[mailhist-discuss] FW: SIGCIS in Boston Magazine profile of "email inventor"

Thomas Haigh thaigh at computer.org
Sat Jun 2 06:37:24 PDT 2012

FYI, the Boston Magazine article on Ayyadurai is published.


I think a reasonable person who reads the entire article attentively would
come to a reasonable conclusion. She gives Ayyadurai enough rope to hang
himself in some of those quotes.


There are some factual errors and she makes an dubious rhetorical choice in
presenting Ayyadurai's claims in the authorial voice for the first screen. I
think a more careful journalist might have been able to pull off the tactic
of giving his perspective first and luring the reader into identifying with
it before learning the truth later in the article without making flat-out
false statements such as "Shiva had invented e-mail."


There are also a few clear factual errors - e.g. she gets my rank wrong.
Beyond that, it's a little misleading in bundling the SIGCIS historical
community in with the ex-BBN "geeks" as if I'd used the ARPANET as a young


She also writes "Most credit Ray Tomlinson of Cambridge-based BBN
Technologies with being the first person, back in 1971, to send messages
between computer terminals" which wouldn't pass fact checking - clearly we
didn't manage to convey the distinction of mail sent between two computer
terminals and mail sent between two computers.


In other news, Ayyadurai has a whole new website design at
http://www.inventorofemail.com/ including a page on "False claims about
email." http://www.inventorofemail.com/claims_about_email.asp. It's starting
to read like a conspiracy theory page, certainly a little feverish in the
leaps of logic and cherry picking of detail out of context while ignoring
the huge mass of historical evidence.


There's also a new tab for
http://www.inventorofemail.com/definition_of_email.asp. Whereas his previous
anonymous and idiosyncratic definition had six aspects, I think the new one
has 86 necessary and sufficient characteristics of "email." Several of which
are not present in today's mainstream email systems. At least one of these,
"Relational Database Engine" was missing from his own system.


So his new argument really comes down to asserting that everyone else is
misusing the term email by treating it as a contraction of "electronic
mail," whereas he thinks it has a very specific definition, until now
secret, met only by a tiny subset of electronic mail systems. Whereas anyone
who accepts the conventional definition is a "revisionist".


Other interesting features: Statements from Ayyadurai, Chomsky, and
Michelson. All using some of the same phrases, but still it's a little sad
that Chomsky would put his name on this. Some consistent messaging,
particularly on "14-year old boy" as if we're picking on a kid instead of
pushing back against a slick publicity campaign by a wealthy, well connected
man in his 40s. Also 1978 as the date of the "invention" versus the 1980
date on his own earlier infographic for the first operational version and
the 1982 date for the code he uses as evidence that it was called "email." 


Oh, and apparently he's been fired and is now ranting against MIT. Also a
quoted email from Emi Kolawole buried in
suggesting she remained in his corner throughout.


Anyway, I don't see any actual new evidence there that would require a
further response. 




From: Thomas Haigh [mailto:thaigh at computer.org] 
Sent: Friday, June 01, 2012 9:44 PM
To: 'members at sigcis.org'
Subject: SIGCIS in Boston Magazine profile of "email inventor"


Hello everyone,


SIGCIS and our recent role in discussion of the "inventor of email" incident
are written about in the recently published Boston Magazine article "Return
to Sender" by Janelle Nanos. She follows the default journalistic "report
the controversy" angle, which in my view can be a disservice to readers in a
case like this. 


Anyway, some interesting updates there. SIGCIS is defined as "a sort of
Internet cabal within the Society for the History of Technology" which is
certainly a colorful definition.







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