Email is a lot like Winston Churchill said about democracy: It’s the worst form of communication except for all the others that have been tried.
Cloudflare posted an excellent history of email. It’s interesting that they start with the Unix command
write instead of the more well worn start with ARPANET. From there it goes through the development of mailboxes, adoption of FTP protocols, and more recently developments of graphical clients and webmail.
It even mentions some of the potential usurpers to email that have come and gone over the year, including Google Wave (pouring some out). It’s a great historical look at how email came to prominence while still being a core web standard.
Cloudflare Blog comments:
This was adapted from a post which originally appeared on the Eager blog. Eager has now become the new Cloudflare Apps.
— Text of the first email ever sent, 1971
The ARPANET (a precursor to the Internet) was created “to help maintain U.S. technological superiority and guard against unforeseen technological advances by potential adversaries,” in other words, to avert the next Sputnik. Its purpose was to allow scientists to share the products of their work and to make it more likely that the work of any one team could potentially be somewhat usable by others. One thing which was not considered particularly valuable was allowing these scientists to communicate using this network. People were already perfectly capable of communicating by phone, letter, and in-person meeting. The purpose of a computer was to do massive computation, to augment our memories and empower our minds.
Surely we didn’t need a computer, this behemoth of technology and innovation, just to talk to each other.
Read more at: The History of Email