Happy Birthday! Email Turns 30

A brief history of…email.
Email Turns 30

Happy 30th Birthday, Email! Remember feeling completely awestruck by the magical mystery tour of electronic messaging back in the day? Since most of us weren’t privy to this game changer within the walls of the academic and government sectors, we had our own 20th-century version of the “Watson, are you there?” wow factor. Unlike the members of Generation Y, also known as Millennials or Echo Boomers, who literally grew up with technology and aren’t exactly bowled over by such stun-worthy pieces of innovation, I hail from the age of (electronic) innocence, and was once as charmed by the “LOAD “*”,8,1” command on a Commodore 64 as I was by the single-chip voice synthesizer in my younger sister’s Speak & Spell.

ARPANET, a network funded by the U.S. Department of Defense and recognized for making a huge contribution to email’s development through the groundbreaking work of programmer Ray Tomlinson, had already been defining protocols for email exchange between separate and distinct computers since the early ‘70s. Ray is also credited with creating the username@host syntax, turning your keyboard’s lone prepositional character into a global icon.

Then, in 1982, way before a bunch of outraged insiders began challenging the distinction, 18-year-old V.A. Shiva Ayyadurai received a copyright for a computer program he named…wait for it…”EMAIL.” A decade later, when the internet was first opened to commercial use, Microsoft launched a nifty little personal information manager known as Outlook, and chief competitor AOL went public and promptly celebrated with an avalanche of installation disks in mailboxes across America.

If we jump ahead to 2002, we’d find The Pew Research Center reporting that over 93% of American adults were using email in some way, shape or form. But this wasn’t all-day, everyday use – not by a long shot – and the demographic pool for marketers’ toe-dipping tactics was a lot smaller back then. Now, yet another 10 years later, the percentage of those who are “done” with email is easily eclipsed by the segment of potential new customers still responsive to its appeal. Email use has become a lot more habitual as it evolves in response to the expectations of consumers for more personalized service and contact.

It’s tempting for some to be dismissive of email marketing as a business need-to-have, the way those on the forefront of all things edgy and innovative denounce the norm in favor of the Next Big Thing. With so many conduits aggressively competing for the requisite four to six seconds of our attention on every available platform – and exhaustion on our part for attempting to keep up with it all – it’s no wonder a handful of critics insist that email marketing’s dead.

So, I’m putting it out there…email’s still alive and well. And it’s not your father’s email, either (that’s basically an interoffice envelope with a string closure sitting on a mail cart somewhere). Some of us may have retired our eight-tracks and LPs in favor of CDs and MP3s, but email – like rock and roll, mullets and Gilbert Gottfried – is in for the long haul.

Please stay tuned for my next post, which will highlight a few tried-and-true email marketing best practices. Enjoy…I’ll be over here playing “Pong.”

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