Tributes are flowing for Ray Tomlinson, who is credited with inventing email in 1971 and using the ‘@’ symbol in addresses, after his employer Raytheon revealed he had passed away.
Google and Internet pioneer Vint Cerf were among those to offer their condolences after news of Tomlinson’s passing broke online.
Thank you, Ray Tomlinson, for inventing email and putting the @ sign on the map. #RIP
— Gmail (@gmail) March 6, 2016
Very sad news: Ray Tomlinson has passed away. https://t.co/Ghi8B2m3IX
— vinton g cerf (@vgcerf) March 5, 2016
Tomlinson is said to have invented email as part of a project to "figure out something interesting to do with ARPANET", the US Defence computer network that became a precursor to the internet.
According to one historical account, Tomlinson was "tinkering around with an electronic message program called SNDMSG" which allowed staff working on early ARPANET computers "to leave messages for each other".
But it only allowed "the exchange of messages between users who shared the same machine".
Tomlinson had been working on a separate file transfer protocol and saw the potential to tweak it "to use SNDMSG to deliver messages to mailboxes on remote machines, through the ARPANET".
According to a separate account by NPR, Tomlinson tested the tweaked protocol by sending messages between two computers in his office.
He had to move between the machines to see what had been sent and then received.
This is credited as the first modern email exchange; however, the accounts say the text of the first email was likely just a string of random characters, and therefore wasn't recorded.
Within three years, there were "hundreds" of military users of email, and it would later account for three-quarters of all ARPANET's traffic, according to Nethistory.info.
Tomlinson was inducted into the Internet Hall of Fame in 2012.
"I'm often asked 'Did I know what I was doing?" Tomlinson is reported to have said in his induction speech.
"The answer is: Yeah I knew exactly what I was doing. I just had no notion whatsoever about what the ultimate impact would be."
The Internet Hall of Fame said that Tomlinson's email program "brought about a complete revolution".
"It fundamentally changing the way people communicate, including the way businesses, from huge corporations to tiny mom-and-pop shops, operate and the way millions of people shop, bank, and keep in touch with friends and family, whether they are across town or across oceans," the Hall said.
"Today, tens of millions of email-enabled devices are in use every day.
"Email remains the most popular application, with over a billion and a half users spanning the globe and communicating across the traditional barriers of time and space."
RIP Ray Tomlinson. The man who invented and sent the first email. You are a modern day hero. pic.twitter.com/kkNhQ1r6Nl
— Historical Pics (@HistoricalPics) March 6, 2016