Everything you wanted to know about email

Apr 20 2016

March 5th, 2016 Raymond Samuel Tomlinson passed away. While his name may not be familiar to many his work is!  Tomlinson is considered the father of a technology that most of us use every day!


In late 1971, Tomlinson was making improvements to a small inter-computer messaging program called SNDMSG and figured out a way to make it send messages intra-computer – that is between two computers or the ARPANET (what some have called the proto internet). And so email was born (he insisted that it’s been around long enough that we need to drop the hyphen). The standards and specifications for the protocol were quickly formed in the first few years of adoption, and have been only slightly modified for the most modest of advances.

People have many ideas about what email is, they use it in many different ways, with different strategies, and often with different levels of satisfaction. When email was first designed computers had only recently grown keyboards and sometimes didn’t even have monitors. Text was king and the idea of graphics was limited to smiley faces :) and anything else you could draw using notepad today. Computers didn’t have much space and emails were generally small, around 30 KB. Eventually people wanted to send files and a quick system was kludged together to allow files to be converted into text and sent along with a message.  For the most part, this is the current system we use today.


In honour of Tomlinson here are some fun facts most people don’t know about email.

  • Most people think the analog of email is interoffice mail; a better legal and logical analog is a post card. It’s easy to read by anyone who handles it, be it post office employees or a person who you ask to put it in the mailbox for you. Email also tends to be less formal than a regular paper letter.
  • Most email systems limit you to 10 MB for email size. This is about 15 times greater than what the protocol was designed for and it still works!
  • Plain text is the best way to send an email. Formatting and fancy signatures tend to fall apart when being sent to different mail clients, servers or to phones. Formatting that could emphasize a joke, can get lost, look like an insult and ruin a relationship (yikes!)
  • Email is not instant. Many anti-spam systems rely on delaying emails to check behaviour or content. The protocol itself was designed for mail servers to not necessarily be connected 24/7 to the internet. Most mail servers will consider any email that takes less than 6 days to arrive to be in timely fashion.
  • The word “spam” is widely thought to have come from a Monty Python sketch. Since then additional terms have been formed
    • Spam – email you don’t want. Originated on MUDs, MUSHes, and MUXes as common parlance
    • Bacn (read bacon) – Email you don’t want right now but that you asked for
    • Livr (read liver) – Email you don’t want but probably need to see right away
    • Ham – Email that you want (but might be treated as spam by an automated system)
    • Before it became used in email the @ sign was used as a commercial symbol to define “at the rate of”
    • Yahoo email is the biggest webmail service in the US as of 2010. It also forms the backbone of Roger’s customer email service. YouTube videos are continually being put up and taken down to show how you can create your own Rogers email or bypass password restrictions to access mailboxes.
    • The first email sent from space was in 1991, by the STS-43 crew of the space shuttle Atlantis.
    • While in North America we were learning about SMS, Japan had given up on SMS because it was carrier dependent, and was already using short cellphone based email sometimes referred to as C-mail.
    • Sometimes spammers embed single 1 pixel images into their emails, simply by looking at the email, they can tell you’ve read the email.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this brush up on email.  At Mantralogix we’re fascinated with technology.

For us it’s personal, not just business.  Call us at 1-866-320-8922 if you want to learn more about email and tools to help you manage them!

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