As email turns 50, the @ symbol continues to fuel collaboration
Like many technical breakthroughs, email began as an experiment.
In 1971, Ray Tomlinson, a recent graduate of MIT, was looking for interesting problems to solve. He was hired to help build ARPANET, the precursor to the modern internet, and during his first year on the job he came up with a simple yet ingenious way to send messages between networked computers. He created an address system that put a user’s login name in front of the @ symbol and the computer hostname on the other side. Although the first successful test message traveled just 10 feet between computers, it became a technological milestone.
Tomlinson, who died in 2016, could never remember exactly what was in that first message, but in interviews he speculated that it was “something like QWERTYUIOP” — the top row of letters on an English-language keyboard.
Today we’re joining with Amazon, Microsoft, Yahoo Mail, The Messaging, Malware and Mobile Anti-Abuse Working Group (M3AAWG) and others in celebrating Tomlinson’s innovation and 50 years of email at #QWERTYUIOP and #50yrsofemail.
Gmail is born
More than 30 years after Tomlinson’s breakthrough, a Google engineer named Paul Buchheit conducted his own experiments with email. In a 2005 blog post, Buchheit described the problem he was trying to solve:
“My email was a mess. Important messages were hopelessly buried, and conversations were a jumble…I couldn't always get to my email because it was stuck on one computer, and web interfaces were unbearably clunky. And I had spam. A lot of it. With Gmail I got the opportunity to change email — to build something that would work for me, not against me.”
Buchheit created Gmail as a browser-based email program that allowed users to easily search their own messages. He wasn’t sure if it was going to be for everyone, but when he released a beta to fellow Googlers they were fans of its search and storage capabilities. And when Gmail launched on April 1, 2004 with lightning fast email search and a storage limit of 1 GB—500 times more than prevailing inboxes of the time—a lot of people thought it was an April Fool’s Day hoax.
Gmail is now part of Google Workspace, the integrated solution that spans Docs, Slides, Sheets, Meet, Chat, and more—and that’s home to more than 3 billion global users. Google Workspace is where people connect, create, and collaborate at work, at home, in the classroom, and everywhere in between.
How email got safer