their AOL Instant Messenger - a kind of leveling the playing field - market perspective wise. Well, much like AOL's purchase of Netscape, also in 1998, AOL didn't receive a win-win.
In the last couple of years, Instant Messenging has grown to be a staple of many internet users, conversing instantly, and for free, across the world - faster than email. Yahoo entered the market in 1998, Microsoft did as well. Single handedly, Microsoft and Yahoo have taken AOL's marketshare.
Over consecutive 18 month growths, Microsoft and Yahoos' Instant Messenging products have grown twice as fast as AOLs' AIM.
According to research firm Jupiter Media Metrix, AOL's ICQ service had 7.9 million unique users at home and work in September, while its AOL Instant Messenger had 28 million. Microsoft's MSN Messenger had 20.4 million unique users, and Yahoo Messenger had 14.4 million. Where did AOL's few hundred million go? The answer? They didn't exist to begin with.
AOL has long been known to "inflate" their numbers, in a dishonest way. Until research firms like Jupiter Media Metrix, many of AOL's figures were taken at face value, now they're taken with a grain of salt. What AOL did, and still does to this day, is release numbers of "registered users", as in, even if you don't use AOL's product, you registered to. Then, there is the case of multiple accounts per individual.
Most everyone who has used AOL or, 99.9%, has more than 1 screenname. In each release of new AOL Software, AOL has touted "more screennames" as a feature, and it now supports 7 per account.
As a condition of AOLs' merger with Time Warner, AOL must open up their Instant Messenging system to competitors. In the future, what this means, is simply that AOLs' AIM users may not necessarily be using AOL's Software Client to access AOLs' AIM, but, more likely Microsofts.
The bottom line is that while AOL has touted dominance in Instant Messenging with numbers such as 88 Million plus 84 Million, the real truth is their losing ground, and fast. With AOLs' combined instant messenging userbase from ICQ and AIM they have 34 Million, with Microsoft in second and after only 3 years at 20.4 Million, and Yahoo with only 3 years at 14.4.
In all reality, Microsoft and Yahoo have done more in 3 years with their Instant Messenging products than AOL has with AIM and ICQ. AOL must now look out for Microsoft and Yahoo, because when AOL's Instant Messenging system is opened up to competitors, people will move to Microsoft and Yahoo for the best of both worlds.
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