E-mail - History of Business in the U.S.Definition: Electronic messages sent or received over a computer network and stored on the network until read
Significance: E-mail has replaced voice and physical mail as the primary means of communication in many businesses. It has spawned support industries that earn billions of dollars per year.
E-mail started in 1965 as a way for users who were time-sharing a single mainframe computer to communicate with one another. The ability tocommunicate with others who were on different time schedules was of immense value, and the technology was soon expanded to allow users to pass messages between different servers. Although initially e-mail was used in government and research institutions, businesses soon adopted it when the benefits became evident.
Much of the business world relies on communication between parties in separate physical locations. E-mail provides a fast and efficient method of information exchange at little cost per message. It also eliminates the need for communicating parties to interface with one another at the same time, as is required in telephone calls or teleconferences.
The technology’s savings in time alone was enough to motivate most businesses to adopt e-mail as their standard medium of communication. As the medium developed, the ability to store and quickly access e-mail messages as well as attached documents, files, and other information created more cost savings for companies. E-mail quickly became such a vital resource that many business professionals are estimated to spend up to 50 percent of their working time using e-mail. Internet-based businesses estimate that tens of thousands of dollars can be lost per hour if there is an outage of their e-mail servers. The drop in communications can also reduce the ability of workers to complete their tasks, resulting in a loss of person-hours and damaging customer relations.
Businesses have also capitalized on the ability to mass market to consumers via e-mail. More customers can be reached at little or no cost by e-mail than by previous methods such as telephone calls and traditional media advertising. The business of selling lists of e-mail addresses has become a staple of the mass-mailing industry and makes millions of dollars yearly.
Abuse of mass e-mailing has created problems as well as business opportunities. Unsolicited commercial e-mail, commonly called “spam,” comes from a business or individual misusing the system. Spam has the potential to clog users’ e-mail inboxes, wasting valuable work hours that must be spent separating important messages from unwanted advertisements. The ability to attach files to e-mail messages has also led to the propagation of computer viruses, another potential danger to businesses that rely on computers. The need to guard against these problems, however, has itself spawned an industry that makes billions of dollars per year. The servers and software that support e-mail are equally profitable.
James J. Heiney
Cortada, James W. The Digital Hand: How Computers Changed the Work of American Manufacturing, Transportation, and Retail Industries. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 2004.
Nussey, Bill. The Quiet Revolution in E-Mail Marketing. New York: IUniverse, 2004.
Okin, J. R. The Internet Revolution: The Not-for- Dummies Guide to the History, Technology, and Use of the Internet. Winter Harbor, Maine: Ironbound Press, 2005.
See also: advertising industry; catalog shopping; computer industry; Online marketing; Pony Express; United States Postal Service; telecommunications industry.