With more than 2.6 billion users operating no less than 4.6 billion accounts, there’s no arguing the fact that email till today remains the world’s most popular and important Internet-based means of communication. Virtually everyone and every business use email services. Its versatility is accounted for in the number of functions it serves; communication, media sharing, file storage, you name it. Email complete the internet as we know it.
But how did it all come to be? In this article, we pay tribute to the humble origin of what is arguably the internet’s most valuable tool.
Before the internet, as you know it
It’s a little-known fact, but email in its fundamental state predated the internet. The first working concept of an electronic mailbox was devised by MIT scientists in the year 1965, and it was at the time, an ingenious piece of technological manipulation. Computer users sent messages to other users by leaving them in the recipient’s user file directory. When the next user logged onto the machine he/she could simply access the file from his/her directory. The system was intuitive and practical but with one limitation. Communicating users had to be on the same device to access the messages, since there was no infrastructure connecting separate computers
Leveraging the primordial internet
By 1969, ARPANET, short for Advanced Research Projects Agency Network, was created by the US Department of Defense. It was a communication protocol developed to facilitate seamless communication between the organization’s computers. ARPANET allowed messages to be sent and received on separate machines and its effectiveness at doing this made it an instant hit. The growing popularity of ARPANET’S email service also heightened the standing expectations and it soon went mainstream, people wanted to send messages to specific computers on a network as opposed to merely placing it in a file directory.
Introducing Ray Tomlinson
As a contractor working for ARPANET, Tomlinson integrated the @ symbol into the existing email protocol as a means of specifying the destination computer a message was intended for. This ingenious solution upended the stakes of email to an even greater height. By the late 1970s, over 75% of ARPANET’s intranet traffic was email related. Again, expectation grew, and people started to visualize the prospect of sending messages over something bigger than internal networks. This movement – the need for a more extensive network of computers that defied geographical barriers – effectively set an enticing antecedent for the development of the internet.
Pairing with the internet to great effect
When the Internet went mainstream in the 1980s, electronic mail was its pioneer product offering. It didn’t take long for a dedicated email software to roll out, and by the 1990s email service providers like AOL, Yahoo and Hotmail flooded the market hoping to get a bit of the internet-email pie. Millions of dollars were invested, and on the eve of the 21st century following the internet boom, email became ubiquitous, going from luxury, geeky service to a corporate and professional essential.