Aardvark Daily
ICQ, a victim of its own success?
Copyright © 1997 to Bruce Simpson, syndication rights available
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29 Dec 1997

Every few years there's a "killer application" released that changes the face of the computing industry. Some say the history of the Killer App started when Bill Gates (yes the same Bill Gates) released his very first version of Microsoft Basic for the Altair microcomputer, back in 1975. Others prefer to consider the grand-daddy of Killer Apps to be Electric Pencil, a word processor launched in the same year, although it really didn't become a "killer" until the release of the Apple II in 1977.

It was Electric Pencil and Visi Calc, another Killer App, which have been credited with turning the Apple II computer from a "techno-toy" into a genuine personal and small business computing tool. This is the power of the Killer App!

Since the 70s we've seen other Killers such as PageMaker, the first really practical DTP program, an application which catapulted the Apple Mac to great heights as a desktop publishing platform; and perhaps even Microsoft Windows itself which has allowed the Intel-based IBM compatible PC to steal the Mac's high-ground over the past six or seven years.

But what about the Net? What's the killer app on the Net?

Well until recently there have been "Killer Categories" such as email clients and Web browsers but no single product which has been deserving of the title.

However, I think it's fair to say that ICQ has become the first Net-based product worthy of the title. It has no peers and, for many people, it has all but replaced several other applications such as their email client and IRC program. In short, ICQ is a completely new concept which has been masterfully implemented and marketed. It is THE Killer App on the Internet.

Now boasting a user-base of over six million people, ICQ has come from nowhere to become a major product and service in just a few short months. Unfortunately it's also becoming a victim of its own success. When I first installed ICQ I could leave it "connected" all day without problems however, these days I find that I'm disconnected by the system at increasingly regular intervals - now up to six or seven times in 10 hours. Perhaps this is symptomatic of the huge amounts of traffic that six million users can generate and, given the fact that there appear to be no revenue streams being generated by the software or the service, I suspect it may be hard for them to keep upgrading their servers and connectivity at a rate which meets the demand.

Which brings us to the question... just how do ICQ plan to make money out of this service?

The current offering is marked as a "time limited free beta" which implies that at some stage either the service, the software or both will have a price tag associated with them. If that's the case, I wonder how long before some other enterprising organisation creates a competing product which will be ad-sponsored and free to all users?

I suspect the most difficult aspect of the whole ICQ story is going to be leveraging the user-base to generate a profit without exposing the service to competition. Mirabilis have done the hard work by creating a new market, it's a much easier task for someone else to clone the idea and come in at a lower price or with more features.

Regardless of the pro's and con's of the situation or the increasingly intermittent service, I strongly recommend that all those who don't already have ICQ resident on their desktop install it immediately.

ICQ can be downloaded from the Mirabilis Web site at www.mirabilis.com

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