History of Email

History of the Internet

History Of Email

History Of The World Wide Web

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If there is any single application that can claim to have made the Internet the global phenomenon it is today, it has to be email. Electronic mail or email as it is more popularly known is very simply the ability to send a message to another person or persons across a network.

While most people credit Ray Tomlinson with the invention of email in 1971, email in fact existed in a very primitive form even before that. In fact email existed before ARPANET and even the Internet!

Early email was like putting a note on someone’s desk. Or in this case someone’s computer or file directory. It was as simple as putting a note in someone’s file directory where they could see it when they logged on. Mailbox was the first ‘message exchanging’ system developed at MIT in 1965. Another program called SNDMSG was also used to send messages. 

In the 60s there were many mainframe computers that had as many as a hundred dumb terminals where people could log on to the mainframe terminal from. It was like having a single UPS with a 100 monitors attached to it. These dumb terminals had no storage space and memory of their own. They simply accessed the mainframe. Thus, the early email or messaging systems worked only between users of the same computer mainframe. 

As computers became more complex and messages started being exchanged over networks, the problem too became more complex. Now one could no longer leave notes lying around all over different networks. Thus arose the necessity of being able to address the note to a particular person at a particular computer. 

This is where Ray Tomlinson came into the picture. Tomlinson was also the person who had written SNDMSG previously mentioned. Using a file transfer protocol called CYPNET, Tomlinson adapted SNDMSG to send messages to any computer on the ARPANET network. Tomlinson picked the @ sign off the keyboard to indicate which computer the person was sitting ‘at’. He addressed the person @ the computer and that is in fact the email address tradition used till today. Jon Postel described this system as a ‘nice hack’.

With the invention of the basic email in place, things grew rapidly. Larry Roberts invented some folders to help his boss sort his emails. In 1975 Vital developed some organization software for email. By 1976 commercial email software began to make an appearance and soon after 75% of ARPANET traffic was email! 

Email took ARPANET to the next level – the Internet. It also took the Internet into every home and office across the globe. With the simultaneous growth of the PC and the Internet, email too evolved. Offline readers came into the picture that allowed users to download their email, store it on their computer, read it at their leisure and compose a reply. They needed to log on to the Internet only to send and receive the email. This was especially convenient because connection charges in many parts of the world were very high and this allowed users to save precious surfing time.

SMTP or Simple Message Transfer Protocol and POP or Post Office Protocol are the two protocols designed to relay emails and both are in use today. Many specialized email software like Eudora, Microsoft Outlook and Pegasus became commercially available and managing emails became an art in itself. 

With Hotmail and Yahoo, email was destined to be to an individual what previously a telephone number was. Today, one cannot imagine a business card without an email address. Without a telephone contact number – yes. Without an email – No.

A tidbit you probably didn’t know: The first email was sent between two ARPANET computers sitting next to each other but using the ARPANET network. And the email read an eloquent – “QWERTYUIOP”!


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