Ray Tomlinson, the inventor of email and the man who picked the @ symbol for addresses, has died aged 74. Tomlinson invented direct email messages in 1971. Before his invention, electronic messages could be shared only on a very limited network.
Among those paying tribute was Gmail, one of many offshoots of Tomlinson’s creation.
Although with the advent of smartphones and spread of social media, usage of emails decreased a bit, email is still pervasive and widely used—over 4 billion users across the world.
Tomlinson was inducted into the Internet Hall of Fame in 2012.
Tomlinson, a graduate of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and MIT, was working for a Boston technology firm in 1971 when he decided to figure out a way for people to send messages via computer. At the time, Tomlinson recalled, ARPANET — the Internet’s predecessor — was fairly new and the idea of sending messages from computer to computer was novel. Computers themselves were often giant mainframe beasts that filled entire rooms.
Tomlinson had seen a mailbox protocol he’d thought was too complex. In its place, he hacked together a simpler plan that included such now-commonplace concepts as the “@” sign — to denote the location of the correspondents — and the naming of the fields.
For a couple decades thereafter, email was a novelty. It wasn’t until the explosion of the personal computer, followed by online services in the late ’80s and early ’90s — including America Online, Prodigy and CompuServe — that email became widespread.