Happy 30th Birthday to E-Mail!

Marc

Hunkered Down for the Duration
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Happy Birthday Email! It turns 30 and Yahoo! News has an article here.
http://dailynews.yahoo.com - Link was: /h/nm/20011001/tc/tech_email_anniversary_dc_1.html

Of course, they have the @ sign listed as a + sign. There is an interesting look at the history here. Two neat things about this:

1) The creator can't remember the first message, but he knows it was in ALL CAPS and
2) Can you imagine your life without email now?

First E-mail Message

Excerpt from: http://alas.matf.bg.ac.yu/~mr02267/e-mail.htm

Tomlinson worked for Bolt Beranek and Newman (BBN), the company hired by the United States Defense Department in 1968 to build ARPANET, the precursor to the Internet. In 1971 he was tinkering around with an electronic message program called SNDMSG, which he had written to allow programmers and researchers who were working on Digital PDP-10s—one of the early ARPANET computers—to leave messages for each other.

But this was not e-mail, exactly. Like a number of then existing electronic message programs, the oldest dating from the early 1960s, SNDMSG only worked locally; it was designed to allow the exchange of messages between users who shared the same machine. Such users could create a text file and deliver it to a designated "mail box."

"A mailbox was simply a file with a particular name," Tomlinson later wrote. "Its only special property was . . . [users] could write more material onto the end of the mailbox, but they couldn't read or overwrite what was already there."

When Tomlinson sat down to play around with SNDMSG, he had been working on an experimental file transfer protocol called CYPNET, for transferring files among linked computers at remote sites within ARPANET. (At the time, the ARPANET consisted of 15 nodes, located at places like UCLA in California, the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, and at BBN in Cambridge, Massachusetts.) "The idea occurred to me that CYPNET could append material to a mailbox file as readily as SNDMSG could," explained Tomlinson.

The way CYPNET was originally written, it sent and received files, but had no provision for appending to a file. So he set out to adapt CYPNET to use SNDMSG to deliver messages to mailboxes on remote machines, through the ARPANET.

"Adding the missing piece was a no-brainer," according to Tomlinson. "Just a minor addition to the protocol."

What Tomlinson did next, if he had fully grasped its significance, might have earned him a place alongside the giants of communication history.

First, he chose the @ symbol to distinguish between messages addressed to mailboxes in the local machine and messages that were headed out onto the network. "The @ sign seemed to make sense," he recalled. "I used the @ sign to indicate that the user was 'at' some other host rather than being local."

Then he sent himself an e-mail message. BBN had two PDP-10 computers wired together through the ARPANET. "The first message was sent between two machines that were literally side-by-side. The only physical connection they had, however, was through the ARPANET," according to Tomlinson.

The message flew out via the network between two machines in the same room in Cambridge; and the message was QWERTYIOP. Or something like that.

A Natural Phenomenon

Once Tomlinson was satisfied that SNDMSG worked on the network, he sent a message to colleagues letting them know about the new feature, with instructions for placing an @ in between the user's login name and the name of his host computer. "The first use of network mail," says Tomlinson, "announced its own existence."

Tomlinson's new program almost instantly became the first killer app. "After we delivered the enhanced version of SNDMSG to other sites, (so that there was someone out there to talk to) virtually all my communication was via e-mail," he remembers. Two years later, a study found that 75 percent of all traffic on ARPANET was e-mail.

But if it caught on like wildfire, it somehow managed to do so almost without notice. For the engineers and scientists who quickly adopted it as the preferred mode of day-to-day communications, it mostly felt like a logical outgrowth of the development of ARPANET.

In fact, it took almost five years for the builders and designers of ARPANET to sit back and realize that in many ways, e-mail had become the real raison d'etre for the new computer network.
 
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