Friday, September 16, 2016


Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

When I started with instant messaging, ICQ was the first program that I was introduced to. (It’s supposed to be short for I Seek You.) I just recently started using the program again after a long absence and I have to admit that a lot has changed. (I’ve been using AOL IM recently, but I’ll elaborate on that later.)

Some things are the same. ICQ is still a free program that you have to download from the website, After downloading it and installing it, you’re assigned a number. (If you already have an account, you can still use that one by importing it.) You also select a screen name, which is displayed to others. (Since the number is unique to you, several people can use the same screen name.) If someone else you know uses ICQ, you can exchange numbers and put each other on a contact list, which is basically a list of all of the people that you want to communicate with.

It used to be that text messages were typed into a window and that window disappeared when the message was sent. At some point, ICQ became more like AOL IM in that the window stays open and the text goes into the top part of the window after being typed in the bottom. I think that this has to do with AOL’s acquisition of ICQ. I’ve noticed some other changes that may have come as a result of that. For instance, you couldn’t save your contact list. This meant that if you ever had to reinstall ICQ, you had to find and add all of your friends again. (Regaining your contact list could be especially annoying since you can make it so that you have to authorize people when they want to add you to their list.) Now, when you reinstall it and import your account, the list will be there. (Another benefit of the merger is that you can add AOL IM users to your ICQ contact list and AOL IM users can add you to their buddy list.)

The big draw at first was ease of use. It was very easy to send messages and links, which were done using separate functions. One of the downsides was that people would often forward links that were the equivalent of chain letters. (I stopped getting these after a while, but I don’t know if it was because they declined in popularity or if it was because people learned that I didn’t appreciate them. The same could be said of bad spelling.)
It was also very easy to find people. Everyone is listed in a directory. You can find people based on things like interests, location and languages spoken assuming that anyone bothered to fill in that information. You could also post a comment. Many people wouldn’t (and still don’t) respond to random requests to chat, but few ever post such a comment in their profile. Don’t expect to meet a lot of new people through ICQ.

ICQ shows who is online and who is offline by putting the online people on top and putting a green icon next to their screen name. Those that were offline were on the bottom and had a red icon next to their name. Among those that were on, some were listed as being N/A, or not available. Others were simply ‘away’. It was simply a matter of degree; both are used to indicate that you won’t be immediately available to chat with someone. One thing that used to annoy me was when my brother would leave ICQ on and simply go about his business. He wouldn’t put it on away of N/A mode. The idea was to let his friends know that he was on campus and was willing to do something.

If a person’s icon is green, there’s no way to tell if they’re there or not. (As if that’s not enough, if a person’s icon is red, it’s possible that they’re in invisible mode, which means that they want to make themselves known to only a few people.) If someone is offline (or online and invisible) you can still send them a message. If they truly are offline, they’ll get it as soon as they connect to the system. (If they’re online, they’ll get it immediately and decide whether or not to respond to it.)

The real deathblow for ICQ was when a lot of people switched to AOL IM. Had the acquisition occurred sooner or had my friends switched later, I might still be using ICQ. However, I’ve come to like AOL IM better now. The primary advantage is that I can save my conversations in HTML format. (To my knowledge, there’s no way to save ICQ conversations independently of the ICQ program, but it’s possible that that capability was recently added.)

I think that for most people, it’s going to come down to what your friends use. There’s also Yahoo! Messenger and I believe that Windows has its own IM program. (Yahoo! Messenger has its own set of advantages. I don’t know about Windows’s program, as I’ve never used it.) At one point, I might have given ICQ four or five stars, but now, I’d say that it only gets three. I’ve gotten used to AOL IM and the truth is that AOL IM is better. If you have to choose between the two, I’d recommend AOL IM.

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