Tuesday 8 March 2016

Who invented email?

Who invented email?
Shivanand Kanavi

There are many sides to the story of email. In fact there is another Indian who pioneered email communication in 1972 (before Ray Tomlinson or Shiva Ayyadurai) while working on the Arpanet at MIT with File Transfer Protocol FTP (RFC 114) Abhay Bhushan

This 'controversy' reminds me of a quote by Paul Baran (who first articulated packet switching --the basis of Internet, in 1960-62 at RAND):
“The process of technological developments is like building a cathedral. Over the course of several hundred years: people come along, lay down a block on top of the old foundations, saying, ‘I built a cathedral.’ Next month another block is placed atop the previous one. Then a historian asks, ‘Who built the cathedral?’ Peter added some stones here and Paul added a few more. You can con yourself into believing that you did the most important part, but the reality is that each contribution has to follow on to previous work. Everything is tied to everything else. Too often history tends to be lazy and give credit to the planner and the funder of the cathedral. No single person can do it all, or ever does it all.” 
—PAUL BARAN, inventor of packet switching
Baran’s wise words sum up the pitfalls in telling the historical story of technology. Individual genius plays a role but giving it a larger-than-life image robs it of historical perspective.
In India, there was a tradition of collective intellectual work. Take, for instance, the Upanishads, or the Rig Veda; no single person has claimed authorship of these works, much less the intellectual property rights. Most ancient literature is classified as smriti (memory, or, in this case, collective memory) or shruti (heard from others). Even Vyasa, the legendary author of the Mahabharat, claimed that he was only a raconteur. Indeed, it is a tradition in which an individual rarely claims “to have built the cathedral”.

Ray Tomlinson: The man who put @ in your email

The man who put @ in your email

On Saturday March 5, Ray Tomlinson 74, one of the inventors of email, passed away. RIP

"A form of email was already known to users of time-sharing computers, but with Arpanet coming into being, new programs started popping up for sending mail piggyback on File Transfer Protocol. An email program that immediately became popular due to its simplicity was sendmsg, written by Ray Tomlinson, a young engineer at Bolt Beranek and Newman (BBN), a Boston-based company, which was the prime contractor for building the Arpanet. He also wrote a program called readmail to open the email. His email programs have obviously been superseded in the last thirty years by others. But one thing that has survived is the @ sign to denote the computer address of a sender. Tomlinson was looking for a symbol to separate the receiver’s user name and the address of his host computer. When he looked at his Teletype, he saw a few punctuation marks available and chose @ since it had the connotation of ‘at’ among accountants, and did not occur in software programs in some other connotation".
(From Sand to Silicon: The amazing story of digital technology by Shivanand Kanavi, Rupa & Co 2007).