Like we promised to deliver here we are with a man (Ray Tomlinson) who has made it possible for all of us to communicate to friends, families, business partners, relatives, loved ones all over the world with just an email click away.
Ray Tomlinson in late 1971, he sent the first email message and the message is believed to be “QWERTYIOP” he recalls.
Ray is a man who picked @ as the locator symbol in electronic addresses and his invention “email” launched the digital information revolution of all times.
This all started in 1968 at BBN (Bolt Beranek and Newman) company where Tomlinson worked as a computer engineer. By then BBN was hired by the United States Defense Department to build ARPANET, the known precursor to the Internet.
As he was tinkering around with an electronic message program called Send Message Program “SNDMSG” , which he had written to allow programmers and researchers working on Digital PDP-10s, (one of the early ARPANET computers) to leave messages for each other.
He says, those SNDMSG messages were not email exactly…..they only worked locally. The SNDMSG had been designed to allow the exchange of messages between users who shared the same computer. Users could create a text file and deliver it to a designated “mail box”. A mail box was simply a file with a particular name. Tomlinson wrote “It’s 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."
While Tomlinson was working around SNDMSG, he had an experimental file transfer protocol called CYPNET which was 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.). He said “The idea occurred to me that CYPNET could append material to a mailbox file as readily as SNDMSG could”.
CYPNET had been designed to send and receive files with no provision for appending to a file. Tomlinson decided to adapt CYPNET to use SNDMSG to deliver messages to mailboxes on remote machines through ARPANET.
Tomlinson’s first problem he had with his first e-mail program was finding a way to separate the person to whom one was addressing a message from the computer or network they were using – which he solved with the symbol @.
He recalled. "I used the @ sign to indicate that the user was 'at' some other host rather than being local." He chose the @ symbol to distinguish between messages addressed to mailboxes in the local machine and messages that were headed out onto the network.
It could just as easily have been a square bracket or even a comma that would come to be typed in every e-mail address, “but they were already being used, and of the characters that were left, @ was best. Plus it conveyed a sense of place, which seemed to suit.”
Tomlinson proceeded by sending himself an e-mail message. The first message was sent between two machines that were literally side-by-side, those were BBN two PDP-10 computers wired together through ARPANET.
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 “set of letters on the top of the computer keyboard.”
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.
Today its estimated over a billion emails are sent out and received every single second. This has all been possible due to Ray Tomlinson’s love for invention and experimental ideas.
Today, e-mail has become one of the most important communications platforms the world has known, and from the various services available- Yahoo!, Hotmail, Gmail, Excite and many more out there.
However today, email has been turned by some people into a criminal tool that is menace of spam or junk e-mail.
Tomlinson said he doesn’t feel too guilty, though. "Spam certainly is a problem, but at the time I just didn't think about it. E-mail is like any tool - it can be used for good or bad. If you’re looking for a way to spread a virus with a computer, then you’re going to use the most popular communication tool - and that’s e-mail.
He continues “at that time, the number of people who used e-mail was very small (Between 500 to 1,000). So if you were getting spam, you'd know who was sending it. You'd be able to say to them: that's not a good thing to do."
But due to wide use of emails, possibilities of sending a message anonymously emerged.
All in all, Ray Tomlinson is among the many famous ICT people who have contributed greatly, positively to our developments in the world digital evolution.