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The growth of e-mail


The invention of e-mail (1972) : home @ last

One of the founding firms of ARPANET and the Internet was a company called BBN. In late 1971 a BBN engineer called Ray Tomlinson invented an e-mail program that allowed users to exchange messages across a distributed network.

In 1972 Tomlinson modified his e-mail program to run on ARPANET where it became a quick hit. Tomlinson chose the @ sign from the punctuation keys on his Model 33 Teletype - because it meant 'at'. The same year Larry Roberts wrote the first e-mail management program to list, selectively read, file, forward and respond to messages.

Teletex seminar

Teletex mail system : pioneer e-mail system

Before Dialcom and Telecom Gold, in the late 1980s, there was another e-mail type system in Britain, which allowed users to compose their messages on electric typewriters in one office, to be printed out on another machine in a far away location. The PC or computer terminal had yet to arrive on office desks.

The idea was developed because manufacturers wanted to transform the old-fashioned teleprinters into more sophisticated communicating devices. Unfortunately no research was done into demand and the manufacturers were not prepared to promote the product themselves. Very soon e-mail using computer terminals was introduced, and Teletex was superseded.

Telecom Gold electronic mail terminal, 1982

Telecom Gold : pioneering e-mail

British Telecom entered the electronic mail market in 1982 with Telecom Gold, operated under licence from the American service provider Dialcom (which BT went on to acquire in 1986). This was an e-mail service that aimed to integrate with telex and fax - the dominant business communications devices of the time.

By the end of the eighties, PC-based e-mail was showing signs of taking off in the USA, and Telecom Gold had gained competitors in the form of Easylink and One to One.

None of these pioneer services was a commercial success, simply because Britain was not yet ready for e-mail.

The cost was high and users had to battle with user-hostile software and crawlingly slow modem speeds of 1200bit/s maximum.

Emoticon example - smiling

First emoticon (1979) : Kevin suggests life with a : )

In April 1979 Kevin MacKenzie e-mailed his fellow subscribers at MsgGroup, an early Internet bulletin board, with a suggestion to put some emotion back into the dry text medium of e-mail.

For example, he wrote, you could use a hyphen and a closing bracket thus -) to indicate that the sentence you'd just written was tongue-in-cheek. Though 'flamed' (criticised) by many at the time, emoticons soon caught on and became widely used.

Emoticons: Do you understand what the different emoticons mean?

Emoticons: Do you understand what the different emoticons mean?
fun and games

Can you beat our games? Explode equipment to see what's inside, hear the changing sounds of telecommunications, see how telecommunications designs have changed over time or send an e-postacard.

what's on

The UK's first permanent gallery dedicated to the history of information and communication technologies opens in the new Information Age gallery at London’s Science Museum.

audio history

Take a trip down memory lane with extracts of the interviews which have been recorded as part of the Connected Earth oral history programme.

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