• COMMENT 2019-09-14 BY OHI team

    OHI interview with John Vittal: The pioneer of E-mail

    OHI interview with John Vittal: The pioneer of E-mail
    OHI project interviewed John Vittal on 14th September 2019 in Boston.

    John Vittal, who invented MSG, the first Killer APP for implementing e-mail application, has worked for many important Internet pioneer organizations, like USC ISI (two years), BBN (six years) and Xerox (six years). Therefore, we have reason to believe that he is one of the most trustworthy people who can tell the early stories of the internet, especially about the initial development of e-mail, the invention of MSG and the stories of RFC 724 and RFC 733.


    The Internet has never been planned from top to bottom and it has its own unique principle. Vittal`s experiences might be the earliest and best example of this. Take e-mail as an example, e-mail is the first Killer APP for the Internet which initially appeared in a serious military project aimed at connecting the nation’s expensive computer resources. However, it was invented by some colleagues for communicating with each other casually rather than for military or political purposes. Thanks to the free atmosphere of the ARPA project, the supervisors did not stop them and the staffs were given ample latitude to design and create new things by themselves.


    At that time, the function of the e-mail was relatively basic and simple compared to that now, and quickly became the main application of the Internet because of its convenience and efficiency. By 1973, e-mail had accounted for 3/4 of the entire ARPAnet traffic. Besides, in the same year, APRA’s annual budgets for the Information Processing Techniques Office (IPTO) has increased from $27 million to $44 million.

    MSG, the first Killer APP for implementing e-mail, was invented by John Vittal. At the beginning of the Internet when the internet was led by engineers, the consciousness of software copyright has not yet been formed, and most of the engineers developed software based on their hobbies and collaborations. The invention of MSG was also a hobby rather than work tasks. Also, MSG has never been officially funded as well as been officially supported, and it was not accomplished in his spare time.


    Speaking of the software design, John Vittal might be one of the first engineers who developed software from the user experience. Due to its user-friendly design, MSG was widely spread through recommendations and copying among friends. Soon, about half of the users used MSG to send and receive e-mails, in other words, about 1/3 of the total Internet traffic at that time was driven by MSG, an undoubtedly super traffic entry.

    Nowadays, the Internet mainstream users of the Western countries still take e-mail as their first application, especially in information communication. If you don’t use e-mail, basically it is equivalent to losing one of the main means of communication. Compared with that of China, the Internet mainstream users prefer to use WeChat instead of e-mail, this becomes one of the main distinctions of the communications method between western and eastern countries.


    John Vittal recalled those figures and events in the old days and brought us the most vivid and interesting details and stories. The interview lasted about two hours and we learned a lot from his sharing, hope to discover more next time.


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