[mailhist-discuss] Definition of email

John Vittal jjvittal at earthlink.net
Mon Jun 11 12:55:59 PDT 2012

This is why, imho, that we should first look at the usage of email in 
common parlance.  For example,
-  I'll email you about that.
-  I'll send you an email about possible times.
-  I want to read my email.
-  What system do you use for email?  Oh, Thunderbird (or Outlook or 
Apple Mail or Eudora or whatever).
and the like.

This is why I differentiated an electronic message (email; the object) 
from the system that creates and manipulates email (the plural) and 
ancillary services (e.g. address book, servers, etc.) that are part of 
the process.

While I can't disagree with what others have said, I think that when 
people talk about email, they in general talk about the object and not 
the system/service.  Just like when one talks about a letter, we talk 
about the object, and not the process/system/service that is used to 
create the letter and get it from your typewriter (or computer) to it's 
intended destination.

Once we (if we haven't already) decide if we want the above distinction, 
then we can go for a more formal definition.

If this isn't an apt distinction, could somebody enlighten me?


On 6/11/12 3:08 PM, Dave Crocker wrote:
> Good exchange.  Let's press for resolution...
> On 6/7/2012 12:22 PM, Ray Tomlinson wrote:
>> On 6/7/2012 11:06 AM, Terry Gray wrote:
>>> 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.
> While I see the careful precision it provides, I don't think it's
> essential and I suspect most readers would find it distracting.
> (Implicit goal:  make the definition reasonably comfortable for use by
> the mass market of readers, not just technicians.)
> I think a single reference to computers suffices.  Something like:
> email is a computer service to send messages...
>>   A computer with no login required and an
>> array of mailboxes named by their respective users would work just fine.
> Well, yeah, that's an entirely pragmatic reason for dropping the qualifier.
> Separately, the problem with saying "personal" mailboxes is that it
> excludes role and other mailboxes such as mailing list redistributors.
> mailhist-discuss at emailhistory.org is not a personal mailbox.  Does it
> not receive and send email?
>> Maybe we can find a better phrase than "packaged data", too.
> "content" ?
> However the deeper problem is the "analogous to a physical letter".
> This invites debate about a physical letter.  That is, is redirects,
> rather than resolves, basic questions. I suggest that our definition
> stand on its own rather than rely on (mis)understandings of another service.
>> Early versions of email (CTSS, SNDMSG) did not identify the recipient;
>> if the message was in your mailbox you were a recipient.
> If the recipient isn't identified, how can the system know who to
> deliver the message to?
> That is, there's a difference between tagging a /display/ list for
> recipients, versus "indicating" recipients of the message.  The text I
> originally suggested is meant to say the latter, without commenting on
> the former.
>> 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.
> It doesn't clarify what "message" means.  While it's been easy to ignore
> that precision over the years, I'd say the recent public claims and
> their constraints have made it worth elaborating.
> Also, these latest drafts have dropped the concept of a message's having
> multiple authors.  Again while that is rare, it's legal and is still
> sometimes done.
>> 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.
> Automated sending or receiving -- as well as 'role' addresses - do raise
> the question about "user".  The usual way to dodge it is to work in
> something like "on behalf of".
>    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?
> What does "named" mean here?
> On 6/7/2012 3:11 PM, Jack Haverty wrote:
>   > Hi Ray!   Been a long time....
>   > In writing a definition,  we're describing a line-in-the-sand,
>   > separating what's included from what's excluded.
> +1
>   > I would tend to exclude voice-mail systems of any vintage.
> Just to be clear:  why?
>   > 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.
> How is that different from what is happening with
> mailhist-discuss at emailhistory.org?  Is this not email?
>   > IMHO:
>   >
>   > 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.
> Again:  I believe that language like "as an electronic alternative to
> paper messages" is useful for pedagogy but poor for denotation.;
> So, to offer a concrete alternate version:
>        Electronic mail (Email) is a computer-based service for sending
> messages from one author to the online mailboxes of one or more
> recipients, for later retrieval.  The content of an email may contain
> any sort of information.
> Open question:  MCI Mail permitted sending to postal addresses as well
> as online mailboxes.  Weren't those emails?  Does the use of gateways to
> external representations make these no longer emails???
> Also, I'm still not clear that this covers role addresses, nevermind
> automated mail creation or mailing list forwarders.
> d/

More information about the mailhist-discuss mailing list