[ih] Any suggestions for first uses of "e-mail" or "email"?

Andrew Russell arussell at stevens.edu
Tue Aug 4 11:02:59 PDT 2015

> On Aug 4, 2015, at 1:11 PM, Jack Haverty <jack at 3kitty.org> wrote:
> Good point, John.  Computer-based mail had been around for more than a
> decade by the late 70s, and was on the radar of at least some parts of
> the government.  I recall using CTSS mail back in the late 60s, as well
> as similar services even on IBM mainframes.
> I'd also suggest that the historians broaden the search for the genesis
> of the term "email" beyond the work done by research and government
> communities.
> In particular, I think the "History of the Internet" must include
> activities outside of what we often think of as the ARPANET and
> TCP-based Internet.  I recall there were lots of other activities
> creating new technologies using computers and communications, and the
> ARPA-based work was only one of them.  The historians seem to have
> forgotten about the rest.

No, we haven’t.  I (and several co-authors) made this exact point in:

- a 2012 conference paper called “Histories of Networking vs The History of the Internet" - http://arussell.org/papers/russell-SIGCIS-2012.pdf
- a co-authored introduction to a 2015 special issue on “Histories of the Internet” - http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2517598 (the special issue has six papers that flesh out your insight - so that makes at least 9 of us who haven’t forgotten! - http://www.infoculturejournal.org/abstracts.  FWIW I wanted to call the special issue “Histories of Computer Networking,” after my senior colleagues suggested calling it “The History of the Internet,” so we compromised on “Histories of the Internet."
- a 2014 book where I describe OSI and other non-Arpanet/TCP efforts - http://arussell.org/open/
- a co-authored 2014 article, titled “In the Shadow of the ARPANET and Internet: Louis Pouzin and the Cyclades Network in the 1970s,” regrettably behind a paywall at http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/technology_and_culture/toc/tech.55.4.html, but I am happy to send the pdf to anyone interested.

… and I’m sure I’m forgetting many more similar analyses by historians, published and not, by me and by others.

I would like to think that journalists and their readers would understand (or at least try to understand) that a technology can be “invented” or “developed” by one community, but a popular name for that technology can be “coined” by someone else; that priority in coinage is not necessarily causality in invention and usage (we don’t use “email" *because* Shiva A called it that in the late 70s); and that invention and innovation are not the most significant or interesting aspects of technological and social change.  But you’ll forgive me for thinking that I’m fighting a losing battle along multiple fronts.

> Specifically, I remember that Xerox circa 1980 had a prominent presence
> in the commercial arena, focused on computerized and networked systems
> for business use and office automation, including what we would call
> mail.   Bob Metcalfe was in the middle of that; he was also a product of
> Lick/Vezza's group, working on ARPANET projects (and the early stages of
> Ethernet) before leaving it to join Xerox PARC.
> So, it's quite possible that the trade-press article in which I recall
> first seeing "email" was reporting about some project at PARC, or some
> discussions in the PTT/Postal world.  It may have had nothing to do with
> our ARPANET-based electronic mail.   It probably wasn't the first use of
> the term either.  We were far from alone in working with such ideas.
> I also recall thinking at the time when I saw "email" that it was yet
> another example of someone outside the technical cognoscenti attempting
> to corral some complex technology under the umbrella of a new vague
> buzzword, by attaching an "e" to the front of a well-known word, for use
> with non-technical audiences.  

It appears that there are at least two of us that understand this point - maybe there’s hope after all!!  ;)


> I think there were lots of other
> "e-xxxx" terms coined in that time frame.... but I can't recall any of them.
> So, more places for the historians to research...
> /Jack
> On 08/04/2015 07:58 AM, John Klensin wrote:
>> On Sat, Jul 25, 2015 at 5:43 PM, Jack Haverty <jack at 3kitty.org> wrote:
>>> After grubbing through my basement storage, I haven't found "email" in
>>> any of my piles of old paper....sorry about that.
>>> But I *do* recall the first time I saw the phrase "email", although not
>>> exactly where and when that was.
>>> Through the early and mid-70s, I was a student and subsequently staff
>>> member in Professor Licklider's group at MIT project MAC.  Lick had been
>>> promoting the ideas of man-computer synergy for a while -- how to use
>>> the power of the computer to augment human communications.   While I was
>>> there, he also returned for another tour of duty at ARPA; he bounced
>>> back and forth between MIT and ARPA.
>>> ...
>>> None of the terminology we discussed then included "email" or "e-mail".
>>> But I do still recall first seeing that term, and being discouraged that
>>> all of the work and discussions about the breadth of computer-aided
>>> human communications was being lumped into a single vague and ambiguous
>>> term "email" (or maybe "e-mail").
>>> The term was used in one of the trade publications popular at the time,
>>> which had grown up around the emerging technologies of computer
>>> networking.   I'm sorry I can't remember which one.  Most likely it was
>>> Network World, or Communications Week, which were very popular at the
>>> time and had discovered the world of networking.   It was a "newspaper"
>>> type of publication, not a magazine or journal.   The kind of thing you
>>> read while eating lunch.
>>> ....
>> Jack,
>> My memory is very vague, and I certainly remember using just "mail"
>> (or, when the distinction was important, "network mail" or "netmail"
>> or other variations), but that part of the trade press seems likely as
>> an originator and time.  The other possibility that occurs to me is
>> that the term might have come out of one of the iterations with USPS
>> about what they thought about the whole situation, whether it was a
>> business they wanted to be in, own, or control, etc.  The first round,
>> with Tom Van Vleck and Noel Morris during the CTSS period has been
>> fairly well documented, but the were several others.   The stories I
>> heard from some of those who were involved in the discussions were, in
>> the rounds in which they cared,  the Post Office folks very clearly
>> did not want to make a distinction between traffic within a host or
>> between hosts.   Given that, and government bureaucrat-speak, one can
>> easily imagine "email" or "e-mail" coming out.   However, that is pure
>> speculation about another place to look, not any sort of claim or
>> evidence.
>>    john
>>    (who was working on Lick's other, larger, project at the time)
>> p.s. the recent micro-snit that spelled over onto the IETF list was
>> about the RFC Editor having introduced macros or a style sheet that
>> generated a spelling like "EMail" or "eMail".  I just couldn't imagine
>> any benefit from yet another term or spelling.
> _______
> internet-history mailing list
> internet-history at postel.org
> http://mailman.postel.org/mailman/listinfo/internet-history
> Contact list-owner at postel.org for assistance.

More information about the Internet-history mailing list