History of Email, Electronic mail..

By: marticles

If we try to look at the history of email, we need to go back to the era before ARPANET, the grandpa of Internet, came into existence. Let's turn back the clock, and take a brief look at the development of email communication. Electronic mail, known commonly by its abbreviation 'email', is probably the most used medium of communication today. 50 years ago, had someone said that it would be possible to instantly deliver documents to a recipient sitting half way across the globe, he would have been a laughingstock. But, email came, saw and conquered the world wide web. Today, with email, there's so much more than just written text communication. Ability of the email to securely forward multimedia, photos, software, etc. has made it very popular. It's rightly said that 'necessity is the mother of all inventions', and we humans have always found a way whenever the need arose. The history of email communication is very interesting and intriguing. Let's go back to the days when the Cold War was at its peak.

Following the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, the Pentagon initiated a program to design a network whose main aim was to withstand a nuclear attack. Though, Pentagon insisted that this was not a military program and gave it a scientific angle. This network came to be known as the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network or ARPANET, after the program's completion by 1969. Evolution of email is said to have started much earlier than ARPANET, though.

In 1965, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) was the first to demonstrate the use of the first email system, known as MAILBOX. This was before internetwork came into existence and therefore, this system was used to send messages to different users on the same computer.

In 1971, Ray Tomlinson, a former MITian, was working on TENEX operating system for BBN technologies as an ARPANET contractor. While using a local email program called SNDMSG, Tomlinson created the first email application when he patched a program called CPYNET to the existing SNDMSG. This introduced the capability to copy files through a network and Ray notified his colleagues by sending them the first email. It's said that the first message sent by Ray was 'QWERTYUIOP', which is formed by the entire first row characters of a standard keyboard.

The history of email addresses can also be attributed to Tomlinson. He chose the '@' symbol to provide an addressing standard in the form of "[email protected]", which is in use till date. This is why Tomlinson is called the 'father of email' and is credited with its invention.

By 1974, email in its improved form was being used by the US military and became the savior of ARPANET, who's importance was continuously declining. From here on, things developed at a brisk pace. By 1975, efforts to organize the email bore fruit. A general operating area, known as email account, for a user who wants to avail the email service, was created. Access controlling was done by giving the user a secret password, which only he/she would know. Separate folders were created depending on the purpose. Inbox for incoming messages, outbox for outgoing messages, etc.

Year 1976 was a watershed year in the history of email marketing. Email service was being offered in commercial packages and per-minute charges were applicable to those using these services. This led to the requirement for offline reading, which meant that users could now download their emails on to their personal computers, and then read them leisurely without using and paying for the airtime. This led to the development of applications, which were similar to what Microsoft Outlook can do today.

Requirement for protocols was felt almost immediately, and in 1972, file transfer protocol (FTP) was put in use to send email messages. The main drawback here was that FTP created a separate mail for every recipient and then dispatched it, which resulted in loss of precious memory space. This prompted the creation of the more efficient SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol) in the early 1980s, which became a standard protocol to be used in sending email messages. But the initial versions of SMTP failed to control the cases of forgery and proved to be a naive protocol in the verification of the authenticity of a user. Email viruses, worms and spammers began exploiting these loopholes in SMTP and even though, many new and improved versions have been released, this problem continues to be addressed till date.

If SMTP is used to send messages, POP (post office protocol) was a standard for receiving emails. This protocol is used by email clients to retrieve messages from the mail server using a connection. Currently the third version, namely POP3 is in use. One drawback of POP is that it does not support offline retrieval of messages. This demerit has now been overcome, by the more capable IMAP (Internet message access protocol).

Talking of emails, we cannot do without mentioning email spam or bulk mail or commercial mail. With more than 85% of emails sent around the world being spam, it's very important to know the background of email spam. Most of us think that email spam is quite a recent phenomenon, but you will be surprised to know that the earliest documented spam was sent way back on May 3rd, 1978, by a DEC (Digital Equipment Corporation) employee using the SNDMSG application. He sent a marketing proposal to almost 400 ARPANET users, but the message was received by only 320 addresses, as that was the addressee limit of the application. Today, email spam is at its worst, with about 100 million spam mails being sent a day.

By the early 1990s, free and user-friendly email service providers had taken the industry by storm. Players like yahoo and hotmail were competing for the market share. It was this decade that not only saw the .com boom, but almost everyone wanted an email account. Today, there are more than 600 million email users across the globe and with newer players like google (gmail) and rediff entering the fray, the end user is set to be spoiled.

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