A Tribute to Ray Tomlinson, the Inventor of Modern Email: Look How Far We’ve Come!

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With the passing of Ray Tomlinson, the inventor of modern email and the @ symbol, we’d like to thank him for creating our favorite communication medium and reflect on how it’s evolved over the past 45 years.

Prior to 1971, email existed in a limited format. Users could only share messages between people on the same limited network. However, in 1971, Tomlinson, who worked in Boston at Bolt, Beranek, and Newman, took it to the next level. He conceived the method of sending messages across a network, and introduced the @ symbol to allow messages to be targeted at certain users on certain machines. It was the start of 1:1 personal emails.

Due to the scarcity—and high cost—of computers at the time, very few people had personal computers, so the popularity of email as we know it today didn’t take off until years later. It wasn’t until personal computers became more commonplace and online services boomed in the late 1980s and early 1990s that email became more conventional.

Email evolved into both a personal and business medium—which is exactly what Tomlinson predicted. In a 2012 interview with The Verge, Tomlinson said, “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. Everybody uses it in different ways, but they use it in a way they find works for them.”

And it’s continued to evolve—and grow in popularity—every year since its inception.

The current state of email

Today, there are over 205 billion emails sent each day, and over 2.6 billion email users. And, these numbers are expected to exponentially increase. The Radicati Group predicts there will be over 246.5 billion emails sent each day and 2.9 billion email users by 2019.

There are now dozens upon dozens of different email clients and apps available. Users can choose between a variety of desktop, webmail, and mobile clients—and even wearables like the Apple Watch—to read and send their email. Over time, the popularity of reading on mobile and tablets has increased. Today, over 55% of emails are opened in those environments.

Email has become one of the most powerful channels to reach consumers. With ROI of 38-to-1, it has the highest rate of return among digital marketing channels. And people want to receive emails, with 72% of consumers saying they prefer companies to communicate with them via email over any other channel.

Every year, we push the limits of what’s possible in email. Emails are no longer solely text-based. With the use of HTML and CSS, they can have colors, buttons, images, and more.

Emails are now segmented based on subscriber preferences or activities, and can include dynamic content to create a personalized experience.

More recently, email designers have begun using techniques commonly found in advanced web design, like HTML5 video, live Twitter feeds, and carousels.

The future of email

As evident in our Email Marketing in 2020 report, the future of email is strong! We surveyed thousands of marketers and consumers about the channel, and then asked 20 experts to share their vision of email’s future.

Our survey results found that email is more likely to be around in 10 years than Facebook, cable TV, Twitter, and other channels.

Here’s just a preview of some exciting predictions about the future of email:

  • Subscribers will be able to make purchases right inside a marketing campaign, without ever leaving their inboxes.
  • Campaigns will offer more of an app-like experience with embedded video and other interactivity.
  • HTML live text and subject lines will be able to be changed after the email has been sent.

A cheers to Ray!

While Ray may no longer be with us, his legacy will live on each and every day, with each press of the “send” button. Here’s to you, Ray! Thanks for creating our favorite communication medium. We promise to continue making email better.

Join us as we celebrate the creator of modern day email in the Litmus Community! Share with us how email affects your life every day.

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