The Rise and Fall of Instant Messengers

Remember ICQ, AIM, and “A/S/L”?

If you experienced the rise of instant messaging in the 1990s, those acronyms can be very nostalgia-inducing. But IMing with friends and strangers online wasn’t only fun and exciting, but revolutionary: though we take instant communication for granted today, the advent of instant messaging changed the way people communicate forever.

Before the Internet era, phone calls were the only instant form of communication available to most people. Calling outside your area, sometimes even to the next town over, could result in hefty long-distance fees, and the complications of setting up conversations with more than two participants made it not worth the trouble for most.

But with the advent of the World Wide Web and instant messaging in the 1990s, suddenly anyone with an Internet connection could instantly chat with people around the world, for just the cost of their monthly Internet subscription. It didn’t matter whether you’d met them before or even knew each others’ real names; only that you both had access to the new world wide web.

Since then, the way we communicate has changed forever (and become full of even more acronyms: LOL, ROFL, BRB, TTYL, and more).

Today, instant messaging has come a long way. Chat rooms and IM programs have given way to smartphone apps like Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp, or social media like Twitter to broadcast our instant messages for all to see. Instead of just text, we can instantly share documents, videos, images, and more. With Skype and Google Hangouts, we can move beyond instant messaging to real-time video conferencing, adding another layer to modern instant communication.

How did the revolution begin? Which companies achieved success and fame with IMing, and whatever happened to AIM and ICQ? Follow the timeline below to follow the rise and fall of those giants of instant messaging, and how they led the instant communication revolution.

the-rise-and-fall-of-instant-messengers

The Rise and Fall of Instant Messengers

The internet has transformed our lives in an almost endless number of ways – shopping, news, dating, LOLcats – and one of the most significant has to be connecting people via instant messaging services. But how have IMs changed over the years?

ICQ

  • 1996
    • Launched by Isreali company Mirabilis. It is the first instant messaging service for PCs.
  • 1998
    • 10m users
    • AOL acquires ICQ.
  • 2002
    • 4.4m users
  • 2004
    • 20m users
  • 2009
    • 47.3m users
  • 2010
    • 42m users
    • AOL sells ICQ to Digital Sky Technologies for $187.5 million, less than half the 407 million it paid in 1998.
  • 2011
    • 30.8m users
  • 2012
    • 20.5m
  • 2013
    • 12.3m

AIM

  • 1997
    • AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) is released by AOL in May 1997 and is the first I to offer what is now a given, the buddy list. It also uses voice chat well before Skype. It grows rapidly and paves the way for future instant messaging services.
  • 2004
    • 36m users
  • 2005
    • 53m users
  • 2007
    • 63m users
  • 2008
    • 27m users
  • 2009
    • 30m users
  • 2011
    • 12m users
  • 2012
    • 4m users

Yahoo

  • 1998
    • Launches under the name Yahoo Pager
  • 2001
    • 11m users
  • 2002
    • 12.4m users
  • 2003
    • 17m users
  • 2005
    • 18.2m users
  • 2006
    • 19.3m users
    • Yahoo and Microsoft lauch interoperability between I services, the first of its kind between two global IM providers.
  • 2007
    • 62m users
  • 2009
    • 122.6m users
  • 2012
    • Yahoo streamlines service by removing public chatrooms, which were integrated with Yahoo Messenger.

MSN

  • 1999
    • MSN Messenger launches, offering customers a way to “exchange online messages and email with the more than 40 million users of the MSN Hotmail.”
  • 2001
    • 31.9m users
  • 2002
    • 15.7m users
  • 2003
    • 100m users
  • 2004
    • 115m users
  • 2005
    • 155m users
    • The first ‘wink’ Flash-based animated files are added to MSN Messenger – a precursor to today’s emojis and animations.
  • 2006
    • 240m users
    • MSN Messenger is rebranded as Windows Live Messenger.
  • 2007
    • 294m users
  • 2008
    • 235m users
  • 2009
    • 330m users
  • 2010
    • 300m users
  • 2011
    • 330m users
    • Microsoft acquisition of Skype puts the future of Windows Live Messenger in jeopardy.
  • 2012
    • 100m users
    • Windows Live Messenger announces it has merged with Skype and its subsequent discontinuation.
  • 2013
    • Windows Live Messenger’s transition to Skype takes place throughout April 2013 one language at a time, starting with English and ending with Brazilian Portuguese on April 30.

Skype

  • 2003
    • Skype is founded as an instant messaging service that also includes the option to communicate with a webcam and microphone.
  • 2005
    • After a successful first few years, eBay buys Skype for around $2.5 billion.
  • 2009
    • 105m users
    • eBay sells 65% of Skype to Silver Lake, Andreessen Horowitz and the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board for $1.9 billion.
  • 2010
    • 145m users
  • 2011
    • 170m users
    • Microsoft announces it has bought Skype in a deal worth $8.5 billion.
  • 2012
    • 250m users
  • 2013
    • 280m users
  • 2014
    • 300m users

Google

  • 2005
    • Google launches Google Talk, which is seen as an attempt to rival the popularity of MSN Messenger and AIM.
  • 2006
    • 3.5m users
  • 2008
    • 5m users
  • 2013
    • Google announces it will merge and replace its various chat services which include Google Talk, Google+ Messenger and Google+ Hangout video chat. This signals the end for Google Talk.

WhatsApp

  • 2009
    • 1m users
    • WhatsApp launches for smartphones as a way to text, and send video and audio for free. Soon after the launch, Apple incorporates push notifications on its devices.
  • 2010
    • 10m users
  • 2012
    • 200m users
  • 2013
    • 250m users
    • The success of WhatsApp and its free instant chatting service reportedly cost mobile phone providers $32.5 billion in texting fees in 2013.
  • 2014
    • 500m users
    • Facebook announces it will but WhatsApp for $19 billion.

Note: these figures come from a range of sources, some of which are speculative. Some companies might not reveal the exact figures and/or inflate them to sound attractive.

Today, WhatsApp and Skype are dominating the IM market. As technology continues to advance, will these services stay up to speed, or prove to have a limited lifespan like their predecessors?

Sources

  • Skype Updates IPO Filing with Full 2010 Data – 247wallst.Com
  • ICQ Is Losing Users – acf.ua
  • Windows Live Messenger Has 330 Million Active Users – arstechnica.com
  • Google to Expand Talk Service – Garticles.latimes.com
  • Blueprint of How to Sell out – archive.fortune.com
  • Facebook to Buy Messaging App WhatsApp for $19bn – bbc.co.uk
  • Microsoft Confirms Takeover of Skype – bbc.co.uk
  • Profile: How Skype Connected – bbc.co.uk
  • Skype and Messenger Coming Together: The next Chapter – blogs.skype.com
  • 500,000,000 – blog.whatsapp.com
  • eBay to Sell Skype Stake to Group Led by Silver Lake – bloomberg.com
  • WhatsApp Shows How Phone Carriers Lost out on $33 Billion – bloomberg.com
  • New Trends in Internet Market: An Exemplary of Strategic Chances and Risks – books.google.co.uk
  • AOL Jumps into E-Mail Free-for-All – cbsnews.com
  • How Windows Live Messenger Works – computer.howstuffworks.com
  • Mail.ru Group Annual Report 2012 – corp.mail.ru
  • Mail.ru Group Annual Report 2013 – corp.mail.ru
  • AOL &Amp; OpenID – 63 Million AIM Users Are Now OpenID-Enabled! And Perhaps a Slight Security Problem… – disruptivetelephony.com
  • Yahoo Instant Messaging to Become More Prominent Blackberry Feature – djcoregon.com
  • Skype CEO Tony Bates Confirms 250m Monthly Users, Talks Microsoft Partnership and Future Plans – engadget.com
  • the Rags-to-Riches Tale of How Jan Koum Built WhatsApp into Facebook’s New $19 Billion Baby – forbes.com
  • MSN Messenger Users Get What They Pay for – forbes.com
  • Skype’s Long History of Owners and Also-Rans: At an End? – fortune.com
  • WhatsApp Users Get the Message – ft.com
  • Our History in Depth – google.com
  • Google Hangouts Takes on BBM and WhatsApp with Free Cross-Platform Messaging – ibtimes.co.uk
  • a Hard Fall for AOL&Rsquo;S AIM – investorplace.com
  • eBay to Acquire Skype – investor.ebay.com
  • U.S. In-Home IM Usage Hits 41M – internetnews.com
  • AOL Sells ICQ to Digital Sky Technologies – mashable.com
  • a Brief History of Instant Messaging – mashable.com
  • Windows Live Messenger – microsoft.com
  • Yahoo! And Microsoft Bridge Global Instant Messaging Communities – microsoft.com
  • Microsoft Set to Release MSN Messenger 7.0 Beta – networkworld.com
  • What Is Instant Messaging? – newliteracies.com.au
  • Windows Live Messenger 300 Million Users, 1.5 Billion Conversations, 9 Billion Messages – news.softpedia.com
  • ICQ to Ping Application Developers – news.cnet.com
  • AOL Acquires Instant Message Firm – news.cnet.com
  • Security Industry Market Share Analysis (June 2011) – opswat.com
  • How the Skype Windows Live Messenger Merge Works – pallareviews.com
  • ICQ – princeton.edu
  • Three out of Four People to the Internet through Non-Browser Based Applications, Blurring the Lines between the Desktop and the Web, According to Nielsen//NetRatings – prnewswire.com
  • Microsoft, AOL Discussing Partnership, Sources Say – seattletimes.com
  • AOL Gets It Right with Open AIM 2.0 – Embraces Meebo and eBuddy – techcrunch.com
  • Facebook on AIM Is a Hit: 1 Million Users – techcrunch.com
  • Microsoft Promises Real-Time Skype Speech Translation Tool by End of 2014 – techtimes.com
  • AOL Takes One Part Bebo, One Part AIM, Wants to Create Central Lifestreaming Service – venturebeat.com
  • Skype Hits 145 Million Users Monthly – voiceontheweb.biz
  • Microsoft Buys Skype for $8.5 Billion. Why, Exactly? – wired.com
  • Stay in Touch with Yahoo! Pager – yhoo.client.shareholder.com
  • ICQ Offers Video Chat – zdnet.com
  • Countdown Clock: Microsoft Marches toward Its Messenger Phase-out – zdnet.com

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