Yahoo Messenger is shutting down on July 17, redirects users to group messaging app Squirrel

It’s the end of an era for Yahoo Messenger, one of the first instant messaging apps on the market. Today, Oath (which also owns TechCrunch) announced that it would be winding down the service on July 17 as it continues to experiment and consider how and if it can have a relevant place in the messaging landscape amid huge domination from Facebook and others in mobile apps.

“There currently isn’t a replacement product available for Yahoo Messenger,” the company writes. “We’re constantly experimenting with new services and apps, one of which is an invite-only group messaging app called Yahoo Squirrel (currently in beta).” Squirrel is a group messaging app Yahoo started testing last month. You can request access to the beta here.

Yahoo has not broken out active users of Messenger for some time, and theoretically anyone logged into any Yahoo property is logged into Messenger. Cumulatively over the last 20 years, hundreds of millions of people have used the service, the company said. The company says your Yahoo ID remains intact for other services like Mail and fantasy sports.

The company is not specific about its reasons for shutting down Messenger, but the writing has been on the wall for some time, given the dominance today of Facebook’s WhatsApp and Messenger, Snapchat, WeChat and a number of others. Notably, Oath also shut down AIM, AOL’s equivalent messaging app, in October.

“We know we have many loyal fans who have used Yahoo Messenger since its beginning as one of the first chat apps of its kind,” it notes. “As the communications landscape continues to change over, we’re focusing on building and introducing new, exciting communications tools that better fit consumer needs.”

Alongside that, the company, as a part of Oath, is now owned by Verizon, the telecoms behemoth. Ironically, it’s the telcos of the world whose revenues have been cannibalised in part by over-the-top messaging services, although Yahoo Messenger’s demise is far likely less related to that, considering that it is not one of the most popular services on the market today.

Yahoo says that you can download your chat history on Messenger for the next six months by going here. Files go to your computer or device — but not specifically to another messaging app.

Yahoo Messenger first made its debut as Yahoo Pager way back in 1998, at a time when instant messaging was the terrain of PCs, as an alternative to email and SMS on basic mobile devices. It was an early hit and popularised the idea of “over the top” messaging that was not tied to a specific service provider.

But like other services in that first generation of messaging, Messenger’s role and functions were swiftly surpassed by faster and more functional mobile-based services, and specifically mobile messaging apps. Notably, WhatsApp was created by ex-Yahoo employees.

In the years since, Yahoo has had moderate (but far from blockbuster) success with Yahoo Messenger on mobile, which today ranks at 160 on iOS and 117 on Android in the social networking category, according to App Annie. Other attempts at building new messaging products have been short-lived.

Oath, and its owner Verizon, are clearly in the midst of a big shift organizationally and strategically. The company today also announced that Lowell McAdam would be stepping down as CEO of Verizon, to be replaced by Hans Vestberg, the Ericsson ex-CEO who has up to now been Verizon’s CTO. Last week, Oath announced its latest leadership change, hiring Natalie Ravitz as its new communications head.

It’s also gearing up for a big video and content overhaul later this year, which could also be one of the reasons behind today’s Messenger news. Under new owner Verizon, Oath and its businesses are gradually shifting away from communications services to focus more on what’s being whizzed around those networks.

More to come.