Happy Birthday, Email!

Happy birthday, email! This month marks the transmission of the very first email, so I figured I’d take some time in today’s post to take you into a bit of the history of email and some thoughts on the future!

Email of the Past

The first email was sent in 1971 by Ray Tomlinson, who was working on SNDMSG, a precursor to email. SNDMSG allowed engineers to leave message for each other, but it only worked if you were both working on the same computer, which wasn’t really a useful medium for getting messages across to multiple computers. Ray modified SNDMSG to send messages between two separate computers, and thus, email was born. It didn’t quite catch on until the 1990’s, but by the end of the decade it became a critical part of the working world — and things haven’t stopped since.

We can’t talk about email without making some mention of spam! Gary Thuerk, the “father of spam,” sent out the first unsolicited mass email in history on May 1, 1978. We haven’t looked back from that since, either. Since that first mass unsolicited email, there’s been an ongoing battle between spam filtering and spammers, and spam email has grown to take over 90% of the entire email sending space. Luckily, email and spam filtering has evolved far enough to prevent the majority of those messages from flooding your inbox, but where do we go from here as far as filtering and the existence of email are concerned?

Email of the Future

What’s the future of email? Is email really dead or dying out, as so many people seem to believe? Are we losing email to social channels, because that’s what teenagers are using? The answer seems to be an emphatic “no” among my colleagues in the email industry. You can’t sign up for a Twitter, Amazon account, or Instagram without an email address. You can’t receive the same personalized targeting from a social media campaign that you can from an email. How are you going to receive receipts of your transactions, password resets, and shipping confirmations? Email may not be as shiny and new as social media, but it’s still the reliable workhorse powering business, commerce, and those social media accounts we’ve come to know and love.

On that note, while it’s quite clear that email isn’t dead, it is definitely evolving more toward mobile use. 30% of consumers read their email exclusively on their phones, so we’ll likely see a significant rise in responsive design as that figure trends upward. It’s pretty clear, however, that email’s definitely here to stay.

There are some interesting advancements coming from inbox providers, particularly in the field of providing an inbox full of content that individual users want. We’re seeing steps toward this with Microsoft’s Clutter and Google’s newly announced Block feature, but I’m predicting that’s just the beginning of making the inbox an individualized experience. We’ll see what exciting new changes come out in the future, but it’s quite clear that the argument over email being dead is nonsense. It’s still the most useful, most important 1:1 channel that businesses have for building and keeping relationships strong with their customers and prospects.

Let’s raise a toast to email sending today, long live email!

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