Thursday, September 06, 2012

Who invented email?

Sometime back I received a link in my Facebook account shared by one of my friends which claims that Mr. V.A. Shiva Ayyadurai is the one who invented email. My first reaction was WTH? As far as I know, email existed since early 70s. As per the article, Mr. Ayyadurai invented email  in 1978. I spent a lot of time in that website reading through all the documents and verifying how far it is true. To the best of my knowledge, as per the documented evidence, I am convinced that Mr. Ayyadurai is the inventor of email.

But just around the same time, another link surfaced in Hacker News, with the title "Email Will Never Die - The Man Who Invented It Reveals Why". The article wrongly claims that Mr. Ray Tomlinson was the one who invented email in 1971. While I hold high respect for the hacks of Mr. Tomlinson to send a file from one machine to another machine, the SNDMSG program by no way comes close to the email as we know it today. Worse, until the end of the article, the article doesn't give a single point that substantiates WHY email will never die. The article in itself is too shallow.

Here are my reasons/opinions why Mr. Tomlinson did not invent email.

  1.  To my knowledge, the term email doesn't appear anywhere in literature around early 1970s. In fact, the term doesn't even show up in the first RFC for SMTP published in 1982 (which is the protocol used to send mail messages). You can check that here. Then how can you claim that someone invented email in 1971?
  2. Suppose I wrote a program in 1970s that copied a piece of text from user1@host1 to user2@host2. Later someone comes up with email which also copies a piece of text from user1@host1 to user2@host2. Hence can I claim that I invented email?
  3. What most of us have understood as email is way too different than the messaging systems that existed in the early systems. The RFC 196 provided as a reference in Mr. Tomlinson's web page, doesn't resemble the email systems we use today. For e.g. that RFC or the RFC that obsoletes that doesn't talk about organizing mails in folders (like inbox, sent, etc.) which was first used by the system designed by Mr. Ayyadurai.
  4. It feels like there is a lot of shallow PR cry by BBN. This is a company that has vested interest in claiming to be the first to have invented email.
In summary, give credit where its due. Its a shame that when I submitted a comment for the article with my thoughts, my comment was censored by the author. Hence this article.

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