One of the founding fathers of email, Ray Tomlinson, has died at 74 from a suspected heart attack.
Mr Tomlinson, a member of the internet Hall of Fame, was responsible for the choice of using ‘@‘ in email addresses.
It’s a choice that has now spread across social media, becoming integral to the way users conduct conversations online on sites like Twitter and Facebook.
Mr Tomlinson is widely credited with inventing direct email messages in 1971, when he was working for a Boston technology firm.
“I looked at the keyboard, and I thought: ‘What can I choose here that won’t be confused with a username?’” Tomlinson told Wired in 2012.
“If every person had an ‘@’ sign in their name, it wouldn’t work too well. But they didn’t. They did use commas and slashes and brackets. Of the remaining three or four characters, the ‘@’ sign made the most sense. It denoted where the user was … at. Excuse my English.”
The first email Ray Tomlinson sent was a test email, and though it was never preserved and he can’t remember what it was, he described it as “insignificant, something like “QWERTYUIOP”.
He recalled to The Verge in 2012, “Computers were very expensive — I think one we had here, for example, was something on the order of two or three hundred thousand dollars. That’s 1970 dollars. They were a scarce resource.
“I see email being used, by and large, exactly the way I envisioned. In particular, it’s not strictly a work tool or strictly a personal thing,” he said.
“Everybody uses it in different ways, but they use it in a way they find works for them.”
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