In 2015, email celebrates its 44th birthday. While electronic mail messages have been around since 1971, their format and the way we use them has changed tremendously in the past 44 years. In celebration of email’s anniversary, let’s take a look back at its history via this infograhpic from Reachmail.
Email was “born” in 1971, when computer engineer Ray Tomlinson sent the first electronic mail message (a message whose contents he unfortunately can’t remember today). Electronic mail soon found a fan in Queen Elizabeth II, who became the first head of state to send an electronic mail message in 1976, and from there, it spread quickly. In 1978, the first electronically sent advertisement went out over a network of government and university computers.
One of electronic mail’s hallmark features is its capacity for brevity- or how easy it is to send short, quick messages. This characteristic first began in 1982, when the word email was first used; that same year, Scott Fahlman used the first ever smiley “emotion.” In 1989, AOL’s signature phrases were recorded by radio man Elwood Edwards; among them was “You’ve got mail!” which later became the title of a Warner Bros. major motion picture that topped $250 million at the box office.
Microsoft became a major player in the email game in 1997, when they bought Hotmail for about $400 million and released Microsoft Outlook. However, as email became more and more popular, people also began to abuse it. The word “spam” was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 1998, and in 1999, a fake email claiming that Bill Gates planned to share his wealth with Internet users was forwarded by millions.
In response, George W. Bush signed the CAN-SPAM Act into law in 2003, making it the US’ first national standards for sending commercial emails. In 2004, the FTC codified email spam laws, and the next year, SPF became the first technology established that verifies email senders’ identities. In 2007, the Internet Engineering Task Force adopted anti-phishing security protocol DKIM.
During the early 2000s, Internet users began having some fun with email. On a 2003 episode of The Simpsons, for example, Homer revealed that his email address was firstname.lastname@example.org. In 2004, LOL and several other Internet acronyms were recognized in the Oxford English Dictionary, and multimedia emails were introduced that year after the MMS World Congress in Vienna. Google released Gmail to the public in 2007. Email also officially became “email” and not “e-mail” in 2011.
These days, you’re hard pressed to find someone without an email address. In the 2008 presidential campaign, candidate Barack Obama was able to compile a database of over 13 million email addresses, and in 2012, researchers reported that 90 million Americans accessed their email on a mobile device, with 64% doing so daily. To help users avoid email overload, Google introduced Gmail tabs in 2013.
Unfortunately, hackers have gotten smarter as well (probably not helped by the fact that many people’s passwords are still “password,” “123456,” or “qwerty.” In 2014, hackers made headlines when Sony Entertainment was hacked, and hundreds of sensitive emails were released. Although the government blamed North Korea, North Korea denied responsibility.
Email has changed our lives in its first 44 years, and while we can’t predict what’s coming next, one thing’s for sure- we’ll be hearing “You’ve got mail!” for quite awhile!