Who Invented Email & The Whole Debate Around It

Who Invented Email & The Whole Debate Around It image

The email has come a long way since its inception. Nowadays it's used for everything from personal communication to conducting business transactions. The number of email users exceeds 4.1 billion, which is more than half the global population. It is a staple of modern communication so ingrained in our daily lives that we rarely stop to think about who invented email. But really, who was the mastermind behind this life-changing technology?

Who Invented Email?

Raymond Tomlinson is a name you may not be familiar with, although he is recognized as the father of traditional email. However, Dr. Shiva Ayyadurai has also claimed ownership of the idea. So, who's telling the truth? And more importantly, when was email invented?

The Story of Raymond Tomlinson

Born in 1941 in New York, Raymond Tomlinson graduated from MIT in 1965 with a degree in electrical engineering. He then went on to work on the US Defense Department program, or the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET) which was the precursor to the internet. ARPANET was in fact a network that allowed different computers to communicate with each other.

It was during his time working on ARPANET that he moved to find a way for people to send messages between different computers on the same network. This is how he came up with the idea of a system that allowed people to send messages to one another using their computer's addresses. This marked a significant break from the practice of sending messages through the mail. Tomlinson's email invention became operational in 1971 and quickly gained popularity. So for many wondering what year was the email invented, that would be 1971. Or at least it is the year when a version of the email system came to life.

A year after, the man who invented email registered "@" as a trademark for email addresses which may be his biggest contribution, with this symbol now used all over the world to signify an email address. So in many regards, he is the person who created email. By the early 1980s, Tomlinson's email system had become the de facto standard for email communication. In 1982, he left MIT to start his own company, Raytheon Communications. In 2011, he was listed 4th in the MIT150 list of top 150 innovators, and in 2012, he was inducted into the Internet Hall of Fame.

Despite all of his success, Tomlinson has remained relatively unknown. He has never given an interview and he has shunned the limelight. Nevertheless, his impact on the world of communication is undeniable.

The most fascinating aspect of Tomlinson’s story though is that no one at ARPANET referred to his system as email. The word "email" was coined a few years later when a young student came into the picture, making the question of who invented email a lot more complicated.

The Story of Dr. Shiva Ayyadurai

Shiva Ayyadurai was born in Mumbai, India, in 1963. When he was 7, his family moved to the US. He attended public schools in New Jersey and eventually went on to study computer programming at MIT. Ayyadurai began his career as a summer intern at Bell Laboratories in 1978. He was only 14 years old and still a high school student at the time. In fact, this is where his story begins.

As an intern, Ayyadurai came up with the idea for a system that would allow people to send messages between different computers on the same network. The system was based on the concept of interoffice mail, which had been in use for many years. Sound familiar? The difference, however, was that Ayyadurai managed to replicate all the features of the traditional, inter-organizational paper mail system including bcc, cc, to, and from fields. Plus, Ayyadurai's system was the first to use the term "EMAIL" which stands for "Electronic Mail", meaning that while his title as the person who invented email might be in question, his role in naming email is undeniable.

Ayyadurai continued to work on his system throughout his time at MIT. He even created a user manual and submitted it to the school administration for approval. And in 1982, he registered the trademark for "EMAIL" which is when the word officially came into use, and from this point of view, he is also the creator of email. But Ayyadurai didn’t stop here, he then went on to develop a software program that allowed people to send and receive email using their personal computers. And finally, his email system was not only operational but also user-friendly. This set it apart from Tomlinson's, which at that age required users to have a deep understanding of computer programming to use it.

Ayyadurai continues to work on new inventions and innovations in the field of information technology. He holds more than a dozen patents in the area, and his work has been recognized with numerous awards and accolades.

He is a member of the National Academy of Inventors, and in 2016 he was inducted into the Consumer Electronics Hall of Fame.

The Debate Over Who Invented Email

So, who is actually the email founder? As you can see, the topic of who is credited with the invention of email is complicated. While Tomlinson did come up with the idea of using computer addresses to send messages, Ayyadurai was the first person to develop a system that actually worked and was accessible to users. Plus, he was the one who registered the trademark for "EMAIL."

However, the other side would argue that Tomlinson's system was operational long before the one of Ayyadurai and it was being used by people at ARPANET. Tomlinson is further credited with coming up with the "@" symbol which is now used all over the world to signify an email address. And has the photos to show it!

Final Thoughts

The question of who invented email is still up for debate and will be for years to come. The fact is, both Tomlinson and Ayyadurai have valid claims and deserve recognition for their contributions to this life-changing technology. And in a way, they both have received it by being inducted into different halls of fame. Ultimately, history will decide who is right. In the meantime, we common folks will continue to enjoy the many gifts it brings email marketing specialists, in particular, since they reap its rewards on a daily basis.

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