Monday Morning Quiz: How Well Do You Know E-mail? Part 1

This year, we celebrate ClickZ’s 10th anniversary, which got me thinking about the past, specifically e-mail’s past. Many marketers rely on e-mail to meet business goals and garner nice bonuses, but how much do many of us know about the origins of e-mail and, for that matter, online?

Can you match the following e-mail and online milestones with the dates they occurred? (Hint: the ClickZ one is a gimmee!)

Match the Milestone to the Correct Date
Milestone Date
First spam e-mail is sent 1969
The World Wide Web is invented 1971
HTML e-mail is possible 1978
The Internet is born 1979
ClickZ is founded 1983
The CAN-SPAM Act is passed 1989
ARPANET is developed 1997
Spamhaus, SpamCop are founded 1998
The CompuServe information service is founded 1998 (again)
First network e-mail is sent 2003

How do you think you did? The first answers, with information on each, are below; the rest will appear in my next column. It’s great cocktail party fodder (well, maybe only if you’re an e-mail/online geek like me!) Amaze your friends and acquaintances with your grasp of e-mail and online history.


1. ARPANET is Developed (1969)

Before the Internet, there was the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network or ARPANET. ARPANET was the first operational packet switching network, developed by BBN Technologies for use by the U.S. Department of Defense. It was built in just nine months during 1969 and initially facilitated communication between four defense department research locations around the country.

2. First Network E-mail is Sent (1971)

When did you think the first e-mail was sent? Earlier? Later?

E-mail wasn’t a totally new concept in 1971; it was feasible for users of a single mainframe computer to send each other messages electronically. But the first e-mail sent from one computer, through a network, to another computer was accomplished by Ray Tomlinson, over ARPANET, in 1971. Tomlinson included the “@” sign to distinguish network e-mail from “local” e-mail, sent to/from users on the same computer. The ability to send network e-mail was included in the 1972 update of the software program Tomlinson was working on, making e-mail available to all ARPANET users.

3. First Spam E-mail is Sent (1978)

Imagine e-mail without spam. That’s how it was until May 3, 1978, when a marketer from Digital Equipment Corp. (DEC) used ARPANET to get the word out about some new product events he was hosting. A list of all ARPANET e-mail addresses was available in print; he had the names keyed into a computer and sent the message.

The e-mail program would only accept 320 individual names, each on its own “To” line, all of which were visible to recipients. The remaining names appeared at the beginning of the e-mail’s body, one per line, forcing readers to scroll through them to get to the message. When the mistake was realized, the e-mail was sent again (!) with the problem addressed.

Response was resoundingly negative, not specifically because there was no “opt-in” permission, but because ARPANET was only to be used for official U.S. government business. Commercial use of the network was against policy and DEC was reprimanded.

4. CompuServe Information Service is Founded (Circa 1979)

CompuServe was established in 1969 with two business mandates: provide computer processing support to its parent, a life insurance company, and generate revenue by renting out idle time on its mainframe computers to third-parties. Initially CompuServe’s “time-sharing” clients were organizations looking for additional computing capacity during business hours. The company founded the CompuServe Information Network (CIS) around 1979 as a way to put the computers to use (and generate even more revenue) at night. It was the first online network available to the public and dedicated to non-government use.

CompuServe’s target audience consisted of technology early adopters. Its offerings included things common in today’s online world: technology support forums, discussion groups for various special interests, content from periodicals and chat rooms. Back then, it was all new.

CIS subscribers were each assigned their own unique e-mail address, but they weren’t pretty; “” would have been typical. At its inception and for a long time after, CompuServe was a closed network, meaning that you could only send e-mail to other CompuServe e-mail addresses. This wasn’t seen as a problem until much later, since not many people outside of CompuServe and ARPANET used e-mail back then.

Unlike ARPANET, CompuServe did not ban commercial use; spam wasn’t a huge problem. Organizations on CompuServe did use e-mail to send messages to members who had expressed an interest in hearing from them. Few abused e-mail, probably because messages were easily tracked back to the sender.

Stay Tuned…

How did you do on the earliest dates? Were you able to match the milestones correctly? In my next column I’ll provide the rest of the answers, along with more fun facts on e-mail, spam and ClickZ.

Until next time,


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