[ih] Historical Tracing from Concept to Reality over 5 decades?
the keyboard of geoff goodfellow
geoff at iconia.com
Tue Jul 14 13:37:50 PDT 2020
One likely reason that Lick's vision doesn't explicitly contain
"electronic mail" is a political one. When we were building that
system, I remember Lick (and Al Vezza) emphasizing that we were *not*
building an electronic mail system. We called it "messaging", and used
terms like "communique" rather than "mail".
The reason for this was simple. "Mail" in the US was officially and
legally the exclusive responsibility of the US Postal System. No one
was allowed to compete with the USPS. I believe Lick was acutely aware
of this issue because of his roles at both MIT and ARPA. *The concern*
* was that someone might view an ARPANET "electronic mail" effort as an*
* attack on the USPS, and that might cause Congress to cut ARPA funding*
* for network research.*
recalling how the same "sensitivity" seemed to be true with respect to the
word "BYPASS" and "*The Phone Company"* in the early 90's with respect to
of final paragraph of:
*BUSINESS TECHNOLOGY; E-mail Is Becoming A Cheap-Fax Network*
By John Markoff
July 21, 1993
The dividing line between paper facsimile documents and electronic mail is
Thanks to the volunteer efforts of a group of computer network designers,
the network of networks known as Internet now permits users to send an
e-mail message to be printed out on fax machines at a growing number of
sites around the world.
Because transmission charges on the Internet are minimal compared with
those of the long-distance phone calls normally used for faxes, the system
is a cheap way to send faxes across the country or around the world.
To use the system, begun this month as an experiment in remote printing,
computer mail users include a fax telephone number in the address portion
of their message. The message, which may include both text and graphics,
will then be automatically routed to a site that has agreed to serve a
local geographic "cell" for delivery of the fax message.
So far, participating regions include all of Japan, Australia, the
Netherlands and Ireland, and in the United States, metropolitan Washington,
Silicon Valley and parts of the San Francisco Bay area, as well as other
pockets of the country.
Leading the project is Marshall T. Rose, a computer communications
consultant at Dover Beach Consulting in Mountain View, Calif. He has worked
with another Internet researcher, Carl Malamud, who has created Internet
Talk Radio, a weekly commercial audio program that is distributed
internationally and can be played on computer work stations.
The fax cell sites are computers on the Internet that are also connected to
inexpensive computer-controlled fax modems that can route the files to
virtually any fax machine.
Each site can designate the size of the area that it will serve -- whether
an entire city or just the fax machines within a particular company.
So far, in keeping with the utopianism that still permeates Internet
culture, none of the fax middlemen and -women are charging for their
Mr. Rose noted that the blurring of fax and electronic mail would raise
*"Is this global and local bypass of the telephone companies using the
Internet?" he asked rhetorically. "Is this legal? We need to think about
and also recalling this was happening "in the back/underground" with
respect to the UUCP 't' and 'e' protocols which BYPASSED the PSTN and used
The Net instead, viz. excerpting https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/UUCP:
*t-protocol* originated in the BSD versions of UUCP and is designed to run
over TCP/IP <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TCP/IP> links. It has no error
correction at all, and the protocol consists simply of breaking up command
and file data into 512 or 1024-byte packets to easily fit within typical
TCP frames. The less-used *e-protocol*, which originated the HoneyDanBer
versions as opposed to t from BSD, differs only in that commands are not
packetized and sent as normal strings, while files are padded to the
nearest 20 bytes.
and the same for NNTP, excerpting
The *Network News Transfer Protocol* (*NNTP*) is an application protocol
<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Protocol_(computing)> used for transporting
Usenet <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Usenet> news articles (*netnews*)
*between *news servers <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/News_server> and for
reading and posting articles by end user client applications...
done to reduce, or really, eliminate the costs of (primarily) Long Distance
Phone calls -- not to mention "modem", er, "transmission" speed... :D
On Tue, Jul 14, 2020 at 9:41 AM Jack Haverty via Internet-history <
internet-history at elists.isoc.org> wrote:
> From 1970 on for the next 7 years, I was in Lick's group at MIT, first
> as a student then as research staff.
> At the time, Lick was very focussed on human/computer symbiosis, i.e.,
> how to have computers help humans do what they do. A major part of
> that was to utilize computers in the office/business environment.
> We built such a system, limited by the technology of the day, but Lick
> had a vision for much more. For example, the office/business
> environment included notions like approval/release procedures for
> official correspondence, as well as things like notarization, escrow,
> third-party verification of transmission/delivery, purchase orders,
> invoices, and other such business-oriented processes. The vision was to
> use the computer to automate all sorts of the traditional
> business-to-business interactions, using the ARPANET as the
> communications substrate.
> The vehicle for implementing this kind of system was the ARPANET, and in
> particular the neonatal "mail" functionality. I recall that, at the
> time, you sent an email using FTP by simply connecting to the target
> system, typing "MAIL <user>" as a command to FTP, and then typing your
> message, signalling the end of it by typing a line with a single period.
> That was unpleasant, requiring the computer to scan every document being
> sent to avoid aborting a message in process if it happened to contain a
> line with just a period. Abhay Bhushan was responsible for the FTP
> spec, and his office was down the hall. So after enough of my
> badgering, he pushed the inclusion of the new MLFL command into FTP.
> Over several years, we built a lot of that "business automation"
> infrastructure. But it was limited to operation within our own system,
> and not very portable since it relied on the specific PDP-10 system
> (ITS) and software (PDP10 Assembler and MDL).
> We made many efforts to generate enthusiasm for a "structured data"
> standard for interchange across the ARPANET. But such a mechanism was
> only needed for the larger office automation vision, and ARPA wasn't
> funding more than a few ARPANET sites to implement such experiments.
> Most people just wanted (and only needed) a simple mechanism to augment
> the "mail" programs that almost every system had at the time for
> communication between its users. So instead of some MTP (Message
> Transmission Protocol) the much simpler SMTP (Simple Message
> Transmission Protocol) was widely adopted, as an "interim" first step.
> Lots of people subsequently made it useful, like Ray's adoption of @ for
> While that simplicity certainly facilitated the explosion of "email"
> around the world, it pretty much ended standardization efforts for more
> powerful mechanisms. Fifty years later, I can see some of that kind of
> functionality operating now, in various kinds of online forums, and
> social media sites. But, AFAIK, all of these contemporary mechanisms
> are single-site in nature. A user must connect to each individual site
> to join that conversation, and "cross-posting" is often discouraged or
> There is no endemic and widespread standard for supporting the more
> complex interactions of Licks' vision, although technologies such as XML
> and MQTT seem (to me at least) to be now filling in some of the
> pieces. OTOH, market forces also seem to be splitting apart
> traditional universal standards. E.g., I have lots of "mail addresses"
> in my contacts list, but some of them are now only accessible through
> something other than SMTP-based mail, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, et
> al. I haven't found any "gateways" or magic syntax (! % etc.) to
> convey messages across the boundaries. Universal email is no more.
> So, Lick's vision included "electronic mail", but it was actually much
> broader than the "email" we all know today. Lick's vision incorporated
> "electronic mail" as one piece of the larger system of human-human
> interactions using computer-computer communication over the "galactic
> One likely reason that Lick's vision doesn't explicitly contain
> "electronic mail" is a political one. When we were building that
> system, I remember Lick (and Al Vezza) emphasizing that we were *not*
> building an electronic mail system. We called it "messaging", and used
> terms like "communique" rather than "mail".
> The reason for this was simple. "Mail" in the US was officially and
> legally the exclusive responsibility of the US Postal System. No one
> was allowed to compete with the USPS. I believe Lick was acutely aware
> of this issue because of his roles at both MIT and ARPA. The concern
> was that someone might view an ARPANET "electronic mail" effort as an
> attack on the USPS, and that might cause Congress to cut ARPA funding
> for network research.
> So, "complicated and cumbersome"? Yes, perhaps. But that judgement
> depends on what problem you're trying to solve. Lick's vision was
> significantly broader than the system we use today to carry messages
> like this one. Even if he didn't ever call it "electronic mail".
> /Jack Haverty
> On 7/6/20 3:55 PM, Dave Crocker via Internet-history wrote:
> > On 7/6/2020 1:59 PM, Craig Partridge wrote:
> >> On Mon, Jul 6, 2020 at 2:24 PM Dave Crocker via Internet-history
> >> <internet-history at elists.isoc.org
> >> <mailto:internet-history at elists.isoc.org>> wrote:
> >> On the other hand, Ray's opportunistic cleverness definitely /was/
> >> accidental. Especially as compared against the more elaborate
> >> (cumbersome) approach others were considering. But again, that's a
> >> matter of the low-level detail.
> >> I think this undersells Ray's insight/genius.
> > I consider "opportunistic cleverness" to be high praise.
> > Besides that, my experience growing up in that environment, where
> > pretty much everyone would likely be called genius by regular folk,
> > was that no one used that word. I quickly noted that they simply said
> > someone was clever...
> >> Sometimes what makes something go from intellectual concept to
> >> reality is someone figuring out how to make the something simple.
> >> And Ray found a way to make email simple, and easy to use, and it
> >> exploded. And then it exploded again when Vittal created MSG and
> >> "Answer" [modern Reply].
> > Yup.
> > What has been interesting is seeing that some people seem to naturally
> > gravitate towards powerful simplicity.
> > From later discussions with Ray, it was clear to me that his process,
> > back in 1971, of reacting to the surrounding discussions that were
> > proposing a rather complicated, cumbersome email system -- including
> > printing messages onto paper and delivering them to people's desks --
> > was not an elaborate sequence of thinking through a set of issues,
> > formulating careful design considerations, and engineering an
> > integrated system.
> > Rather it was a simple moment of the insight you cite: Just make what
> > really was a tiny increment, linking two existing mechanisms of
> > messaging and network file copying.
> > And I don't undersell the importance of that at all.
> > d/
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Geoff.Goodfellow at iconia.com
living as The Truth is True
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