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is it still email (was Re: Text of the 'first email ever sent')

2011-01-08 13:22:35

On 1/8/2011 10:46 AM, Steve Atkins wrote:
If a message can only be sent to other users on the same system, is it still
email? Two hosts and one network seems like the minimum setup for something
to be email. If there are no hosts, it's telegraph. If there's no network,
it's inter-account messaging.

Or is this just my "younger than packet-switching" perspective showing
through? :)

I see your question as a touchstone to a basic source of confusion in many technical discussions, namely user-view vs. technical view.

Users do not care about packet switching or "remoteness". They care about exchanging messages. In this view, "email" is a style of communicating among two or more people. Hence the question is how the thing is used, not how it is constructed or operates. For this, the presence of a "network" is entirely irrelevant.

However note that the definition I provided also matches instant messaging, which makes comparison between IM and email potentially nuanced.

It used to be that IM requires simultaneity with no store-and-forward in human terms, but this has disappeared. Now it has more to do with retention of state and message style. IM keeps addressee state in a context window that might be called a conversation, and messages are short and typically textual. But note that the 'state' part of this is pretty darn close to email's Reply command.

Email often works fine for an IM style of communication, which means that the distinction has more to do with user interface and service agreements. (Delaying email for many minutes is considered acceptable; for IM it is not.)

However even within the technical view, the question of whether a network is necessary is interesting. I think it's not required.

That is, email is about sending a message from an author to one or more recipients, with access asynchrony. Participants do not need to be online at the same time. This is/was as useful for folks sharing the same machine as for folks on different machines.

The computer sciency aspect of email is a specialized write-only permission to the recipient's file store. Again, this is independent of whether a network is involved.



  Dave Crocker
  Brandenburg InternetWorking

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