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Interesting news from Orey Gilliam, the manager of ICQ Israel: the instant messaging company is expanding beyond Internet to the off-line world. Acting through partners, the company means to start selling not only electronic appliances but fashion as well, using the ICQ brand name.

ICQ was the brainchild of an Israeli startup, Mirabilis, which AOL bought in June 1998 for the then-stunning sum of $407 million (including $120 million in milestone payments). It created the art of short messaging over Internet, now known through ICQ (an oronym for I-seek-you), Yahoo! and Microsoft messaging and now Google online chats too, as well as others.

Speaking at a seminar on Internet as an Advertising Venue on Tuesday, Gilliam declared that ICQ now has 3.5 million users in Russia, out of 22 million the world wide, thanks to the company's partnership with the Russian portal Rambler.ru.

He says ICQ means to market its messaging software as a comprehensive communications platform in the stead of traditional forms of communications, such as wireline and cellular.

In the future, ICQ means to allow TV viewers to use its messaging software as well, not via a computer. "We are in negotiations with cable companies," he revealed, adding that ICQ's first target for TV messaging would be Europe.

ICQ was founded by four Israelis - Yair Goldfinger, Arik Vardi (son of serial entrepreneur Yossi Vardi), Sefi Vigiser and Amnon Amir. A month ago the company celebrated its tenth birthday. Its R&D center remains in Tel Aviv, run by Gilliam.

"In the past people regarded us like bloatware, saying our product had too many options," Gilliam describes. But today, a lot of software programs have copied ideas from that original "bloated" version of ICQ, he claims.

The company does not mean to lag in offering new software options: "We closed technological gaps with our rivals and have a lot of ideas for future improvements.

He says the new version of ICQ, expected at year-end, will present all the features that rival software has, including VoIP options.