Recognizing the Second Generation Inventors II by Prof. MK Othman


E-mail is the direct fallout to the invention of the Internet system. E-mail is one major invention that globally revolutionized communication in the 1980/90s. Email is the direct translation of the interoffice, inter-organizational paper-based mail system.
Today, E-mail is almost replacing the conventional way of letter writing and postage as it is more than 100 times faster, legible, cost-effective and indispensable. I can vividly remember in the late 1990s when many of us queued up at the old Senate building of Ahmadu Bello University Zaria with our floppy diskettes to receive or send E-mail via the then single university E-mail system.
At that time, visiting E-mail office was a daily occurrence and part of our daily lives. Still, we were very happy with it as it allowed us to send messages across the globe and receive feedbacks at the fastest possible time. Compare that scenario with today’s podcast and different kind of electronic media for written and verbal communication on a real-time basis. Who invented E-mail System?
The answer to this question is not as straightforward as it should be. The invention of E-mail is no doubt a groundbreaking achievement attained by humanity. Controversy, claims and counterclaims surround this important human breakthrough, E-mail invention. This is quite understandable for such a zenith level in the global ICT. Going by the record, it was reported that in 1978, a teenager of 14 years of age, named V.A. Shiva Ayyadurai developed a computer program.
The program was able to replicate the features of the interoffice, inter-organizational paper mail system. He named his program “EMAIL”. Shiva filed an application to obtain a copyright for the program in 1982. The United States Copyright Office followed due process and issued a Certificate of Registration with a number; TXu-111-775 to Shiva for the program.
As required by the Regulations of the Copyright Office, he deposited portions of the original source code with the program. Prominent in the code is the name “EMAIL” that he gave to the program. He received a second Certificate of Registration, No. TXu-108-715, for the “EMAIL User’s Manual” he had prepared to accompany the program. The manual simplified the use of EMAIL that taught unsophisticated users how to use EMAIL’s features.
At the time of this invention, however, there were pockets of similar peats in the communication system and subsystems among widely dispersed computers. Those system and subsystems were primitive and their usage was largely confined to computer scientists and specialists. It was Shiva’s work that made it possible for the generality of people to use paperless mail in a form of E-mail. When and how did Shiva start it?
It was in the summer of 1978, Shiva was recruited for programming assignments at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ) in Newark, New Jersey. One of his supervisors, Dr. Leslie P. Michelson, recognized Shiva’s abilities/potentials and challenged him to translate the conventional paper-based interoffice and inter-organizational communication system (that is, paper-based mail and memoranda) to an electronic communication system.
Shiva envisioned something simpler, something that everyone, from secretary to CEO, could use to quickly and reliably send and receive digital messages. Shiva embraced the project and began by performing a thorough evaluation of UMDNJ’s paper-based mail system, the same as that used in offices and organizations around the world.
He determined that the essential features of these systems included functions corresponding to “Inbox”, “Outbox”, “Drafts”, “Memo” (“To:”, “From:”, “Date:”, “Subject:”, “Body:”, “Cc:”, “Bcc:”), “Attachments”, “Folders”, “Compose”, “Forward”, “Reply”, “Address Book”, “Groups”, “Return Receipt”, “Sorting”.
These capabilities were all to be provided in a software program having a sufficiently simple interface that needed no expertise in computer systems to use efficiently to “Send” and “Receive” mail electronically. It is these features that make his program “email” and that distinguish “email” from prior electronic communications.
Shiva went on to be recognized by the Westinghouse Science Talent Search Honors Group for his invention. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology highlighted his invention as one among four, in the incoming freshman class of 1,040 students.
Image result for email
Despite this clear and unambiguous record, there was an insinuation that Shiva did not deserve the recognition for being the E-mail inventor. Washington post, a refutable USA based paper reported an interview with Mr. Shiva where the paper wrote “Based on false claims, over the past year (since the acceptance of Shiva’s documents into the Smithsonian), industry insiders have chosen to launch an irrational denial of the invention.
There is no direct dispute over the invention Copyright, but rather inaccurate claims, false statements, and personal attacks waged against Shiva. Attackers are attempting to discredit him, and his life’s work. He has received threatening phone calls, unfair online comments, and his name and work have been maligned.
It is but a sad commentary that a vocal minority has elected to hijack his accomplishment, apparently not satisfied with the recognition they have already received for their contributions to the field of text messaging. Following the Smithsonian news, they went into action. They began historical revisionism on their own “History of Electronic Mail” to hide the facts”.
In another account documented by Wikipedia;, stated that Raymond Samuel “Ray” Tomlinson (April 23, 1941 – March 5, 2016) was credited as the first American computer programmer who implemented the first email program on the ARPANET system as the aftermath of the Internet invention in 1971.
The record claimed that Ray was/is internationally known and credited as the inventor of E-mail. It was the first system able to send mail between users on different hosts connected to ARPANET. Hitherto, mail could be sent only to others who used the same computer.
To achieve this, Ray used the @ sign to separate the username from the name of their machine, a scheme which has been used in E-mail addresses ever since. The Internet Hall of Fame in its account of his work commented, “Tomlinson’s E-mail program brought about a complete revolution, fundamentally changing the way people communicate”. The ARPANET claim of E-mail invention was countered by a website;, which stated, “Email was created at UMDNJ, not on the ARPANET”. It further stated “This quote, “Under ARPANET several major innovations occurred: email (or electronic mail), the ability to send simple messages to another person across the network,” [1] is a misuse of the term “email.”
The invention referenced here is command-line protocols for transferring text messages, not email as defined to be a system of interlocking parts, such as the 1978 EMAIL platform, a full-scale emulation of the interoffice inter-organizational paper mail system.
As the related references show, early workers in the field of electronic messaging had no intention to create a full-scale electronic version of interoffice or inter-organizational paper mail system and in fact, were not even allowed to work on creating an electronic system to replicate “letters”, e.g the interoffice memo”. Well, this is so much ado about E-mail invention; the fact remains that the names of Shiva and Ray may continue to rank high whenever the history of E-mail is being discussed at different forums.
The next invention that uses Internet service for communication between and among people is “Facebook”. Who is the inventor of Facebook? Unlike E-mail, Facebook invention is unanimously credited to another teenager of 19 years old “Mark Zuckerberg” in 2004. Facebook is a social networking service launched on February 4, 2004.
The inventor started using Facebook with his college roommate and fellow Harvard University students. The website’s membership was initially limited by the founders to Harvard students, but was expanded to other colleges in the Boston area, the Ivy League, and gradually most universities in the United States and Canada corporations. By September 2006, Facebook was freely available to Internet users with a valid email address along with an age requirement limit of being 13 and older. How was the Facebook Invented? (To be continued next week)

American Ambassador
Professor MK Othman

Professor Othman is the Executive Director of National Agricultural Extension and Research Liaison Services (NAERLS), ABU Zaria.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here