The History of Email (and Why It’s Dying)

Email for a long time has been the poster boy for communication, especially when it comes to work.

In the era of Slack and iMessages, email remains the top method of formal conversation, but will it sustain as the world moves towards a more efficient and collaborative way of working?

As business cultures change and more tech inserts itself into the workplace, the role of email has gone through a series of phases. Instead of exploring a comprehensive timeline, let’s observe the different eras of email.

Today we question its impact on productivity and focus. Many of us are addicted to email and even though it is a dominant channel for marketers, will it forever be the dominant channel for internal communication?

Fast Company notes that email is partially addicting because it fills the void with “completion bias” because we all run there to find the pleasure in completing tasks.

In a time where distractions are plentiful and each team, big or small, seeks a central place for communication and collaboration, the evolution of email may have reached its end.

Building Mailboxes

Tons of infographics recognize the early details that led to email’s existence as we know it today. In 1976, Queen Elizabeth II became the first head of state to send an electronic mail message.

It’s amazing to see how innovative such details were at the time. Yet, we didn’t want to discuss the timeline of email, instead, explore the milestones of email’s presence in business. The earlier years of email, before the 2nd Millennium involved many advances that solidified email as the universal communication tool, yet the invention of ‘mailboxes’ structured email as we use it today.

Mailboxes were the format for defining how a message should be transmitted — and often how it would be stored.

To give context, at this time ‘at’ was used instead of @. Click To Tweet

When mailboxes came to fruition and first standardized in 1997, it was common to use an email client. Though this competition was rising for these types of services, there are only a few that had an impact worth discussing.

RD was an editor that worked on top of the Tenex text editor. RD was the first client to allow consumers to sort email messages as well as save and delete them. Created by Lawrence Roberts who was actually the program manager for the ARPANET at the time; RD was the first client to allow consumers to sort email messages as well as save and delete them.


Although they lacked in the area of allowing email threads, to reply to a message, you had to compose an entirely new message in an integration too.

That same year, about 10 million users worldwide have free webmail accounts that same year. Just a year later, in 1998, Microsoft buys Hotmail for $400m.

As email begins to expand to the masses, it starts to shape both personal and workplace behavior.

Shifting to mobile and marketable

Email did much more than make communicating easier; it changed how we talked. You’ll see it’s also changed how we work.

There’s a quote published in a research study of electronic mail’s evolution from C. R. Licklider and Albert Vezza in 1978 the words:

Among the advantages of the network message services over the telephone were the fact that one could proceed immediately to the point without having to engage in small talk first, that the message services produced a preservable record, and that the sender and receiver did not have to be available at the same time.

These words still hold true. How organized is email when it comes to internal collaboration? In another sense, it is also time-consuming and one can easily lose 2 hours of their workday to email. Perhaps email going mobile played a hand?

In 2007 Apple released the first iPhone and four years late, in 2011, Apple announced it had sold over 100 million iPhones. There was a direct impact in the market, particularly when it came to marketing and communication with customers.


By 2012, it was reported over 40% of marketing emails were opened on a mobile device. Interactions started to shift when it came to talking to your audience, but this also meant more employees engaged in emails through their phone. It almost breeds a sense of FOMO and today it’s more accessible than ever.

Also, in 2007: Google makes Gmail available to the public worldwide. Businesses were built upon these services, which initially would start as a 20% in 2004 by Paul Buchheit [Originally it wasn’t particularly believed in as a product within Google].

Email meets its match

Radicati Group estimates that from February 2017, 3.7 billion email users worldwide, and an astounding 269 billion emails sent per day.

First the past few years, many of us have lived in the age of email automation and plugins. Whether we’re allowing tools access to help better our email etiquette, or we’re on the consumer end of automated messages, email is very much an important and present part of our lives.

Either way, we’re empowering tools to do this part of the communicating for us. For example, there are tools like Mailchimp that have built a business on a free and capable email service.

For personal use, Boomerang or Mixmax are great tools that serve the need as your email’s ‘personal butler’, making it easier for you to send emails later, schedule on your calendar, or even see who’s viewed your message. There are also services like Unroll.Me that help you get from under the weight of email overload and spam.

We’ve reached a time where we’re building a technology stack on top of our personal email just to maintain. Think about this impact on internal communication.

As teams strive to become more productive and efficient, the next tools that pair with email won’t help manage the madness but organize it on another platform that streamlines collaboration. The abundance of email, especially its effect on productivity in the workplace, are modern day problems that most teams encounter.

A majority of employees can’t keep up with their emails, and it often prevents teams from dealing with more important tasks. More teams are realizing this shift and opting towards more streamlined communication, specifically when it comes to approaching projects and organizing tasks to reach periodic goals. Internal chat tools are growing in prominence to solve the hurdle of instant communication inside teams. Slack, Hipchat, and others have addressed this problem.

Modern teams are transitioning from email to a central collaboration tool. Redbooth has supported thousands of teams looking to keep teams executing projects efficiently by introducing a new workflow. The obstacles of email are of the past, and that form of communication serves well when marketing to customers but not for the progress of teams. Is your team ahead of the curve?