AIM’ing For Simplicity

by Christopher Paul on January 28, 2007

I have been using instant messaging for a long time. In fact, I think I was one of the early adopters of ICQ – the company that recieved a patent for instant messaging in 2002. I downloaded ICQ when it was still Mirabilis well before it was aquired by AOL. My UIN number is a low number – only seven digits its actually; I’m one of the I’m one of the first 7.7 million users. Friends of mine have numbers that are also in the 7 million area. My brother who introduced it to me has a number in the 4 million range. I don’t know how many registered users there are, however.

I registered by ICQ number on January 31, 1998 at 5:41pm – a Saturday. I was a huge fan of the program from the start. Not only could I talk with my friends who had since moved away from my home town, I could leave them messages even when they were offline – kind of like a computer answering machine that was way better than email. I didn’t have a lot of friends on there – 26 at my peak ICQ usage – but it didn’t matter, I had all the right friends on there because anyone who knew IM knew ICQ.

AOL bought ICQ later that year and I was so upset. I hated AOL (still do, actually). They were the big, clunky, ISP who didn’t really give a user the full experience of the Internet; it was always some special AOL forum or chat room and the average AOL user didn’t even know that there were other web browsers out there (well, Netscape, anyway). And because they were very much an ad and subscriber kind of company, I thought the worst would happen to my beloved ICQ. I was right… but for the wrong reasons.

ICQ did get a taste of AOL but it wasn’t what I originally feared. The app got bloated as it evolved. They added all types of mini-apps or features that hogged memory and took a 700k app and turned it into some 6MB monstrosity. One version tapped out at 12MB – a HUGE file for days before broadband was so readily available. I didn’t care about sending e-cards, playing games, using notes, reminders, calendars, or any of the other fluffy things they added to it. ICQ was no longer the thin, stable app that I used to chat with people; it became a buggy piece of software that only got used for one thing: IM.

Unfortunately, as time went on, my friends stopped using ICQ. I don’t know why really, but I suspect it has something to do with AOL. AOL was so popular in US homes that if you wanted to IM you needed AOL. Once AOL opened up their AIM app for non-AOL users, it was over – no one used ICQ to chat anymore. Even though ICQ came out with their IM app first, AOL’s penetration in the market was so deep that ICQ couldn’t really keep up. The bloat also added to that exodus, I’m sure. AIM just send instant messages and nothing else. It was small and it just worked.

Right now, I only use ICQ to talk to one person. It’s someone I talk to very regularly but I’d rather not use ICQ to do it. The support for ICQ gets lower and lower with each new multi-IM app and Its another password I need to remember. I’d rather just AOL IM with iChat and be done with it; I want to ditch Trillian, GAIM, Proteus, and the others out there for one app that’s going to work and not crash.

Yes, I know that ICQ and AIM can talk to one another but the clients have be set up for that. And Interoperability has never worked right. I can’t even see myself online when I add my number in to iChat. I just want some simple IM solution that doesn’t have a bunch of bells and whistles – no winks, or VoIP, or anything but the core IM and buddy icon. I can’t send an IM to an invisible or offline friend in iChat – or any other AOL client for that matter.

I’m also getting rid of my MSN, and Yahoo clients and just go with AOL and simplify my IM life.

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