15 interesting facts about email

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Email… what would we do without it? It’s just so ubiquitous! Here are 15 facts about email from its history to how it is being used today.

Email is old

Developed by Ray Tomlinson in 1971, the modern email system predates the World Wide Web by almost 20 years.

Email is NOT a part of the web

Email is a part of the Internet not the web! Email will, like it always has, work without the World Wide Web. However, without the Internet, it would not be possible.

First message was sent over ARPANET

The first email message was sent over ARPANET, the network of Advanced Research Projects Agency. ARPA (now known as DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) was a government organisation created in response to the Soviets winning the “Space Race” by launching their Sputnik 1 satellite. FYI, ARPANET was the predecessor of the Internet.

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Ray Tomlinson was hushed up about his creation

Don’t tell anyone! This isn’t what we’re supposed to be working on“, he told one of his colleagues.

The priorities of APRA and their contractor, Bolt, Beranek and Newman, where Tomlinson was employed, were very specific. After having lost “the space race”, a messaging system like email would, as you can understand, be derided at the defense organisation. Because of this reason, the inventor wasn’t very enthusiastic about this creation at the beginning. However, little did anyone known what email would turn out to be and how useful it would be in the near future.

The @ symbol

Ray Tomlinson also introduced the @ (at) symbol. However, he didn’t invent it. The symbol had been in existence for hundreds of years and used, typically, by business people in Europe.

The character was present on the “P” key of the 33 Teletype keyboard Tomlinson used on his computer and could be accessed by the shift key. It was used to separate the machine name from the name of a person. And that’s what it still does in a way – separated the domain name and the username.

QWERTYUIOP – the first email message?

When you’re frantically toiling at your creation, would you care to preserve the first result it generates? Probably not!
That’s exactly what happened with Ray Tomlinson. The first email message he sent has been lost in time. In the midst of all the debugging and refining one just doesn’t save the first result! Also, since he was quiet about what he was working on, he didn’t care much of preserving the message.

However, at a later time, Tomlinson did mention that the first message, since it was a test, might have been the first characters of the first line on the keyboard – QWERTYUIOP.

Email, email, e-mail or e-mail – what’s the correct term?

Email is a short form of “electronic mail” and has many spellings. So which is correct?
Actually, all are! “Email” is the traditional form while “e-mail” is common too. I use the spelling “email” which is also endorsed by the inventor, Ray Tomlinson.

Surprisingly, way back in 1970s, the word “email” was used for any document transferred electronically… even a fax!

Hotmail is the probably oldest free email service

Hotmail was launched on 4th July 1996 by Sabeer Bhatia and Jack Smith. This makes it the oldest free web-based email service in the world. The launch date was of significance because it symbolised “freedom” from ISP based email services – the fourth of July being the independence day of the United States.
Yahoo! Mail, another beloved email service, was launched a year later.

You couldn’t store a song on the original Yahoo! Mail or Hotmail

In the late 1990s, an email account at Yahoo! Mail or Hotmail (and other services that had sprung up) was a piddly 4MB. If you think about it, the file size of an average song of today is larger. But that was years ago, and before Google entered the fray with Gmail.

Everyone thought Gmail was a joke

When Google launched their email service on the 1st of April 2004 with 1 GB storage space most people thought it was an April Fools joke. Why? Glad you asked. I came up with two reasons.

Firstly, Google was (and still is) kind of notorious for playing April’s Fool pranks. Secondly, the storage space on offer at Gmail was huge – 200 times more than the competition of that time, Yahoo! Mail and Hotmail. People just couldn’t believe that a service can offer so much storage for free.

By the way, in March 2007, to celebrate their 10th anniversary, Yahoo! increased the storage at their email service to unlimited. This was highly misleading because the term “unlimited storage” is not correct. After all, if all the disk storage in the world was totalled, one would come to a finite number. Anyway, Yahoo retracted their decision in 2013 and now provide 1 TB storage.

Most popular activity online

Email is the most used activity online. It can probably be taken over by instant messaging in the future now that we have WhatsApp and other “instant” mobile communication methods. But, at the time of writing, email remains the most popular.

Your email account actually doesn’t belong to you!

You may be the only one who can access it, but bear in mind that the email account doesn’t belong to you. In fact, popular email services like Gmail and Yahoo! will delete the account and all the associated data, if you don’t log in at least once every few months. The period of inactivity before the account is removed depends on the service.

Email account does not reside on your computer

Another misconception people have, apart of the ownership of an email account, is that it resides on their computer. IT DOESN’T!
An email account is located on a server of the service provider. Typically, servers are powerful computers that run special software and are connected to the internet 24/7. Computers, mobile phones and tablets are just tools via which you access the email server to download and view messages, and manage the account.

There are two types of email messages

Email was originally a plain text messaging system. With the advent of styling, rich-text email was born. Thus, email messages can broadly be classified into plain text and rick-text. Popular online service and email programs have rich-text as the default. That’s how you can add color and formatting to the messages.

One can always switch off rich-text and view messages in plain boring black/white text. By the way, if a recipient tells you that the email you sent them came up as garbled, they are probably viewing a rich-text message in plain text.

Each email address is unique

I suppose you already knew that! Because if that wasn’t true, a message intended for you would land at someone else’s account.

So there you have it. I hope you enjoyed these 15 juicy email facts. Please do let us know what you think by posting a comment below.

Email Facts