These days, if you asked someone to imagine a world where chat didn't exist, you'd probably get a lot of gasps and giggles in response (especially from me). But yes, there was a time when you couldn't just hop on a messenger client to communicate with somebody, where face-to-face or phone was still your best bet.

And then along came ICQ. Sweet, sweet ICQ.

The chat client that started it all

Between ICQ and AOL dial-up, that pretty much defined how I liked to communicate in the evenings during my youth. Remember the AOL dial-up sound? Nostalgia awaits.

Released in 1996 by Mirabilis, ICQ (shorthand for "I Seek You"), was the first-ever stand-alone online instant messenger to reach a widespread market. With a lack of encryption that's scarily cute by modern standards, it relied on assigned numbers as user names/account IDs. Eventually acquired by AOL and then Mail.Ru Group (Digital Sky Technologies), ICQ set the stage for contemporary chat and has grown through the years across multiple platforms and integrations, including mobile and Facebook. It is still a raging success, particularly in Russia. It celebrated its 20th birthday in November.

The driver behind ICQ's longevity and what we can learn

The original version of ICQ gave people multi-user chat options, as well as file sharing (they were onto something something). That made it suitable for certain business purposes. But where ICQ really excelled, though, was in the general public space, especially with students.

The service helped people stay connected as their lives got increasingly crazy-busy. Even way back in 1999, Sefi Vigiser, one of ICQ's original programmers recognized that the technology was catering to the basic psychological need people have to feel included and socially successful. In a Washington Post article by Leslie Walker, he stated,

"When you log onto the Internet you are surrounded with the group of people you know, and you share the experience--it is very exciting."

ICQ's success is a great example for modern business leaders. The company isn't based on a fad that could pass away, but rather on really basic human behavior. Because of that, it didn't die the way so many other technologies do. It just got better with age, like a fine wine or scotch.

So to ICQ, we raise a glass and genuinely express a "thank you" for paving the way -- you have my vote for the Unsung Hero Award of 2016. Cheers to what 2017 brings and we'll check back in for your 40th birthday.