Monday, April 02, 2007

Email Addresses

I was reminiscing about email today. I thought I would give a history lesson in case some of you were having trouble getting to sleep.

 As some of you know I came late to the Internet and email. I didn't get my first email address sometimes in 1982 which was long after a number of my friends got theirs. The first address that I used beyond just digital (in 1983) was

{decvax,ucbvax,ihnp4} !decwrl!ark!thompson

You'll notice a couple of things. One is that the username was last not first. Also there is no @ sign. Thirdly there are a couple node names in the list. Things were complicated back in those days. One had to know the path between your computer and the computer you were sending to which is why the user name came last. Only the final system would try to find the user once the email got to the right place.

 There were some key Internet systems that most other systems were programmed to know how to reach. Those systems were programmed to know how to reach many other systems. So often when one gave out their email address you would start with a couple of computers that someone's computer was likely to know. Those are the systems in the curly braces.  You would give someone a couple of key systems in hopes that their computer knew how to get to one of them.

decvax was one of the key Internet router systems and the gateway into and out of Digital Equipment which had one of the largest computer networks in the world.  ucbvax was at the University of California at Berkeley and was another key system. ibmnp4 was the IBM router. All three of those systems knew how to get to decwrl (Digital Equipment Corporation Western Research Lab) and decwrl was in charge of knowing how to get to all of the computers on DEC's network. ark was the name of the computer I lived on and decwrl knew how to get to it. The ark knew how to get to other systems inside the company network but relied on decwrl and decvax to find a way to computers outside the network.

 Once upon a time you had to be a real geek to use email. Today we have DNS and things are a lot more simple. Perhaps its too simple.