When the program is downloaded, a small telephone icon appears next to each name on a user's buddy list for the buddies who are not connected to the Net. Once the user double-clicks the icon, he or she can send a message that will ping the receiver's modem and launch an ICQ message window with the sender's name. The software only works if users have their PCs and modems turned on.
"Everyone on [a Signaler user's] contact list, they see a new icon they haven't seen before, and they have to ask you what this is," said Ariel Kolitz, vice president of marketing for NECS.
Following a 21-day free trial period, NECS charges $9.95 per year for the service.
For the moment, NECS is marketing the service only through word of mouth, because ICQ has not given the firm permission to "spam" its users. Kolitz acknowledged that sending promotional messages to ICQ users would be an effective way to encourage downloads but added that the firm would not do so without the go-ahead from ICQ. ICQ could not immediately be reached for comment.
Recent reports have shown that ICQ users are receiving unsolicited instant messages peddling offers and sometimes pornographic Web sites. Because of the sheer number of ICQ users and the nature of instant messaging, the ICQ client is a desirable medium for online marketers.
For now, NECS, which is a subsidiary of BellSouth International Group, will send out promotions to users of its MailPush and C-WebMail services, Kolitz said.
NECS also is planning to launch versions of Signaler designed for the AOL Instant Messenger and Yahoo Pager.