[mailhist-discuss] Definition of email
thaigh at computer.org
Thu Jun 7 08:01:14 PDT 2012
I think a definition should focus on the necessary and sufficient
characteristics to make something "email" rather than mentioning optional
features such as attachments.
> An email system is a set of programs on various computers that provides
> services that allows a user to create, send, receive, and store email, and
> all of the ancillary operations (e.g. an address book) to facilitate those
> operations on a distributed, networked, heterogeneous set of computers.
This definition also seems skewed towards Internet style email, by requiring
"a distributed, networked, heterogeneous set of computers". That would
exclude pretty much all LAN and proprietary mainframe email systems, also
email from online services.
I favor a definition that includes all forms of computer based communication
that have historically been thought of as "electronic mail" or "mail" and
excludes at least some of those that haven't (chat, SMS, discussion groups,
From: mailhist-discuss-bounces at emailhistory.org
[mailto:mailhist-discuss-bounces at emailhistory.org] On Behalf Of John Vittal
Sent: Thursday, June 07, 2012 8:55 AM
To: mailhist-discuss at emailhistory.org
Subject: Re: [mailhist-discuss] Definition of email
Here are some ramblings. (Sorry I've been too busy to participate in the
conversation to date.)
The following differs pretty significantly from those that Dave summarizes
below. It separates email (the object) from the system that manipulates
that object. Which is also pretty significantly different than the
Wikipedia definition <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Email>.
An electronic message (email) to my mind is a digital object that is defined
by property value pairs (as noted in RFC733 and its followers).
Depending on how it is structured, it could be construed as having contents
and an envelope, however that doesn't necessarily hold for memos and
postcards if you're drawing equivalencies. The object includes the
principal message (which may be unstructured text, but which may also be
highly formatted also (e.g. based on html) and therefore having some
structure) and any attachments (appendicies, exhibits, etc., whatever the
name you wish to use at the moment) thereto.
An email system is a set of programs on various computers that provides
services that allows a user to create, send, receive, and store email, and
includes all of the ancillary operations (e.g. an address book) to
facilitate those operations on a distributed, networked, heterogeneous set
On 6/7/12 4:11 AM, Dave Crocker wrote:
> On 6/5/2012 9:01 PM, Jack Haverty wrote:
>> Someday, electronic mail might be invented. It hasn't happened yet.
> Jack's note nicely highlights the challenge we face, in distinguishing
> between the abstract ideal versus something less lofty but more
> current and (widely) used.
> We have two definitions offered:
> Electronic mail is a service provided by computer programs to
> send unstructured textual messages of about the same length as paper
> letters from the account of one user to recipients' personal
> electronic mailboxes, where they are stored for later retrieval.
> Crocker, as modified:
> An electronic message (email) is a collection of data,
> packaged to specify one or more authors, addressed to one or more
> recipients and stored for later access by recipients.
> (While Jack's note provides some nice background and guidance, I
> couldn't extract an actual definition.)
> Although related, the definitions have significant differences.
> Can we get some discussion seeking to converge on a single definition?
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