Tomlinson’s invention has had a larger modern day impact too, shaping social media services like Twitter and Facebook, where @ is universally synonymous with direct communication with an individual.
He sent what is now regarded as the first e-mail while working in Boston as an engineer for research company Bolt, Beranek and Newman.
“I sent a number of test messages to myself from one machine to the other”, he wrote.
Though Tomlinson, who was inducted into the internet Hall of Fame in 2012, achieved his goals with the invention, it’s usage far exceeded his original intent.
The CNN report is here.
Tomlinson held electrical engineering degrees from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
I was making improvements to the local inter-user mail program called SNDMSG.
When asked why he chose the ‘@’ sign for the email addresses, Tomlinson stated that the sign “just made sense” and that he had used it to signify that the recipient address was at another host. To use the @ symbol as a way of identifying the user from the host machine, and became so popular that we still use the same method today.
The symbol has become so important in modern culture that MoMA’s Department of Architecture and Design added the symbol into its collection in 2010, with credits to Tomlinson. “He was just a really nice, down-to-earth, good guy”.
Raytheon BBN did not immediately respond to PCMag’s request for comment.
In a 2001 interview with The New York Times, Tomlinson explained that those first test messages were sent to himself. But instead, Tomlinson started tinkering with the interaction – or lack of it – between distant colleagues who didn’t answer their phones.
“Tomlinson’s email program brought about a complete revolution, fundamentally changing the way people communicate”, his Hall of Fame biography said.
The worldwide non-profit Internet Society, which promotes Internet-related education, standards and policies, said that the Internet community “has lost one of our true innovators and pioneers”.