Messaging from smartphones and other computers is replacing email among many younger users, but email is still by far the No. 1 "killer app" for businesses. And it probably will remain No. 1 for a long time to come.
But how did we get to this point in a scant two generations? As with many of the computer technologies we take for granted, email began with a few early experiments at research centers during the -960s.
First In-House Email Was Sent in 1965
Most likely the first email system of this type was sent from Mailbox, an application used internally at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in 1965. Another early program to send messages on the same computer was called SNDMSG.
From those first in-house messages, electronic mail evolved with these key milestones, as researched by Outlook.com and published by Mashable in 2012:
1971: U.S. programmer Raymond Tomlinson allegedly sent "QWERTYUIOP" as the first network email, and he was the first to connect his computer to his mailbox by using an "@" symbol. This also was an in-house email that traveled through a single system.
1977: Tomlinson's emailing method worked for networked computers using the same software, but many people began using the Department of Defense's Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPA) to connect outside networks.
1981: The American Standard Code for Information Interchange adopted a process of letters, punctuation and symbols to digitally store information.
1985: Government and military employees, students and academic professionals were common email users by the mid-1980s.
1991: ISPs allow widespread Internet access, but there were limited options for use until Tim Berners-Lee created the World Wide Web in 1991.
In 1998, more people signed up for free email accounts on sites such as email.com, Yahoo.com, Excite.com, Hotmail.com and others than all other years previous. Now most people have multiple email accounts. They may have one hosted by a Web service, such as Google (Gmail), Yahoo, AOL or Microsoft; another at their home network, hosted by a telecom or cable television provider; and another on a mobile device, such as a smartphone or tablet.
By the way, "spam" was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 1998 after its growth in the mid-1990s—not to be confused with the 3.8 cans of spam consumed every second in the United States.
Key Moment in IT History: Email Sent Over the Internet
A key moment in email history came on Nov. 22, 1977, when the first email sent through the then-unnamed "Internet" took place in the foothills near Stanford University, in Portola Valley, Calif.
This event was recalled by eWEEK in November 2007, when the magazine covered an event at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif. It was called "Major Internet Milestones: A 30th Anniversary Celebration of the First Three-Network Transmission."