Email inventor dies at 74

I’m sure by now you may have heard about the death of Raymond Tomlinson, 74 (http://wapo.st/1QKDrt6).

What’s that? The name doesn’t immediately ring a bell? That’s the irony of Ray’s relation to the digital world. Few people know of him, but virtually everyone online uses his invention: Email.

Rather, email as we know it today. Before 1971, messages could only be shared across limited computer networks to groups of people.

I couldn’t write an electronic message for a specific person and have it go specifically to that person. It was either share with everyone or send to no one in that “prehistoric” digital world.

But then came Raymond Tomlinson. He worked out the coding needed to send person-to-person email across a network.

Named “SNDMSG,” it involved using unique usernames that would be associated with a particular computer system, or domain. He needed a symbol to connect the username with the domain, which would result in individual addresses for individual people. He chose the “@” symbol for his connector.

And modern, person-to-person e-mail was born. Which is why, today, we have email addresses in the form of keith.darnay@bismarcktribune.com.

In 2012, Tomlinson was inducted into the Internet Hall of Fame. You can watch his acceptance speech at http://bit.ly/1RVtIjS.

You can also browse the Internet Hall of Fame’s website at http://bit.ly/1Rc93vh. It’s worth spending a little time at the site to become familiar with the people who built the framework for the digital world we know today.

The Internet hasn’t always been around as it is, despite what many young people might believe, given they’ve never known a world without the Internet.

The simple tasks we take for granted — connecting to the Internet, sending and receiving e-mail, accessing websites around the world, downloading and uploading files, moving icons across a screen with a mouse, watching videos, making online purchases — all the fundamental coding to enable all this and more had to be invented, improvised and improved.

We’ve come a long way in just a handful of decades. In the beginning were room-sized computing machines built with cables, vacuum tubes and transistors.

Today, we have smart phones that are, basically, palm-sized computers with more power and memory than the computers used to send Americans to the moon six times.

Back then, the digital alphabet soup of programming consisted of FORTRAN, COBOL, BASIC, DOS, PASCAL and C, among others.

Today, the Internet world is running on CSS, HTML, PHP, SQL and more.

To borrow a well-worn song lyric, “What a long, strange trip it’s been.”

And, in the grand scheme of things, we’re really just getting started.

Keith Darnay is the Tribune’s online manager and has worked in the online world for more than two decades. His site is at www.darnay.com.

Leave a Reply