[mailhist-discuss] Definition of email

Jack Haverty jack at 3kitty.org
Thu Jun 7 15:11:18 PDT 2012

Hi Ray!   Been a long time....

I like your one-sentence definition.   It's broad and loose enough to
contain many of the early implementations,  e.g.  CTSS et al.   It
even includes messages such as the one I mentioned earlier between
users and computer operators back in batch environments.

In writing a definition,  we're describing a line-in-the-sand,
separating what's included from what's excluded.   So,  if someone
thinks that simple single-computer systems such as CTSS aren't
"email",  your definition doesn't work.    Personally,  I like a broad
definition that captures the essence of this thing we struggle to
define, starting from the most primitive beginnings.

Two suggestions for refinement...

I would tend to exclude voice-mail systems of any vintage.   If you
believe that the ATT ESS was a computer,  then users with telephones
and/or tape answering machines back in the 60s were doing email.
Perhaps a qualifying phrase "...as an electronic alternative to paper
messages" would put voice-mail on the outside of the line.

Similarly,  I'd tend to want to exclude bulletin-board type of
systems,   where a message is sent to a group of users where the
sender doesn't know exactly who will receive it.   Perhaps replacing
"mailbox" with "personal mailbox"?   But I can see where such things
might be considered to be "email".


Electronic mail (Email) is a service that allows a computer user to
send messages to the personal mailboxes of other computer users for
later reading, as an electronic alternative to paper messages.

Of course we can never agree on the wording without first agreeing on
which systems are on which side of the line.

Point Arena, CA

On Jun 7, 2012 12:22 PM, "Ray Tomlinson" <rstomlinson at gmail.com> wrote:
>  My $.02
> On 6/7/2012 11:06 AM, Terry Gray wrote:
>> slight mod, v2:
>> Electronic mail (Email) is a service provided by computer programs to send  messages from the user of one computer account to the personal mailbox(es) of others for later retrieval.  An electronic mail message consists of packaged data, analogous to a physical letter, specifying one or more authors and one or more recipients.
> Getting close...
> Perhaps "computer account" is not relevant. There are accounts involved, but they are a mechanism for identifying a user and his mailbox and a basis for providing privacy. A computer with no login required and an array of mailboxes named by their respective users would work just fine. There would be no computer account. There would also be no protection, but I think it would still qualify as email.
> Maybe we can find a better phrase than "packaged data", too.
> Early versions of email (CTSS, SNDMSG) did not identify the recipient; if the message was in your mailbox you were a recipient.
> I think a slightly reworded version of the first sentence above captures the essence of email.
> Electronic mail (Email) is a service that allows a computer user to send messages to the mailboxes of other computer users for later reading.
> Anything beyond that needs a justification. Even "computer user" is open to misinterpretation. It implies a person using a computer, but allows Amazon to automatically send order status messages if you think the daemon that does the sending is a computer user. The nature of the message is a particularly slippery slope; almost any statement here will have numerous exceptions. Is it text? No. Are the recipients named? Not in early versions where no routing was involved. Is the sender named? Again, not in early versions and not in spam.
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