[Air-L] apology

Maria Haigh mhaigh at uwm.edu
Tue Feb 21 21:51:56 PST 2012

Hello, (Thomas Haigh here, using Maria's email to post to the list),

I can help clarify the current historical understanding of this, as
chair of SIGCIS (www.sigcis.org), the group for historians of
information technology.. There are basically two ways to think about
"first email."

1) The first "mail" system to let a user write a message to another
user of the same computer system, who could read it when he/she next
logged in. This was a step beyond earlier chat/talk capabilities that
only allowed instant display of messages. Mail features became common
on the timesharing computers of the late 1960s (timesharing allowed
multiple people to use a single computer interactively). MIT is a
strong contender for the first place where this happened. A series of
NY Times blog posts suggested that MIT CTSS in 1965 might have been
the first system to include such a mail feature.
This seems plausible.

2) The first system to send a message to someone using a DIFFERENT
computer, via a network. This appears to have been on the ARPANET in
1971, with initial implementation by Ray Tomlinson. Janet Abbate's
book Inventing the Internet includes a solid treatment of this, making
clear that "network mail" became the "killer application" for ARPANET
even though remote logins had been the application for which it was
originally designed.

Craig Partridge followed up later developments in "The Technical
Development of Internet Email" published in IEEE Annals of the History
of Computing 30:2, April-June 2008:3-29.I looked at the
commercialization of Internet email in "Protocols for Profit: Web and
E-mail Technologies as Product and Infrastructure" in The Internet and
American Business, edited by William Aspray and Paul Ceruzzi, MIT
Press, 2008: 105-158.

Neither of these senses, as Murray Turoff points out, would support
the claim that email was invented in 1978 by 14 year old. The
Washington Post article at
is pretty much incoherent. A disclaimer now says that "Ayyadurai holds
the copyright to the computer program called“email,” establishing him
as the creator of the “computer program for [an] electronic mail
system” with that name, according to the U.S. Copyright Office." They
seem to be confusing copyright protection with patent patent
protection, and implying that he would only have copyright on a
program he created if it was the first of its kind. I could write a
program called "operating system" tomorrow and it would be
copyrighted, but it wouldn't mean I invented operating
systems.Wouldn't mean I could trademark it either, which could also be
what they are confusing it with.

V.A. Shiva Ayyadura's website seems to be full of new age self
promotion. He bills himself as "Founder, Chairman and President of the
Institute for Integrative Systems" in a video promoting "Turmeric:
Wonder Herb of India."  The description on his publications page
http://www.vashiva.com/publications.asp of his book "The EMAIL
Revolution" is the old placeholder text: "Lorem ipsum dolor sit
amet...." His list of "Chapters in Books" includes his 1990 masters
thesis, a paper at "Document Analysis Conference" in 1994 "submitted
for publication" and items described only as "Chapter in
Communications Arts" and "Chapter on Electrodynamics, Dynamics,".
Meanwhile his page on himself as "the inventor of EMAIL"
(http://www.vashiva.com/inventing_email.asp) includes two headings of
"First US Copyright for EMAIL, 1982" one above a copyright certificate
and once above a 2004 patent for an automated reply system. So the
closer one looks the less substantial his scholarly credentials

The kindest thing one can say is that he does consistently capitalize
EMAIL, allowing for a legalistic defense that he only means to claim
to have invented a program called "EMAIL" rather than the idea of
electronic mail. He also seems to have confused a blogger at Time:
http://techland.time.com/2011/11/15/the-man-who-invented-email/ into
believing he produced the first email system.

Of course it would be nice if journalists would check claims before
reporting them (at least, say, with Wikipedia) or read the historical
literature, or call a historian. Anyone with an interest in history of
IT issues is encouraged to join SIGCIS, which is free, and to
participate in our email list. Querying that list would be another way
to check facts on IT history.

Finally, if you are curious about Murray Turoff's own contributions to
electronic communication, a biography of him by Ramesh Subramanian
will be appearing the next issue of IEEE Annals of the History of

Best wishes,

Tom Haigh

On Tue, Feb 21, 2012 at 4:17 PM, Murray Turoff <murray.turoff at gmail.com> wrote:
> I apologize that the message i sent below was not more transparent.   I
> expected most people here
> to have some knowledge of the early history of arpanet and other associated
> developments.
> But email/message systems were started very early in the late 60's and by
> 1978 they were all
> over the place with companies and universities using them.   To put out a
> newspaper article that
> someone in 1978 had sort of invented the field was a bit much for many old
> timers.  Since that
> message lots of comments have appeared on the Washington post article and
> the paper has made
> corrections and realized that a copyright of a single program is not a
> trademark for the term.
> It was as pad as claims by some politicians that they are responsible for
>    In 1971 i approached Larry Roberts and asked him to release some data
> and specifications on the use of messaging on the
> arrpanet so i could compare it to what i was doing at OEP with EMISARI.
> This had a complete message subsystem.
> i was told by an anonymous party that they did not want to admit that
> messaging was teh most popular and used
> application on the ARPANET for fear congress would cut off some of their
> funding for using such an expensive research
> system for replacing 10 cent letters rather than the types of applications
> they had sold the arpanet on!!
> Message: 1
> Date: Sun, 19 Feb 2012 19:45:03 -0500
> From: Murray Turoff <murray.turoff at gmail.com>
> To: air-l at listserv.aoir.org
> Subject: [Air-L] A rewrite of our history
> Message-ID:
>       <CAD-aGywFSj+gn0cP167j7j3cPOkzavy=aF23USHTWCcY4a2NWg at mail.gmail.com>
> Content-Type: text/plain; charset=ISO-8859-1
> Some of you who are interested in the history of our field might find this
> as disturbing as i did.
> * The inventor of e-mail on innovation and his path to the
> Smithsonian<
> http://link.email.washingtonpost.com/r/MEPMRJ/NSC4SB/ZCNCKZ/FVLP7K/7278IF/50/h
> *
>  V.A. Shiva Ayyadurai spoke about the discovery he made at the age of 14,
> and his path from a New Jersey high school to the Smithsonian.
>  ( by Emi Kolawole , The Washington Post)
> he discovered e-mail in 1978!!!!    It seems MIT and the Smithsonian have
> agreed on this..
> *Distinguished Professor Emeritus
> Information Systems, NJIT
> homepage: http://is.njit.edu/turoff
> *
> --
> *Distinguished Professor Emeritus
> Information Systems, NJIT
> homepage: http://is.njit.edu/turoff
> *
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Maria Haigh, Ph.D.
mhaigh at uwm.edu
Associate Professor
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
School of Information Studies
3210 N. Maryland Ave
Bolton Hall, Rm. 568
Milwaukee, WI 53211
Tel. 414-229-5397

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