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Ray Tomlinson, email inventor, dies aged 74

Posted by Geraldine Hunt on Mon, Mar 7th, 2016

New York-born Ray Tomlinson, the man who changed the way we communicate has passed away at the age of 74. Tomlinson is best known for selecting the @ symbol to connect a username with the destination address email, making it a central part of the communications process.

Email before spam

He was a true technology pioneer and the man who brought us email in the early days of networked computers. In 1971, while working as an engineer at Massachusetts R&D  company, Tomlinson sent a message between two computers on the ARPANET system, a precursor to the internet. The first message once testing was complete, simply announced the availability of network email – and also shared instructions on how to use the @ sign. The first emails were text based and there was no spam.

Shaped social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook

His invention continues to have a massive impact on communications today and shaped social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook, where  the @ symbol is universally synonymous with direct communication. In a 2012 interview with Wired, Tomlinson explained the choice of @: “I looked at the keyboard, and I thought: ‘What can I choose here that won’t be confused with a username?’” Tomlinson remembers. “If every person had an ‘@’ sign in their name, it wouldn’t work too well. But they didn’t. They did use commas and slashes and brackets. Of the remaining three or four characters, the ‘@’ sign made the most sense. It denoted where the user was … at. Excuse my English.”

By the 1990s email had become central to business and the internet. Tomlinson continued to contribute to formats such as the email’s subject line as it grew in popularity before the explosion of the web in 1990.   More than 200 billion emails are now sent a day, with more than 4 billion accounts in existence. Here’s an interesting brief history of email from Mashable  .

Thanks to Tomlinson's invention over 4 billion users can communicate across the traditional barriers of time and space.  RIP.

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