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Re: Text of the 'first email ever sent'

2011-01-08 13:15:11

--On Saturday, January 08, 2011 09:56 -0800 Dave CROCKER
<dhc(_at_)dcrocker(_dot_)net> wrote:


Wikipedia's article on email includes the text:

    The first email ever sent contained the letters

This is repeated in other articles on the net.

Seems like such a claim should be validated.  I don't recall
ever hearing about it and would assume that it's incorrect,
since I haven't seen any definitive agreement on what the
first email system was, nevermind what its first message

My understanding is that email was a feature of the first
timesharing systems, which puts the likely first message in
the first half of the 1960s.

Maybe not quite that early, but we definitely had email on CTSS
in the 65-66 window, possibly a bit earlier.  I'm quite sure
DTSS picked it up from CTSS; Tenex and ITS were other, slightly
later, development forks wrt both the operating system and
applications functionality.  I don't know enough about the SDC
and other systems  of roughly that period to know what they had
and when.

Wrt content, you might ask Tom Van Vleck -- if CTSS really was
first (and it may have been), he probably sent it.   But Tom has
made the point that, on at least CTSS and probably other
systems, inter-user email evolved from user -> operator and
operator-> user messaging systems, so one really has to figure
out what counts. Think, for example, whether a MOUNT command
with a text-string message constitutes email: I don't, but,
especially when such messages get queued so the operator doesn't
see it until a drive is available, one gets into a grey area.

That same distinction applies to "netmail": if the only criteria
that separate it from intrasystem email is that more than one
machine was involved and/or that users were identified in terms
of the machine on which their accounts were located, it is
pretty early... but with transports involved magnetic media and
sneakernet or equivalent.   If one requires a wired physical
layer, then one gets back to a lot of definitional questions.
For example, there were, IIR, store-and-forward remote station
to central operator communication facilities in at least one of
the systems that evolved into IBM RSCS by around 1967-68.  I
don't think they constituted email, but I could easily imagine
other opinions.

As far as "Qwertyuiop" is concerned, my intuition from
remembering the people and attitudes of the time is that it is
pretty unlikely.   Test strings of all types tended to be at
least slightly meaningful words and sentences or, less often,
sometime really trivial and obvious like "123456789"... I
remember hearing it suggested that doing so provided some
automatic/intuitive error detection.  Now, if someone told me
the first IM (or talk, or SMTP SEND, or...) message was
"Qwertyuiop", I'd find it a lot more credible.


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