Today, October 29, 2021, we’re celebrating 50 years of email.

It’s hard to remember a time when email wasn’t a huge part of our collective consciousness but even just 30 years ago, email was still a strange concept for most.

“What, do you write to it? Like mail?!” – Bryant Gumbel

50 years of Email

Fifty years ago, in October 1971, MIT graduate Ray Tomlinson sent the very first email. In fact, Tomlinson introduced the concept of the ‘@’ symbol to identify a message recipient on a remote computer system.

In those days, multiple users often shared computers. Tomlinson was working on a piece of software called SNDMSG, allowing people to send messages to others using the same computer.  

Creating email was a side project for Tomlinson and when he showed email to another employee for the first time, he reportedly said: “Don’t tell anyone! This isn’t what we’re supposed to be working on.” According to Tomlinson, the first email was “something like QWERTYUIOP.”

Several years later, in 1978, Gary Thuerk sent the world’s first email marketing message to 400 people. It produced $13 million in computer equipment sales. 

Growing Pains

Last year SparkPost’s Founder and Chief Evangelist, George Schlossnagle, chatted with Laura Atkins, Deliverability Consultant and Owner of the Word to the Wise, about the deliverability career path as well as her insider take on getting into the inbox. 

 The conversation naturally evolved into a discussion about email in the mid-1990s and early 2000s, when many were just starting to seriously consider the communication channel.

“My earliest memories of being a professional with an email address – email was a little bit of a hellscape,” said Schlossnagle, who entered the email world in the late 1990s.

Back then, before the days of spam filters, Schlossnagle recalls how inboxes were generally 80 percent junk. Gaining control of your inbox at that time was virtually impossible.

For Atkins, as email – and the way we use it – has matured, the possibilities are pure magic.

“The idea that you have a lot of control, and you can send pictures and you can send videos and you can send communications – but you can also receive. You can receive tickets to a play … you can get things of value in your inbox,” explained Atkins.The fact that I can go up to a website and I can type up my email address and sign up and I can get tickets to an open mic night at a Comedy Club here in Dublin. It’s like, that’s just magic.”

What’s Next

We’ve come a long way from the QWERTYUIOP days. Currently, there are 3.8 billion email users who send almost 300 billion emails daily. SparkPost sends 40% of those messages!

While industry pundits have been predicting the death of email for years, it’s still alive and well – but with new and continuing challenges.

As SparkPost’s Director of Brand and Content Marketing April Mullen predicted in our 2021 Email Predictions, the sunsetting of third-party cookies is causing marketers to value the most powerful first-party asset, email. 

“What we’ll continue to see in 2021 and beyond is the end of the advertising industrial complex where brands repeatedly re-acquire customers instead of focusing on a more cost-effective retention strategy,” Mullen said. “Retention, and therefore email, will take its rightful place in getting the budget it needs to be done well because re-acquisition is only going to get harder and more expensive.”

Recently, the email world has been buzzing about Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection for their Mail app on iOS 15, iPadOS 15, and macOS Monterey devices. The MPP rollout took place in late September and is expected to reach 100% in late 2022.

If you’re curious about how MPP will impact your email program, join us on November 16 for “Ask Us Anything: The Impact of iOS 15 on Email Opens.”

While changes like MPP and the sunset of third-party cookies can be hard to predict, the #emailgeeks at SparkPost will continue to serve as a voice for the email community – whatever comes our way during the next 50 years of email and beyond!

~Elsbeth Russell, SparkPost Community Manager

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