Email Turns 50, LISTSERV is 35:
Going Strong and Widely Used for Everyday Communications
Did you know that in 1971, Ray Tomlinson invented email using the @ sign to separate the username and destination server, "user@host", making the first networked email system a reality? As a result, people were able to send messages on ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network), the network of that time period.
Fast-forward 15 years to Paris, France, and the introduction of BITNET, aka, "Because It's Time Network". Tim Berners-Lee hadn’t invented the World Wide Web yet was yet. But people continued communicating, keeping the networks of the mid-‘80s busy despite minimal bandwidth. Email lists existed on LISTSERV@BITNIC, but they required manual administration.
With the popularity of mailing lists growing and all lists being administered manually, the process became so slow and cumbersome that it threatened the viability of mailing lists altogether. Eric Thomas, then an engineering student in Paris, was determined to keep mailing lists alive. So he invented LISTSERV software, to automate mailing lists once and for all.
Thomas created the first version of LISTSERV software, dubbed “Revised LISTSERV” at the time, and released it within the same month, June 1986.
In Eric Thomas's words:
"My goal was simply to create a tool that would allow mailing lists to prosper while making life easier for subscribers and list owners. It was a simple idea whose success exceeded all my expectations. Sometimes you set about solving a small problem, and later on you realize that you have actually solved a big problem."
Eric Thomas, L-Soft Founder and LISTSERV® Inventor.
From then on, the Internet culture of communications and knowledge exchange has been able to flourish.
Three and a half decades later, LISTSERV® software and its SaaS version are widely used by all types of organizations around the world. In continuous development, additional inventions from Thomas are added, including the industry’s first spam filter, double opt-in subscription confirmation and the first LISTSERV blog, with more new features yet to come.
The evolution of the Internet is a reflection of human ingenuity, determination and a vision of a more connected society. Happy communicating, connecting and collaborating!