Last year we celebrated 50 years of email. We even wrote a blog post about it. But what’s better than 50 years of email? 51 years of email fun facts!
So let’s dive into the weird and wonderful world of email, and uncover some interesting and fun email facts – and maybe you’ll discover some you didn’t know or re-read some that are on every blog post on this topic. Facts are limited after all.
Was email actually invented in 1971?
We start our list of fun email facts with something controversial. Spicy.
Whilst 1971 is generally given as the date that email was born, thanks to Ray Tomlinson and his ‘QWERTYUIOP’ message sent using the ARPANET network, this is also disputed.
If we are classifying email as a computer-based messaging system, email can trace its origins back to the 1960s, most notably to messages sent electronically between computers by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)’s Compatible Time-Sharing System (CTSS) project in 1965. The history of email just got longer… Happy 57th birthday!
Also, mind-bender coming at you: email actually predates the World Wide Web.
Don’t @ me… or actually do!
Our old friend Ray Tomlinson is back. As to not take away his crowning achievement of sending the first email, he was also the person who enabled us to send messages directly to specific users on specific machines. He decided that this would be done using the humble ‘@’ sign.
Who knew that years down the line, millions of people would be signing up for email accounts using his method? Though I doubt he would have thought there would be an email address out there called ‘firstname.lastname@example.org’… (and yes, this has been deactivated).
Pictures paint a thousand words
Gary Thuerk could have increased his $13 million ROI even further from the first-ever email marketing campaign in 1978 (for the Digital Equipment Company in the USA) if he sent it in 1992.
Why? Well thanks to a helpful new internet protocol that revels in the snappy name of Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions, emails went from solely text-based to being able to have attachments. And the first attachment was an image. And we know that the combo of engaging copy and great imagery and design is a winner for email ROI.
From “You’ve Got Mail” to “Your Uber is Here”.
Not a Hollywood rom-com starring Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks, but the life of one of email’s most recognizable voices. If you were using email in the ’90s, or have just seen a few 90’s workplace dramas or sitcoms, you may be familiar with AOL’s famous ‘You’ve Got Mail’ voice-based notification.
The voice behind it belongs to former broadcaster and voice actor turned Uber driver – Elwood Edwards. So how did he get such a prestigious gig and have his voice heard by millions? His wife worked at AOL and asked him to record a few lines for it. Right place, right time… a bit like what you’d want from a good Uber driver. It’s nice when life throws coincidences like that at you! Elwood – you’re a bonafide legend.
It’s getting hot in here, so take off all your code…
Who remembers Hotmail? I do, given that I’ve already told you my old email address (again, it’s deactivated). Now rebranded as Outlook, Hotmail was launched by Microsoft in 1996. They chose to name it as such for two reasons:
They wanted a name with ‘mail’ in it, since it was an email service.
It included the letters HTML in that order, which is also the markup language used to create web pages and many emails. You can see this in the presentation of the name in the original logo: HoTMaiL.
How does one send this electronic mail?
Communicating via email is second nature to us now, even those who may not have grown up with it. And it’s a great social leveler – available to, and used by anyone, no matter their social standing.
But who, in the higher echelons of society, got to grips with it first? Well, if we are talking heads of state, that accolade goes to Queen Elizabeth II – who became the first head of state to send an email in 1976 using the ARPANET system.
Note – for anyone who doesn’t think the Queen makes the rules – I’m British, and can confirm that she does.
Spam, spam, spam, spam…
What do unwanted emails and a reconstituted luncheon meat product have in common? They are both referred to as ‘Spam’. Whilst one was important to both soldiers and civilians during the Second World War to combat shortages of meat products, the other is just a modern nuisance.
But why do they share a name? Its relation to email actually comes from a famous Monty Python sketch. In said sketch, a menu is read aloud to two customers that, as it progresses, increasingly contains more and more Spam (the luncheon meat) – something that one of the customers doesn’t want yet the waitress fails to understand. After a while – and about a million mentions of ‘Spam’ – a random group of Vikings (this is Monty Python after all) start singing ‘Spam’ repeatedly, much to the annoyance of the waitress who screams for them to shut up.
You can see why it relates so well to unwanted and unsolicited emails! And to cement its place in our common lexicon, it was added as a term referring to unwanted messages to the Oxford English Dictionary in 1998.
Email is as addictive as drugs
That is, at least, according to research conducted by the University of Sheffield. They found that answering an email and getting a feeling of productivity from doing so causes the brain to release a chemical response. It is also the same response from the same area of the brain that triggers when taking crack cocaine. It’s a response that’s linked to reward and addiction.
It’s worth pointing out at this point that, whilst we absolutely advocate the use of email, we absolutely DO NOT advocate the use of crack cocaine or any drugs. Have an herbal tea instead and do your body some good.
When the robots take over, blame 2004
Some say that technology rules our existence. There might even be some truth in that. But there is no denying that, if totally true, 2004 was a key year. Why? Well, something called ‘Facebook’ launched as a social networking website at Harvard University. But more importantly for email, Gmail also launched. And it quickly became the most widely used email service in the world.
It may also interest you to know that in 2004, Gmail was launched against some already-established companies. Hotmail (now Outlook) started in 1996, Yahoo Mail launched in 1997, and Apple Mail began in 2001. So Gmail is technically the ‘new boy’ amongst the big players.
For your eyes only
Official secrets used to be passed around in blank brown envelopes by people in trench coats, sunglasses and hats. Now that mantle belongs to email, but this doesn’t eliminate the risk of stuff going wrong.
In 2000, an 11-year-old schoolgirl from the UK was accidentally included on a top-secret email list from the Pentagon. She received emails containing highly sensitive intelligence on UK intel secrecy, New Zealand’s naval defense strategy, and communication issues aboard Royal Navy vessels.
Given the magnitude of what she was receiving in her inbox, you’d think that this would be quickly rectified. And it was… 4 years and many emails later.
Who says you need Aston Martin’s, vodka martinis and field training to be a great spy – all you need is an inbox and a slip up at the Pentagon.
Love is infectious… really infectious.
Remember Y2K? Maybe not, because it never happened – despite the proclamations of people who conveniently had a fallout bunker in their back yard or basement. But a technological armageddon did sort of happen in the year 2000 with the ILOVEYOU worm.
This was a computer virus that infected millions of computers worldwide, spreading rapidly via a seemingly innocent email titled ‘ILOVEYOU’ that also had an attachment. Opening the attachment released the worm into your system, where it would overwrite random files and send a copy of itself to any email addresses it could find. It infected over 10 million PCs globally.
Ordinarily, that would be a total disaster but, given the sheer speed and breadth at which it spread around the world, it’s actually a great indicator of just how many people were regularly using email. It’s also a great lesson in phishing attacks and global cyber security. It even inspired a song by the Pet Shop Boys, which is what we all want from life.
Let’s keep email for the good guys!
Did you know that, thanks to a Freedom of Information request in 2021, central government departments in the UK revealed that they had received a total of 2.69 BILLION malicious emails in 2021 alone? That’s emails containing either malware, phishing, spam or other cybercriminal activities.
That’s eye-watering. So it’s becoming ever more important that we are aware of security protocols at our own places of work. And, especially for email marketers, ensuring that our own email marketing isn’t falling afoul of spam traps or being tagged as anything undesirable. Make sure you are getting to the inbox legitimately and responsibly. This means you won’t contribute to those huge numbers of malicious emails.
Reading email on your mobile? I was doing that way before it was cool
Whilst many consider consuming emails mainly on mobile devices to be a relatively new thing (recent statistics in our 2022 Benchmark Report point out that, on average, 52% of all emails were read on mobile devices in 2021), this has actually been the case for at least 8 years now and wraps up our list of email fun facts.
Our friends at MoveableInk reported back in 2015 that, in the last quarter of 2014, 66.3% of all emails were being opened on either smartphones or tablets. That’s just over 2/3rds of all email!
Since this is a widely reported, and now not-so-modern, practice for email users, it begs a crucial question – why do many of us still focus on designing them for desktops?