Ownership of ICQ passed from Mirabilis to AOL in 1998, and from AOL to Mail. The ICQ client application and service were initially released in November 1996 and the client was freely available to download.
Users could register an account and would be assigned a number, like a phone number, for others to be able to contact them (users could also provide handles).
The UIN was invented by Mirabilis, as the user name assigned to each user upon registration.
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ICQ was the first stand-alone instant messenger and the first online instant messenger service as such — while real-time chat was not in itself new to the internet (IRC being the most common platform at the time), the concept of a fully centralized service with individual user accounts focused on one-on-one conversations set the blueprint for later instant messaging services like AIM, and its influence is seen in modern social media applications.
At its peak around 2001, ICQ had more than 100 million accounts registered.