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The Inventor of Email
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Definition of Email

Email is the electronic version of the interoffice, inter-organizational paper-based mail system. Email is not simply the exchange of text messages. Email is really a system --- a system of interlocking parts, each of which is essential for ordinary people to communicate effectively with one or many others, in an environment where different kinds of information must be shared (memos, documents, files, etc.) i.e. the modern office environment.

Interoffice, Inter-organizational Paper-based Mail System

Many people remember the interoffice paper mail system, which was the basis of how offices around the world operated, from the level of secretaries to CEOs. The interoffice mail system had a distinct set of interlocked parts. At UMDNJ, Shiva observed the parts itemized in Table 1, as documented in the materials submitted to the Smithsonian Institution. The mail system was not only used within offices but also for communication between organizations, across the three campuses of UMDNJ located at Newark, New Brunswick and Piscataway.


Features of the Interoffice, Inter-organizational Paper-based Mail System

as Observed by VA Shiva Ayyadurai at UMDNJ in 1978

Part Name Part Description
Inbox This was the physical inbox where a secretary received incoming documents. It was usually made of wood, metal or plastic. The courier or “office boy” or “mailroom clerk” would deliver documents – postal mail or internal memos came to the Inbox regularly, such as twice per day.
Outbox This was a physical box of metal, wood, or plastic, for memos that were composed and edited, ready for sending to its recipients. The courier or "office boy" or "mailroom clerk" would come and pick up the mail from the Outbox regularly, sometimes twice per day.
Drafts A memo sometimes was saved for review prior to sending. A secretary or another person would write the memo and put in a Drafts folder, which a superior would review and provide 'red-line' feedback in the Drafts folder.
Memo This was typically a piece of 8½ by 11-inch piece of BOND paper. The top of the Memo had the words ‘++++++ MEMORANDUM ++++++’ written on it. Below that were the following areas: ‘To:’, ‘From:’, ‘Date:’, ‘Subject:’, ‘Body:’, ‘Cc:’, ‘Bcc:’ (only for view in the sender's original), and an indication with ‘Encl.:’, if attachment(s) were included.
Attachments A Memo could sometimes indicate 'Encl.:', if attachments or enclosures such as another file folder, another document, a drawing or a photograph, or even a parcel, were included.
Folders Mail sometimes was organized and filed in separate folders based on some subject matter.
Compose A new memo was typically composed on a typewriter. Sometimes whiteout (a white liquid or white paper) was use to erase mistakes.
Forward (or Redistribution) A person receiving and reviewing an incoming memo could forward or re-distribute it to others. Forwarding literally involved adding a list of other people to review the memo. Sometimes the forward list was just paper-clipped on the received memo.
Reply Sometimes instead of writing a new memo, an employee replied to a memo received in the Inbox. The memo that was being responded to would be attached.
Address Book Every office had an address book, which listed each person's first and last names, campus location, group (e.g. surgery, pharmacology), room number and phone number.
Groups At UMDNJ, different groups were at different locations, such as Surgery, Pharmacology, ICU, IT. Each location had different people in different groups.
Return Receipt This was a formal receipt that a delivery person would make sure got signed by the recipient who had been sent a registered memo. This return receipt would then have to get sent back to the original sender.
Sorting Different locations had mail sorting facilities, where the mail would come in, be sorted by groups, departments, locations, zipcode, office numbers, so the delivery was easier.
Send Memo to an individual meant that the ‘To:’ field had only the name of one recipient.
Receive Memos were received by a secretary in the Inbox.
Scanning Mail Visually reviewing the mail was the process of quickly reading the envelope or top portion of a memo, such as the ‘From:’, ‘Subject:’, lines to get an idea of which memo to read first, to put for later review, or sometimes to discard altogether.
Forwarding with RETURN RECEIPT Requested (or registered memo) This was an important feature of the office. Sometimes, an important letter, say from a Director, would be received by a Manager, and that Manager wanted certain employees in his group to read it and make sure that they did in fact read it. So forwarding with return receipt, enabled the Manager to know exactly who got and who did not get the memo.
Editing A memo sometimes would be edited after it was composed. Editing could be iterative based on the feedback received.
Broadcast Memo Sometimes a memo would need to be sent to multiple recipients, not just one individual. This meant having multiple names of recipients in the ‘To:’ field. This was a complicated process, since copies had to be made – carbon copies on a typewriter. A ‘check’ mark was put next to each copy's intended recipient, so the envelope would be addressed correctly.
Sending Memo to Group In a large organization, within and across facilities, as at UMDNJ, there were different faculty departments: Pharmacology, Surgery, etc., and one may want to send a memo to a Group. Again, copies were made, and an Address Book used for a secretary to correctly address each envelope.
Deleting Sometimes a memo would be thrown into a trash folder for disposal.
Purging The contents of trash folders, by request, would collected and permanently destroyed.
Updating Address Book Address books were updated as employees came and left UMDNJ. New people were added, and those who had left were removed. Sometimes a circular was sent out which was the update to the existing Address Book, and one would have to manually insert the changes.
Prioritization When mail was left in the Inbox, it sometimes was sorted based on some priority, and so marked.
Archiving Memos to be kept were often put into an archive file cabinet and organized for long–term record keeping.
Carbon Copies A secretary would typically place dark blue carbon paper between two Bond pieces of white paper and roll them into the typewriter, to create copies. The Bond paper on top was the original, the ones below was ‘Carbon Copy’ or CC. Sometimes, several Carbons were used, and sometimes if the CC list was long, the original would be mimeographed on a mimeograph machine. Then the original To: recipient would get the original, and each person on the CC list would get copies. This got more complicated if there were multiple recipients or a Group in the To: field.
Blind Carbon Copies A Bcc list, in the header of the memo, was kept by the Sender ONLY, and others who got Carbon copies did not see the one with the BCC list. So only the sender knew who was on the Bcc list.
Registered Memo In the hospital environment, this was a very important feature, because certain memos had to be acknowledged as received. A Memo could be flagged as a ‘Registered Memo,’ this would mean that it was treated differently for instance, the delivery person could put it in a different color envelope and ensured that recipient signed for it.
Undeliverable Notification Sometimes a memo could not be delivered even after many Retries. In this case the delivery person would take the memo back to the sender with a note on it saying ‘undeliverable’.
Retries All mail had to be delivered, or a real effort made to keep trying before being deemed undeliverable. This meant policy of ‘retries’ as many as 3 to 5 times, before the attempts stopped. The number of retries was a policy decision.
Securing Delivery All mail had to be securely delivered. This meant that only the designated recipient had to get it. Typically this was ensured, as the delivery person knew who was who and knew the secretaries. Moreover, most memos were put in an individual sealed envelope, with a string closure or taped.
Transporting All mail needed to be transported. At UMDNJ, there were many ways of transport. The delivery person could physically pick up and deliver from local office to office. Another forms of transport were pneumatic tubes forming a system on train-track-like rails. Mail among different buildings and campuses was transported by cars or trucks.

All of these parts, interconnected together, were essential to the functioning of the interoffice mail system. If any one component was taken away, such as Attachments or Folders or the ability to send Carbon Copies, you no longer had a functioning interoffice mail system.

Email is the Electronic Interoffice, Inter-organizational Paper-based Mail System

In 1978, the challenge put to Shiva was to create an electronic version of the interoffice, inter-organizational paper mail system. He met this challenge, by conceiving and developing an electronic system that replicated the interlocking parts of UMDNJ's entire paper mail system. He called the system “EMAIL”, which incorporated and integrated the parts of the paper mail system as shown Table 2.


The Features of EMAIL, the First Email System

Electronic Interoffice, Inter-organizational Mail System

Interoffice Mail System Parts EMAIL Parts
Subject: (70 chars width)
Forward (or Redistribution)
Address Book
Return Receipt
Scanning Mail
Forwarding with RETURN RECEIPT (or registered memo)
Broadcast Memo
Sending Memo to Group
Updating Address Book
Searching Address Group
By Group
By User Name (short name)
By Last Name
By Zipnode (node or location)
Carbon Copies
Blind Carbon Copies
Registered Memo
Undeliverable Notification
Secure Delivery (Using username and password)
Attaching to a memo
Creating attachments from scratch
Saving attachments
Attachment editor
Transmission of memo
Multi-Level User Access - User, Manager, Postmaster, System Administrator
Memo Formatting - Functions were included to make sure that a memo on the screen when printed looked somewhat like a typewritten memo.
Print all mail
Print selected memos
Print only the "envelopes", To, From, Subject, Date
Formatted printing --- memo looked like typewritten one
Exporting of Mail
Export a single memo to a file
Export a set of memos to a file
Group Management --- Postmaster/Administrator Level
Creating Groups
Deleting Groups
Placing User in a Group
Deleting User from a Group
Displaying Groups
Restricting Group Access --- which users could not send to certain groups. E.g. Only the Postmaster could send to ‘1ALL’
Postmaster & Systems Administrator Functions
Reports on mail usage by user
Deleting aged mail
Shutdown of the entire system
Startup of the entire system
Deleting Users
Adding Users
Adding a ‘Zipnode’, new network>
Deleting a Zipnode
Disabling a User from logging in to the user interface
Direct starting of mail transmission
Integrated System Components
Easy-To-Use User Interface
Integrated Attachment Editor
Relational Database Engine
Modular Inter-Process Communication Protocol
Print Manager for Formatted Printing
Systems Administrator Console
Post Master Console

Beyond reproducing the functional parts of the paper mail system, EMAIL incorporated a set of Integrated System Components (see last set of items in Table 2) making the system network-wide, highly-reliable, and easy-to-use so anyone from secretaries to doctors to technical folks to executives could transition from the typewriter to the keyboard.

The creation of EMAIL, with all the familiar features which we take for granted today in programs such as Gmail, Hotmail and others, defined email as we know it today --- the electronic interoffice, inter-organizational mail system.

V A Shiva - Inventor of Email
The Inventor of Email on CBS
Interview with Inventor of Email
Interview in TIME Magazine
Interview with Doug Aamoth
Noam Chomsky on VA Shiva Ayyadurai's Invention of Email
VA Shiva Ayyadurai, the Inventor of Email: EMAIL was named in 1978 in FORTRAN IV
VA Shiva Ayyadurai, the Inventor of Email: First US Copyright for EMAIL, 1982
Dr. Leslie Michelson on VA Shiva Ayyadurai's Invention of Email
VA Shiva Ayyadurai's Personal Statement on Invention of Email
VA Shiva at the age of 14, Newark, 1978.As a Lecturer at the MIT, 2012.
V A Shiva - Inventing EMAIL

Learning Programming
@ NYU, 1978

VA Shiva Ayyadurai, the Inventor of Email: Learning Programming, 1978

EMAIL was named in 1978 in FORTRAN IV

VA Shiva Ayyadurai, the Inventor of Email: EMAIL was named in 1978 in FORTRAN IV

West Essex Tribune, 1980

VA Shiva Ayyadurai, the Inventor of Email: First Email System, 1980

Westinghouse Award Entry, 1981

VA Shiva Ayyadurai, the Inventor of Email: Westinghouse Award Entry, 1981

Westinghouse Award, 1981

VA Shiva Ayyadurai, the Inventor of Email: Westinghouse Award, 1981

MIT Tech Talk, 1981

VA Shiva Ayyadurai, the Inventor of Email: MIT Tech Talk, 1981

First US Copyright for EMAIL, 1982

VA Shiva Ayyadurai, the Inventor of Email: First US Copyright for EMAIL, 1982

COMAND, 1982

VA Shiva Ayyadurai, the Inventor of Email: COMAND, 1982

EMAIL User's Manual Copyright, 1982

VA Shiva Ayyadurai, the Inventor of Email: EMAIL User's Manual Copyright, 1982

EMS Copyright, 1984

VA Shiva Ayyadurai, the Inventor of Email: EMS Copyright, 1984

Beyond Email

U.S Patent: Relationship Management System and Method using Asynchronous Electronic Messaging, 2003

VA Shiva Ayyadurai, the Inventor of Email: Relationship Management System and Method using Asynchronous Electronic Messaging, 2003

U.S Patent: System and Method for Content-Sensitive Automatic Reply Message Generation, 2004

VA Shiva Ayyadurai, the Inventor of Email: U.S Patent: System and Method for Content-Sensitive Automatic Reply Message Generation, 2004

U.S Patent: Filter for Modeling System and Method for Handling and Routing of Text Based Aynchronous Commmunications, 2004

VA Shiva Ayyadurai, the Inventor of Email: Filter for Modeling System and Method for Handling and Routing of Text Based Aynchronous Commmunications, 2004

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