The Failed Promise of E-Mail

By John Dvorak  |  Posted 2003-08-05 Print this article Print

Snoopware, scammers, spam: What went wrong with e-mail, and how can we fix it?

Back in the early 1980s, when many of us were using CompuServe or MCI Mail, it was obvious that e-mail would provide a very important contribution to society. The instantaneous aspect of e-mail is what made it so appealing. You could communicate fast, effortlessly, and cheaply. But these advantages ended up handicapping the technology. And in case that wasnt bad enough, snoopware and scammers added more handicaps. Now many people are questioning e-mails basic usefulness. What went wrong? Perhaps nothing went right.

The promise of e-mail is further complicated by the Wild West nature of the Internet. Almost everything wrong with e-mail is the result of fast growth. Remember that before the Web explosion, two promising initiatives—X.400 and X.500—were going to standardize e-mail conventions and create a universal directory so you could actually find someones address, as with a phone book. Although some standards have emerged, they are a mishmash and completely de facto. Take me, for example: Am I jdvorak Or Or There are at least eight other possibilities, assuming I have an address at, which I do not!

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John C. Dvorak is a contributing editor of PC Magazine, for which he has been writing two columns, including the popular Inside Track, since 1986. Dvorak has won eight national awards from the Computer Press Association, including Best Columnist and Best Column. Dvorak's work appears in several magazines and newspapers, including Boardwatch, Computer Shopper, and MicroTimes. He is the author of several books on computing including the popular Dvorak's Guide to Telecommunications. His radio show, 'Real Computing,' can be heard on National Public Radio. He is also the host of TechTV's 'Silicon Spin.'

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