My 8/30/09 Missoulian column
I’m continuing this brief history of the Internet, which is turning out to be not so brief after all.
There’s lots to cover, and in the past seven weeks we’ve looked into the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network, packet switching, the development and evolution of the Web browser and commercial services, how HTML (the language of Web pages) came to be and more.
But what would a history of the Internet be without covering the development of e-mail?
Besides a Web browser, e-mail is one of most used services on the Internet. Personal and business e-mails number in the billions each day, while spam – junk and “bulk” e-mail – accounts for hundreds of billions of e-mails a day.
E-mail has been around longer than the Internet itself, and longer even than ARPANET, the project that developed some of the core protocols of the Internet.
I remember using non-Internet e-mail on mainframe computer systems in the 1970s; it was rudimentary and limited to several systems that exchanged e-mail with their own protocols, but e-mail worked.
The first “real” e-mails were sent in the early 1970s on ARPANET to test the new packet switching technology being developed to enable e-mail to be sent anywhere from anywhere.
But not all computers at the time “knew” where all the other computer addresses were really located on the network, so interim transfer protocols had to be used. And the basic structure of e-mail addresses had to be standardized for e-mail to work for everyone, so in 1971, the “@” symbol was established as as a way to separate the domain from the user name in an e-mail address.
Since then, modern e-mail has evolved into a service with much more security and reliability, but just like anything related to the Internet, e-mail is still undergoing changes.
Some statistics show that e-mail use is beginning to slow in growth due to competition from cell phone text messaging and internal messaging on social networking systems. It also might be because users are getting sick of dealing with spam, because spam accounts for up to 90 percent of all e-mail.
But still, many of us check e-mail before we make coffee in the morning, and e-mail is delivered to any number of devices like cell phones and smart phones, as well as laptops and full size PCs. E-mail will be with us – in some form – for many more years.