[SIGCIS-Members] Menus, the "Inventor of Email," and his book

Thomas Haigh thaigh at computer.org
Mon Mar 24 16:46:27 PDT 2014



Murray's posts on menus in his early computer conferencing systems reminds
me that Shiva Ayyadurai's "EMAIL" system, circa 1980, appeared from the
documentation he posted online to use two letter command codes with menu
prompts. That is not offered as any evidence of novelty, but it took me back
to thinking about the system. You may recall my involvement two years ago
with the effort to debunk some rather credulous press coverage given to
Ayyadurai's vigorous attempts to brand himself as the "inventor of email."


Last September I updated my page on his claims to include a section on his
book The Email Revolution: Unleashing the Power to Connect (Allworth, 2013).
That is pasted below, for those interested. The book has not received very
much attention, though Ayyadurai has been back in the news as the
less-outing-toyboy-Los-Angeles.html> "toy boy" or
"email male" lover of sitcom actress Fran Drescher, best known for her
starting role on "The Nanny."



Part 3: Update including Ayyadurai's book The Email Revolution, September

The world of electronic mail history was fairly quiet over the last year.
Journalists have seemed less inclined to endorse V A Shiva Ayyadurai's
claims, though his website did sprout a new link to a podcast with an
Australian radio interviewer in which he reiterated his standard talking
points. In September 2012 the publication date for Ayyadurai's book came and
went, and its status on Amazon
803>  shifted straight from "preorder" to "out of stock - limited

He appeared to be focusing his indisputable energy on the world of
alternative medicine, trumpeting a set of alternative medicine courses on
"VA Shiva's Systems Health - The Medicine of the Future" sold under the
auspices of Deepak Choprah's thriving "wellbeing" empire. Ayyadurai was also
proud of his involvement with Cohopra and other alternative medicine
celebrities in the 2013
rch-14-17-2013> "Journey into Healing" event.

Recent Media Appearances

During the summer of 2013, however, Ayyadurai returned to the world of
electronic mail with a new wave of media appearance in India, apparently
from some kind of speaking tour including an
a-ayyadurai-inventor-email> "Evening with Dr. VA Shiva Ayyadurai, Inventor
of Email" at TiE Chennai. These included

"Chennai-born Shiva Ayyadurai Claims Credit for Developing First E-mail
System," Zeenews.com
er-pings-Chennai/articleshow/21156019.cms> "Forgotten Email Patent Holder
Pings Chennai," The Times of India, July 19, 2013.
e1760029.ece> "You've Got Mail," New India Express, 2nd Sept 2013.

The claims made in them closely mirror those given in earlier interviews.
Some reports appeal explicitly to ethnic sentiment, for example the claim in
-recognized-for-it> "Shiva Ayyadurai of Tamil Nadu has a patent for email
and is fighting to be recognized for it" that "the US will not allow an
Indian, especially someone who was living in Newark, one of the poorest
cities there, to get credit."

Ayyadurai's Book Finally Arrives

Then, in September 13, Ayyadurai's book The Email Revolution: Unleashing the
Power to Connect (Allworth, 2013) finally popped up as published via a
second Amazon listing. According to a quotation on the dust jacket "Shiva is
one of the great minds on our planet." This notwithstanding, just a week
later I was able to buy a new copy on Amazon for $3.25, one of 52 available
from third party sellers. It seems that a wave of promotional copies was
quickly discarded by its recipients.

When Ayyadurai began to bill himself as the inventor of email, some
speculated that this was to promote his forthcoming book and boost demand
for his consulting services. The Email Revolution is presented as a
self-help guide for corporate leaders keen to use electronic mail more
effectively. About a dozen short chapters tell the story of how EchoMail
helped corporations handle large volumes of email with ease. Several more
chapters provide "ten commandments" and "50 tips" on email. So far, so

Yet The Email Revolution is perhaps the strangest book I've received in the
mail since my graduate student days, when someone flooded my department with
unrequested copies of
7> Psychiatrists-- The Men Behind Hitler: The Architects of Horror. This is
because of its hybrid character - Ayyadurai's upbeat corporate case studies
are intertwined with a mass of material intended to overwhelm critics of his
historical claims, or at least create sufficient doubt to maintain a

Thus the executive who picks up the The Email Revolution hoping to learn
more about electronic mail as a business tool might be taken aback by the
tone of the book's foreword. Leslie P. Michelson, Ayyadurai's former boss,
presents him as the victim of a "cabal of insiders" with close ties to BBN,
decrying a "wave of unwarranted, bigoted, and highly coordinated attacks,"
and trumpeting the heroic discovery of "an important document in an old
dusty microfiche in the bowels of MIT's library system" to "demonstrate how
this cabal was purposefully not revealing historical facts." There follows a
statement by Noam Chomsky furthering the conspiracy theme, and a "personal
note" by Ayyadurai presenting his copyright registration form as evidence of
the "first US Copyright for creating 'email.' After the personal note is the
introduction, which includes mention of his scheme to save the post office
by retraining its workers to sort electronic messages, and makes a detour
into explaining his firing from CSIR in India (where he was "under threat of
physical violence, as well as incarceration" for revealing its "rampant

Ayyadurai still isn't ready to get to the business-friendly lessons. Chapter
one explains what electronic mail is. You might expect someone who just
brought a book on this subject to know that already, but explaining it
anyway gives Ayyadurai a chance to present his idiosyncratic new definition
of "email as the full-scale electronic emulation of the interoffice,
interorganizational paper-based mail system." Chapter two takes us back to
his early system and its features, reiterating his argument that no earlier
system deserves to be called "email" and presenting to his audience second
time the quote from Dave Crocker discovered in the bowels of MIT. He digs
deeper into his complex definition, pausing occasionally to dismiss the work
of electronic mail pioneers such as Tom Van Vleck. Apparently still unaware
that his own system did not use a relational database management system
Ayyadurai writes that "without a relational database, email would not have
been possible."

Only after all this is Ayyadurai ready to starts talking about the wonderful
things he has done to help corporations automatically process their
electronic mail. Ten upbeat pages follow, but by the end of the chapter
Ayyadurai's fondness for presenting himself as a underdog fighting
conspiracies of the powerful has resurfaced. He blames the post-2003 eclipse
of his company EchoMail on the alliance of Siebel Systems, with "corrupt"
analysts at Forrester Research and other firms in a "conscious and willful
attempt to confuse the market."

It's hard to imagine that many executives would still be reading at this
point, but if they made it to the back of the book they would discover that
it ends with appendices A through F, each of which reproduces material from
Ayyadurai's website related to his historical claims For example, Appendix A
is his "History of Email and Growth of EMAIL Accounts" infographic. Appendix
G is the lengthy "Misuse of the Term 'Email' and False Claims About Email."
Ayyadurai ends The Email Revolution with a list of the "blood brothers and
sisters" who have "stood strong against the 'priesthood' or academia,
'scholars,' and the so-called 'computer historians'."

Little wonder that the book seems to have made little impression on the
world thus far, and that the only editorial review I did come across, a
quick capsule writeup <http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-1-62153-263-7>
from Publishers Weekly, concluded "Cynics may find this book to be a mixture
of the dubious and the obvious."

The historical material in the The Email Revolution, as it is almost all
taken with little or no revision from Ayyadurai's website and so requires
little new analysis. In particular I did not notice any new evidence to
support his claims to have had an operational system in 1978 or to have used
the word "email" prior to 1979.

Ayyadurai's Treatment of "Email" post-1981

Ayyadurai has recently been using a rather tortuous definition to disqualify
all of the many electronic mail systems produced prior to 1980 from
consideration as "email" and thus keep alive his claim to have invented it.
In contrast, his timelines and infographics have acknowledged a variety of
post-1982 systems as being "email" without applying a similarly restrictive
definition. In assembling the book he thus faced a particular challenge in
bridging the gap from his rather personal  version of 1978-1981, in which he
is the world's leading (and perhaps only) electronic mail developer, to his
more conventional view of the mid-1980s in which he admits the existence and
widespread use of many unrelated systems. I was curious to see how the
navigated this tricky narrative transition.

In the event I was disappointed. The Email Revolution does not even try to
demonstrate that his early "EMAIL" program had any influence on any email
system produced or used in the world beyond the University of Medicine and
Dentistry of New Jersey. After describing his science fair submission in
1981 Ayyadurai jumps straight to 1993 and his efforts to build an automated
tool to analyze incoming internet email.

This jump causes further logical problems for his case. The early chapters,
and Appendix G, breezily dismisses Internet-style decentralized mail
systems, based on open standards for the exchange of messages, as mere
"electronic text messages" lacking many necessary features to qualify as
email. Between the end of chapter 2 (in 1981) and the start of chapter 3 (in
1993) systems of this kind suddenly become "email" despite still lacking the
centralized relational databases and various other elements he proposes as
essential elements of any true email system. In 1993, he tells us, the White
House was receiving 5,000 emails a day and AT&T was handling Internet emails
sent when customers entered information on pages on its new websites. The
SMTP based systems used to transmit Internet email were the direct
descendants of the ARPANET email systems of the 1970s he previously
dismissed. They did not have return receipts, centralized system-wide
address books, "registered memos," integrated relational database management
systems, or the other architectural features he had, a few pages earlier,
used to distinguish true "emails" from mere "text messages." This is not a
coincidence. Electronic mail systems based on a unified message database,
like his early "EMAIL" system, sometimes worked well in corporate
environments where hardware and software could be standardized on an
internal network but never successfully challenged the Internet's
decentralized, standards-based approach as the basis for communication
between organizations.

Ayyadurai's timelines and graphics, reproduced in this book, only deepen
this problem. Appendix A, his flagship infographic, includes the 1988
Macintosh Internet email client Eudora as "email." Xerox's PARC's 1979
Laurel did basically the same job in a very similar way, but is dismissed as
a mere "user interface, and not the system of interlocked parts to emulate
the entire interoffice paper mail system," because it depended on a server
to hold undelivered mail. (As I noted in my previous analysis, the
descriptions of Laurel quoted by Ayyadurai unambiguously contradict his
claim that it was a front-end for PARC's command line mail reader rather
than a replacement).

Internal Inconsistences and Changing Claims

There are some other conspicuous inconsistencies. The graph on page 25
suggests that around 10,000 email messages were sent in 1978. Endnote 3
cites a Huffington Post appearance of Ayyadurai's 2011 infographic as the
source, which doesn't help much. 10,000 is, however, rather a high figure to
start at and the line barely climbs over the next year. Thus if the graph is
based on an actual data set it appears to have been truncated to avoid the
embarrassing suggestion that email existed before 1978. On the other hand,
the infographic on page 170 claims that there were zero users of email in
1978. Where did those 10,000 messages come from? Who read them?

In 1979, according to the infographic, there were just 2 users of email. The
big jump, it suggests, comes between 1982 and 1983 when the population of
email users explodes from 1,000 to 100,000. No explanation is given for this
hundred-fold growth.

I looked again at Ayyadurai's website again search of something that might
explain the mystery. I then noticed that the online version of the
infographic <http://www.inventorofemail.com/history_of_email.asp>  has
recently been modified.


Old Infographic (in book and promoted on web since 2011
.html> )

New Infographic (on web
<http://www.inventorofemail.com/history_of_email.asp#Infographic>  as of
September 20 2013)

Number of email users in 1978



Number of email users in 1979



Text for "1978: The Challenge"

High School student, (V.A.) Shiva Ayyadurai is asked by Les Michelson if he
would like to create an electronic mail system for emulating inter- and
intra-office mail across multiple offices and locations of the UMNDJ campus.

(V.A.) Shiva Ayyadurai is asked by Les Michelson to create the full-scale
electronic version of the interoffice paper mail system in use at UMNDJ.
Shiva creates the first prototype. He calls it "Email."

Text for "1979"

Memos to Electronic Mail. The attributes of a memo, To:, From:, Cc:, Bcc:,
Subject:, Body:, Attachment and its delivery process, Inbox, Outbox,
Folders, Sorting, Security, etc. are converted into an electronic system.

"Email System at UMNDJ: Email provides UMDNJ users Inbox, Outbox, Folders,
the Memo (To, From, Subject, Date, Cc, Bcc) Attachements, etc., and
processes such as Compose, Forward, Sort, and others with easy-to-use

Text for "1980"

Inventing EMAIL. The first version of the electronic system is designed and
deployed for use at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey
(UMDNJ). The system is called EMAIL.

Using Email: Email use grows at UMDNJ. More users, secretaries and doctors,
across departments, offices and groups are added on to the email system.

The two infographics differ on vital points. The original infographic,
produced early in Ayyadurai's campaign to brand himself "the inventor of
email," puts the first operational version of the system in 1980. The new
one, perhaps in response to evidence that both electronic mail systems and
the term "e-mail" were both in use before 1980, pushes this back to 1978. I
wonder how he might justify this change.

Errors per Square Inch

Ayyadurai is remarkably sloppy in discussing historical facts even when he
has no plausible interest in misrepresenting them. The Email Revolution is
issued by Allworth, which is apparently an obscure trade press rather than a
self-publishing service. It does not, however, show much evidence of having
been edited or checked by professionals. I do not remember ever seeing a
commercially published book with such a remarkable density of errors, even
for facts easily verified from Wikipedia. (Talking of Wikipedia, Google does
reveal that shortly before its publication references to the book were added
to a dozen separate pages by a single user
<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special:Contributions/Arttechlaw> ).

As an illustration, consider the following short passage on page 43.
Ayyadurai generously acknowledges that "the design and development of email
relies on several earlier developments in technology."  All six of the
bullet points following that statement are wrong in one way or another, and
only three of them relate to technologies actually incorporated in
Ayyadurai's system.

*	The development of FORTRAN in 1954 by John Backus at IBM. [That date
for FORTRAN is rather misleading. A draft specification was drawn up in
1954, but the first implementation was not ready for users until 1957].
*	The development of ASCII naming standard in 1962 by Bob Bremer.
[Ayyadurai mischaracterizes ASCII as a "naming standard" and gets Bob
Bemer's name wrong]
*	The invention of database technology in 1969 by Charles Bachman.
[IDS, developed by Charles W. Bachman, was running by 1963 at the latest
<http://wp.sigmod.org/?p=688>  so that is another wrong date].
*	The creation of TCP in 1973 by Vinton Cerf, Robert Kahn. [TCP was
first described in a 1974 paper, but as Ayyadurai's system used no
Internet/ARPANET technologies the bullet is misleading anyway].
*	The development of Ethernet in 1973 by Bob Mercalfe. [Right date,
but wrong name - it's Bob Metcalfe (and others at PARC). Also I would be
shocked if Ayyadurai was using Ethernet on a HP/1000 in 1978. Metcalfe's
firm 3Com, which spread Ethernet outside Xerox, was only founded in 1979].
*	The development of TCP/IP by Danny Cohen, David Reed, and John
Shoch. [Ayyadurai doesn't even attempt to date this one, but as Kahn and
Cerf won the ACM Turing Award
<http://amturing.acm.org/award_winners/cerf_1083211.cfm>  for "pioneering
work on internetworking, including the design and implement of the
Internet's basic communications protocols, TCP/IP" it's safe to say that he
has missed the two most important names.Though this is a trickier question
as the list presents TCP and TCP/IP as two separate "developments"].

V.A. Shiva Ayyadurai's citation practices are as eccentric as his historical
claims. Ayydurai quotes from this very web page at various points,
occasionally even attaching a reference. Yet these somehow fail to include
the page URL, page title, or my name. I wonder how Ayyadurai got those four
degrees from MIT without learning how to properly cite a source when quoting

Postscript 1: A month after I drafted the above The Email Revolution:
Unleashing the Power to Connect continues to languish in obscurity and the
cost of a copy on Amazon has dropped further (37 new copies from $2.61).
However Ayyadurai is experiencing a new and unexpected wave of publicity as
-dreschers-new-boytoy-the-inventor-of-email.html> "boytoy" or
"email male" lover of sitcom actress Fran Drescher, best known for her
starting role on "The Nanny."

Postscript 2: Returning six months later in March 2014, I notice that the
price of the book has dropped to $0.14 on Amazon. Somebody appears to be
doing a spot of guerilla marketing for the book. Five glowing user reviews
have appeared on Amazon, most of them by users with cryptic names and no
other reviews. Four of these appeared between December 20 and December 31.
There are also six goodreads.com reviews
<http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/17592645-the-email-revolution> , four of
these are five star reviews posted between Feb 14 and Feb 18 by first-time
reviewers. Ayyadurai continues to receive some rather credulous profiles in
the Indian press from a "book tour" but the book otherwise seems to be
languishing in obscurity.





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