[mailhist-discuss] Question about the early use of email

Linda Hess linda.hess at gmail.com
Fri Nov 21 14:13:18 PST 2014

Hi Dave,

First, thank you for letting me post this question to the list! I know it's
outside of the normal realm of technical discussion. Members of the list
have been very gracious with their time and expertise.

Second, as I mentioned to several of those members who repliec, based on
the information that I received, I think I need to change the time frame of
my story from 1990 to 1994. That's when I was able to send and receive
email across systems, and the give-and-take was pretty much instantaneous,
depending on if the other person happened to be in his/her email program
when a message came in.

I am grateful to all of you who replied, because I learned quite a lot!

Best regards,

On Fri, Nov 21, 2014 at 5:02 PM, Linda Hess <linda.hess at gmail.com> wrote:

> Hi Craig,
> I've been away for a few days, but I want to thank you for your answer to
> my question, especially about the length of time it would take to send
> email and receive a response.
> I've learned a lot from different members of this group. I've decided,
> based on the responses, to bump up my time frame from 1990 to 1994. I was
> on email at that time, and by then I could freely and quickly send and
> receive email.
> Since my characters are private users, this seems to make the most sense
> to me.
> I appreciate your willingness to spend some very thoughtful time on my
> question!
> Best regards,
> Linda Hess
> On Wed, Nov 19, 2014 at 8:43 AM, Craig Partridge <craig at aland.bbn.com>
> wrote:
>> Hi Linda:
>> I’ll hazard a short answer — for a richer answer I recommend dropping a
>> note to John Quarterman.  Or perhaps this note will cause the rest of the
>> list to chime in :-)
>> 1990 is just before a transition — a bunch of email networks are about to
>> go away, being swept away by the rush to the Internet.  But in 1990, they
>> are still active.  The complete list of email networks of the time can be
>> found in Quarterman’s book, “The Matrix” published in 1990 and widely
>> available from used bookstores.
>> Almost all of those networks served academics or researchers.  So, to
>> your particular perspective, namely a “private user”, the answer is there
>> were not a lot of choices (at least in the US).  Your hypothetical user
>> would likely have access one of three ways:
>> * Via COMPUSERV- my recollection is that COMPUSERV had an (ugly) way to
>> email Internet users but Quarterman does not describe one.
>> * The Well — a rather small but vigorous email community centered around
>> northern California — could email to most other computer networks
>> * Via UUNET — this is the UNIX-to-UNIX dialup network —which by 1990 was
>> used by a wide range of high tech companies.
>> For COMPUSERV and the Well your user needed a PC or simply a dumb
>> terminal and a modem to dial-in.  Data rates were painfully slow.
>> Given the logistics of setting up and operating a UUNET/USENET site, a
>> hypothetical user was either a serious techie or used email only at his/her
>> worksite.
>> Another thing to observe is that email was basically an overnight service
>> on most networks at the time.  That is, unless you exchanged email on the
>> same system, the larger Matrix of email-compatible networks swapped email
>> at night, when dialup phone rates were least expensive.  So your character
>> can’t send an email in mid-afternoon and expect an answer an hour later
>> unless both parties were, say, on COMPUSERV.  Normally, the other party
>> won’t get the email until the next day and you would not expect to see a
>> reply until the day after that….  Only on a limited set of networks would
>> you see near instant delivery (the Internet and BITNET come to mind).
>> Also, emailing off your service was often painful — by 1990, the Internet,
>> BITNET, UUNET and CSNET were using a consistent format of
>> user at example.com — but other systems did not, and ghastliness resulted
>> if you wanted your email to cross network boundaries (cf. Adams and Fry
>> book “!%@“, — which reads “Bang, Percent, At” or your favorite curseword as
>> appropriate… which described how to bridge the boundaries).
>> Hope this is useful,
>> Craig
>> On Nov 17, 2014, at 12:44 PM, Linda Hess <linda.hess at gmail.com> wrote:
>> Hello to the group!
>> I spoke to our moderator back in September, and he gave the the go-ahead
>> to post this question even though it's not exactly what you all normally
>> discuss (at least, not from what I can see).
>> I was doing a search on the history of email from a private user perspective
>> (as opposed to the use of email by the military, academic, and other
>> early-adaptor communities).
>> What I hope you can tell me is as follows:
>> 1. Who was most likely to have access to email in 1990? I didn't have
>> access until 1994, and that was through my employer, so I really don't know
>> the answer to this question.
>> 2. What were the most likely ways that strangers made personal
>> connections? I met a person who became a close friend on an email
>> discussion group (via Listserve) in 1995. FWIW, that list still is active
>> to this day!
>> 3. If people lost touch with each other, how easy was it to find a person
>> again in the pre-Google days? Could a person pretty much disappear if they
>> chose not to answer email?
>> These questions are for a novel I'm writing. As my early Internet
>> experience is limited, I'd truly appreciate whatever insight anyone might
>> wish to offer. I you want to reply off-list, that's fine.
>> Many thanks and best regards,
>> Linda Hess
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