In its 40-year-tenure as a form of communication, email has run its course from the domain of nerdy geeks to one of the most common ways to keep in touch, both personally and professionally. Although email as a mode of communication was around for 10 years before the term ‘email’ was actually coined, we now count on it in our daily lives. However, off late, this ubiquitous means of communication is facing a mid-life crisis, mainly because of the rampaging growth of social media.

Computer engineer Ray Tomlinson sends the first electronic message using the Arpanet. Tomlinson used the @ sign to separate the name of the user from the terminal he was using. At the time, Tomlinson didn’t think he had come up with anything big.

The first electronically sent advertisement goes out, from a network of university and government computers.

Online chat was developed by Compuserve executive Alexander Trevor. The 80s and 90s also had Quantum link which eventually turned out AOL instant messenger

The word email is used for the first time. Scott Fahlman came up with the smiley emoticon. He thought it would help to separate serious messages from jokes.

The world wide web is born. British computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee, in 1990, wrote the Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP), a language that enabled computers to communicate hypertext documents over the internet. This laid much of the groundwork for him to invent the worldwide web.

1995:, the first social networking site is aunched. Developed by a former Boeing employee, Randy Conrads, it as developed to connect high schools.

Sabeer Bhatia and Jack Smith launch the first web-based email service. They name it ‘HoTMaiL’, derived from HTML. The company has 4 million subscribers in its first year and gets acquired by Microsoft for $400 million in 1997. Now called Windows Live Hotmail, it remains the largest email service with over 361 million users in 2010, according to Comscore.

Yahoo launches its email service, Yahoo Mail. This is the second largest webbased email service with 273.1 million users in 2010, Comscore data shows.

The word ‘spam’ gets its way into the Oxford English Dictionary. Warner Brothers releases You’ve Got Mail, which grosses $250 million at the box

Harvard Sophomore Mark Zuckerberg launches social networking site” from his college room. Initially exclusive to Ivy Leaguers, Facebook is set to cross the 700 million users mark next month, more than double the population of the United States

Google launches its email service Gmail. Though a late entrant, Gmail is now the third most popular email service with 193 million users in 2010.

Online trackers start predicting the death of email as younger users start shifting to faster, more informal and real-time mediums like Facebook and Twitter. Total email usage was down 9% in 2010 across the world. According to Comscore and Gartner, 20% of email users will shift to social media networks over the next three years. From teenage love letters to official discourse, the email straddles all walks of life. The sheen is wearing off a bit thanks to social networking

Taken From “The Economic Times” 21 June 2011