This year, email is celebrating its 44th birthday when computer engineer Ray Tomlinson sent the first electronic mail message in 1971. It’s interesting to track the progress of email over the last 44 years through infancy to the # 1 method of communication surpassed by text messages in 2013.
While email was first sent in 1971, it took years to really catch on similar to the Internet. In 1976, Queen Elizabeth II became the first head of state to send an electronic mail message, and two years later, the first electronically-sent advertisement went out over a network of government and university computers.
In 1982, the word “email” was first used, and emoticons entered our lexicon that year as well, when Scott Fahlman became the first person to use a smiley “emotion” in an email. The “You’ve got mail!” voice that you’d know anywhere was recorded in 1989 by radio man Elwood Edwards, along with other iconic AOL phrases (nearly ten years later, Warner Bros. released You’ve Got Mail the movie, which topped $250 million at the box office).
Email went through some changes in 1997, when Microsoft bought Hotmail for about $400 million and Microsoft Outlook was released. Unfortunately, it was also around this time that Internet users began figuring out how to use email for negative purposes with the word “Spam” was added to the English Dictionary in 1998. In 1999, a fraudulent email claiming that Bill Gates was going to share his money with Internet users began to circulate eventually being forwarded to millions of people.
Eventually the amount of Spam and viruses sent via email caused email to become regulated. George W. Bush signed the CAN-SPAM Act into law in 2003, the country’s first national standards for sending commercial emails, and in 2004, the FTC codified email spam laws. Email embraced its light-hearted side in 2004, when LOL and several other Internet acronyms were officially recognized in the English Dictionary and multimedia emails were introduced after the MMS World Congress in Vienna. In 2005, email became more secure when SPF was established, a technology that verifies email senders’ identities, and in 2007, Google made Gmail available to the worldwide public.
In 2008, presidential candidate Barack Obama worked to harness the power of email by compiling a database of over 13 million email addresses. Three years later, the AP Stylebook officially decided that electronic mail should now be abbreviated as “email” rather than “e-mail,” and a study found that the most easily hacked email password was “password,” followed by common sequences like “123456” and “qwerty.”
Today, Americans access email anywhere using their smartphones, tablets and mobile devices. In 2012, the number of Americans emailing on mobile devices reached 90 million, with 64% of using email daily on their phones. To assist users with the high volume of emails being sent and received, Google rolled out Gmail Tabs in 2013 to assist with sorting of email and better methods of filtering advertisements.
In 2014, the major storyline of email was hacking when Sony Entertainment was hacked, leading to the release of hundreds of sensitive emails.
In the past 44 years, email went from being a little used form of communication reserved for only the most tech-savvy or rich, to something so common that nearly everyone uses it on a daily basis. The detraction to email today is that it has become less reliable with emails being blocked for Spam, sending too many messages, accidentally diverted by email servers or simply missed with the sheer number of emails received.
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