There was, and still is a fair amount of divergence as to how and where email became what it is. Some believe that it came about as a tool of ARPANET1, the interconnected mainframes between the Pentagon and universities. Some interpretations explain that the ARPANET was created to perform doomsday scenarios of nuclear attack sequences, but the government denies that ever occurred. Surely we can believe in everything our government tells us, can’t we?

Others say email came about part of the originally planned for communications tools included in the early Internet. Email was intended and was introduced with rolling out Internet 1.0. It just sort of “always was.” Just like some believe the cosmos simply just always was.

Still, others cling to the misguided belief that former Vice President Al Gore invented both the Internet AND email. Trust me when I say he did no such thing. In fact, he may be the last politician that WikiLeaks hasn’t hacked… yet.

The prevailing opinion by those intrigued with email’s origin hold to Mr. Ian Peter’s version of the history of email. According to Mr. Peter:

“Email is much older than ARPANET or the Internet. It was never invented; it evolved from very simple beginnings”

For an eight-minute audio clip recorded by Ian Peter, click here.2

That said, Mr. Peter’s belief is that email’s existence is an evolution of the very early type of file directory that was housed on a mainframe computer at the Pentagon. The very early days (back to 1965), many engineers and scientists were working toward similar ends but left much of documenting progress to chance. Rumors and speculation support the notion that this file directory morphed into the first type of email system known as MAILBOX (1969). MAILBOX functioned like a central depository for messages left for someone else. There were fewer than 100 people using the mainframe technologies at the time.

When someone needed access to the mainframe, they simply logged in at a terminal and searched the mainframe for what they sought. Since these terminals had no storage capabilities additions, deletions and changes to whatever lie on the mainframe could be performed by anyone with access to the mainframe.

Another early email system known as SNDMSG3 (send message) made its way into use. According to Wikipedia:

SNDMSG was an early electronic mail program, chiefly notable because it was used to send what is considered the first networked email.

SNDMSG was originally the electronic mail program for a single multi-user time-sharing computer running the TENEX operating system. It allowed all users of the machine to send a simple form of email to each other, but it was extended by Ray Tomlinson in 1971 to allow sending to users on other computers accessible over the ARPANET, addressing them by appending the other system’s host name after an “@” sign.

SNDMSG along with READMAIL were the key components of networked mail on TENEX.

You can see that there is no clear-cut answer to the uninitiated as to how email and other technology came about. The simplest conclusion you can hang your hat on is that, like modern man, it was an evolutionary process, as users became inspired from the use of much earlier versions of itself. You can be sure were plenty of light bulb moments, which were acted upon.

Along Comes Networked Computers

Because early messaging from one person to another on the same computer was a relatively simple process of addressing the note. Remember, these mainframes were large devices, usually taking up entire rooms. They were independent of each other, and groups worked in a silo-style system. As the participating universities began to talk to each other via phone or regular mail, it became apparent that somehow linking the computers together in some way could open new vistas of communication, making groups interconnected, and allowing larger, more complex projects to be shared.

Once computers became networked, it was apparent that some type of addressing system needed to be adopted. (1972)

A man, Mr. Ray Tomlinson, an employee of BBN (Bolt, Beranek, and Newman, now known as Raytheon) served as a contractor for ARPANET. Most people within the groups credit Tomlinson for inventing email; he selected the @ symbol distinguishing to which computer in the network the message should be sent. For example, if someone at the Pentagon wanted to use the system to message someone at Stanford University, the address would be name-of-person@name-of-university. That’s how the email address got its format. Early communicators were hamstrung to a certain extent. For example, the two parties communicating had to be online at the same time.4 There was no such thing as blast email, segmentation of any kind beyond the ability to network. As you know, that would be resolved, as we’ll highlight in a moment.

After the network grew to such a point that the public was let in on the revelation, matters got more complex trying to identify a means of addressing individuals. Because of the rapid (and massive) growth, the dot com, dot net, and so forth, grew from that. Internet Service Providers (ISP) and a cornucopia of various browsers also emerged. Do you remember Mosaic and Netscape?

Still Further Advancement

A man named Larry Roberts5 (often referred to today as “father of ARPANET”) developed folders to segment various emails under topics, John Vittal wrote an early software program to help sort email, and before the end of the 1970’s, three-quarters of ARPANET used email to communicate.

In 1978, Mr. Gary Thuerk had mastered the ability to send a mass email.6 By many people’s measure, Mr. Thuerk is the “father of SPAM.” I’ll wager he hates being reminded of that at cocktail parties.

By the middle of the 1990’s, email had caught on with the masses, and experienced several iterations along the way.


As mentioned, much of the documentation was fragmented or unavailable due to hundreds and perhaps thousands of engineers working simultaneously on building the network, the confirmed evolution of email might never be fully known.

Although there is a plethora of infographics and articles on the subject, an infographic and can be found here,7 and another infographic on the evolution of email here.8


The modern age of the Internet, Internet 2.0, things have evolved quite a bit from the early years. Not only have computer networks advanced, computer systems that used to take up an entire large room now not only sit on desktops, but they also fit in our pockets and on our wrists.

Additionally, as technology spread to less developed parts of the world, internet usage and email continued to grow exponentially. In under-developed countries, the smartphone is often the first device with which people gain access the Internet and the use of email; computers and laptops are simply too costly and often impractical due to the lack of Internet access overall. As you can see by the chart below, just the last twenty years, email users worldwide have exploded in numbers.


Consider that the number of millions of people actively using email to communicate has grown from 2 people in 1978 at its birth to more than 3,611 in millions as of June of 2016. That’s a dramatic increase by any measurement.

SPAM Rears Its Ugly Head

As mentioned earlier, Gary Thuerk has been deemed the Father of SPAM, having been the inventor of mass emails. Like everything, the human being is a crafty creature, and eventually, the mass email would become a weapon used to invade unsuspecting individuals by unauthorized distribution of massive mass emails, as depicted in this Hubspot™ graphic.


It wasn’t until 2003 that the CAN-SPAM Act was signed into law by President George W. Bush (Bush II), establishing the first standard for mass commercial email distribution. CAN-SPAM is the acronym for Controlling the Assault on Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act.

Email is the Communications Preference

When judging whether an email is a viable communications tool, considering people’s aversion to junk or SPAM emails filling their inbox, the following graph provided by Marketing Sherpa depicts just how popular email continues to be, despite its presumed negatives.


When we consider things like cost, reach, ease of use, and things of that nature, email is a consistent winner in the choice made by marketers worldwide. Technology that makes communicating marketing messages to targeted audiences, there is nothing as efficient as email, hands down.

Marketing Automation

Platforms like Constant Contact, Infusionsoft, aWeber, MailChimp, and a myriad of other marketing automation platforms have come along since email’s introduction. Autoresponder campaigns designed to capture and segment target audiences to a finite number of categories make personalization of messaging much easier than ever before. And the marketing automation they provide reduce the daily marketing workload.

The use of templates and drag-and-drop construction of emails has taken the core message and converted it into a custom, high-image and personalized marketing communications vehicle. When the ability to insert video into an email is as simple as pressing a button, you know we’ve come a long way.

Automation has created other features to email marketing of which you may be aware of, like the ability to not only email a message to a group of subscribers but take that same email and create a newsletter-style format that can be sent daily, weekly or under any schedule preferred by the sender. Said “newsletter” can be instantly uploaded to a blog, social platform, or website concurrent with the creation of it.

Automation is advancing as quickly as marketing technologies are in general. But the underlying fact is that email use is far from extinction.

Upcoming Trends

The great thing about technology is today as it was back in the day of the ARPANET. There are people across the industry and the globe looking forward to see what is possible, and probable. Here’s an excerpt from an article on the website EmailMonday10 that gives a peek at what some industry influencers see coming our way”

Industry experts on the future of email marketing and marketing automation

What will be the most interesting developments and trends in the coming years? Industry experts share their views on the future of Email Marketing & Marketing Automation.

  1. René Kulka – “hyper-personalization” is becoming a reality. Specialist third-party services pop up in deliver-ability, testing, live content, re-marketing, predictive analytics, email advertising & customer intelligence.
  2. Dave Chaffey – Guidance for triggered marketing sequences is a necessity. Effective experiences will form the starting point.
  3. Tom De Baere – Consumer expectations are pushing marketing automation technology vendors, while enterprise supplier-agency-model is needed for digital transformation.
  4. Jordie van Rijn – Email, marketing, and marketing automation, will be stealing from each other. “Functional Chunks” will be the next step in modular evolution.
  5. Stewart Rogers – No big changes in the email marketing ecosystem through 2016. Yet personalisation will be the bigger trend.
  6. Parry Malm – The new focus on optimising is a huge movement in the industry. Innovation will come from outside the industry feature-set arms race.
  7. John Caldwell – Easier multi-channel multi-touch campaigns thanks to better UI. While mid-market platforms are proven big game hunters.
  8. David Raab – Widespread integration of machine learning. It will become substantially easier to import third party data to enhance the marketer’s own (first party) information about her customers.
  9. Todd Lebo – Technological advancement of marketing tools will be extremely valuable, while 59% of marketers are only using a limited amount of the marketing automation tools.

Read on about hyper-personalization, functional chunks and where the expected (r)evolutions in the arena will come from: Industry experts on the future of email marketing and marketing automation.


Image Credit: Econsultancy via emailtoday

Most experts are in agreement when 84% believe email will be fully integrated with other marketing channels, some more than others, but that’s an overwhelming majority. Similar percentages hold true for the personalization question being addressed by email in the future. Less than 1% are of the opinion that email is post-trend and will soon be a thing of the past.

For a deeper look at what the top ten experts have to say, click here11 to find out.

For marketers, these are certainly exciting times, and the future is very, very promising.