Daily TWiP Archives

Something interesting has happened on (just about) every day of the year, and Daily TWiP provides the proof. An offshoot of my local events column The Week in Preview (affectionately known as TWiP), Daily TWiP was published April 2008-Aug. 2011 and is still giving readers reasons to celebrate.

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Daily TWiP – May 3, 1978: The first spam email is sent

The first spam email was sent not by a money-hungry opportunist posing as exiled Nigerian royalty, but by a Digital Equipment Corporation marketing employee looking to spread the word about his company’s products. It hit the inboxes of a number of West Coast ARPANET users May 3, 1978, spawning a major debate over unsolicited email.

Use of ARPANET, considered to be the precursor to the Internet, was restricted to certain individuals, most of whom were government employees, military officials and computer scientists. As a computer manufacturer, Digital Equipment Corporation apparently also had ARPANET access and marketer Gary Thuerk decided to use that to the company’s advantage.

He sent an email to numerous users informing them of the new DEC-20 machine, which came with ARPANET protocol already installed, as well as several open houses that were scheduled to demonstrate the machine. Since Digital Equipment Corporation was based on the East Coast, Thuerk targeted the email to West Coast users who might not be aware of the company’s offerings.

Some found Thuerk’s e-mail interesting and welcomed the information, finding it more relevant than smaller mass mailings they had received about, for example, a fellow employee’s new baby. Others were not so pleased, including Major Raymond Czahor, chief of the ARPANET Management Branch, who branded it a flagrant violation of ARPANET usage.

Although Thuerk didn’t believe he had done anything wrong, he did not attempt another product-oriented mass mailing. Indeed, it would be roughly another decade before any other spammer dared try again. More than 30 years later, Internet users are completely accustomed to spam, with most receiving more spam than actual email.

– Teresa Santoski


Originally published May 3, 2011.

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