[SIGCIS-Members] Ayyadurai: keeping it simple

Thomas Haigh thomas.haigh at gmail.com
Fri Jan 6 06:35:38 PST 2017


In response to the various suggestions that a comprehensive rebuttal would
need to engage with Ayyadurai's efforts to define email in a very specific
way: yes. A comprehensive rebuttal would. That's why my page
www.sigcis.org/ayyadurai is very long and detailed, which also makes it off
putting to casual readers. I urge anyone with an interest in the case to
read it before commenting further.

My comment was more about a concise and convincing way to explain why this
is not a usual invention priority dispute. I do not recall anyone prior to
Ayyadurai claiming that things like mid-1970s Arpanet electronic mail or
Xerox Laurel were not email. For example, Janet Abbate's book Inventing the
Internet talks without reservation about "email" as the killer application
of the ARPANET in the mid-1970s. 

The SIGCIS community does not need to anoint a "first" for email to agree
that something produced in 1978/80/82 cannot possibly be the first email
system. Here's an analogy: not everyone believes that the Wright Brothers
were the first to fly when they took to the air in 1903. There are other
contenders, other definitions, etc. Some people favor Whitehead in 1901. But
if someone tells you he invented the airplane in 1918 you don't need to ask
about the details of his system. A lot of well documented flying had
happened by then. Just show a dated photograph of the Red Baron. And if the
would-be inventor of the airplane justifies his claim with a new 60 point
definition of airplane you are not obliged to take that definition

Best wishes,


-----Original Message-----
From: Members [mailto:members-bounces at lists.sigcis.org] On Behalf Of
McMillan, William W
Sent: Friday, January 06, 2017 6:56 AM
To: Sigcis <members at sigcis.org>
Subject: Re: [SIGCIS-Members] Resources on Ayyadurai saga

Isn't the claim more to the well-developed metaphor of a mail system similar
to a physical office mail system?

For example, Kay and Xerox can claim priority to the UI desktop metaphor,
even though all the operations it implemented existed previously in
command-line systems.

The parry and riposte to pointing out mail/messaging capabilities of early
systems is that, yes, they had similar functions, but that they had not been
developed into a coherent metaphor for a complete real-world mail system.

.... not that this is a valid claim ...

Once you get into the UI widget, look-and-feel, metaphor space, the ground
gets soft.

- Bill

From: Members [members-bounces at lists.sigcis.org] on behalf of Jordi Fornes
[jfornes at ac.upc.edu]
Sent: Friday, January 06, 2017 4:41 AM
To: Guy Fedorkow
Cc: Thomas Haigh; members at lists.sigcis.org
Subject: Re: [SIGCIS-Members] Resources on Ayyadurai saga

That’s the point. What is an email? At least since 1975 (in the sixth
edition of the Unix programmer’s manual) the command “mail” exists “to send
mail to designated users”.
I have not access to the source code of BSD Unix, but it was developed with
a source control revision system, so it should be available somewhere. I'm
almost certain that the “mail” command in 4 BSD (circa 1980)  sent mail over

At all events, we need a definition of email, accepted by the community of
experts, before talk about “firsts” (in my opinion, a trap keyword in
history of science).

Best wishes,

Dr Jordi Fornés
jfornes at ac.upc.edu<mailto:jfornes at ac.upc.edu>
+34 934 054 064
Computer Architecture Department
Room D6-102
Campus Nord, Barcelona

On 5 Jan 2017, at 20:30, Guy Fedorkow
<guy.fedorkow at gmail.com<mailto:guy.fedorkow at gmail.com>> wrote:

  As I remember from the last round, the disagreement seemed to be over the
definition of "email", wasn't it?  I don't think there was a denial that
messages were sent between computer terminals prior to the plucky young
contributor's work, but that only after that point did the technology truly
deserve the appellation "EMAIL", as allegedly proven by the grant of
  It does seem like there's been a certain fluidity in choosing whether the
argument of the day is based on the name or the functional
  But a refutation might want to consider both factors, i.e., evidence that
the term email was in wide use, and that the claimed functionality (beyond
just sending a message, although I don't remember what it was) was in use
prior to the alleged invention.

On 1/5/2017 12:56 PM, Thomas Haigh wrote:
Thanks Dave,

The other advice I have for anyone commenting on this case is to keep the
argument simple.

There are a lot of invention controversies along the lines of “Big famous
company X says that it invented technology Y in (date 2), but actually
plucky inventor Z had previously come up with the same technology in (date
1). Because date 1 is earlier than date 2 we should remember plucky inventor
Z as the true inventor of Y, despite the PR and legal resources of company X
which denied him recognition.” That’s the narrative that Ayyadurai is
telling about himself, and reporters are liable to turn it into an Ayyadurai
vs. Tomlinson contest. Discussion of such claims head in the direction of
debates on whether plucky inventor Z’s simple prototype really counts as
inventing the technology.

What’s different about this case is that plucky inventor Z claims to have
invented email in either 1980 or, more recently, in 1978 (and has shown code
snippets that appears to come from 1982). Whereas historians already knew
that simple electronic mail systems were in use at MIT in 1965, that
electronic mail was sent over what became the Internet in 1971, that spam
was sent in 1978, that Xerox had a recognizably modern GUI client by that
time etc. So the features of Ayyadurai’s system are not the important thing
in assessing his claim to be “the inventor of email.” I have no reason to
doubt that he produced a perfectly good local email system. But Ayyadurai is
only “the inventor of email” if nothing done prior to 1978 (or 1980 or 1982)
was email.  In other words, he’s trying to use the classic “plucky
suppressed inventor” narrative even though his date 1 is many years later
than the established date 2.

To rebut this claim one doesn’t need to designate any individual as THE
inventor of email, merely to reiterate the historical consensus that email
is a synonym for electronic mail and that electronic mail was in use prior
to 1978 (or 1980 or 1982). However smart and likeable you are, you can’t
invent something that’s already been invented.

Best wishes,


From: dave.walden.family at gmail.com<mailto:dave.walden.family at gmail.com>
[mailto:dave.walden.family at gmail.com]
Sent: Thursday, January 05, 2017 10:02 AM
To: Thomas Haigh <thomas.haigh at gmail.com><mailto:thomas.haigh at gmail.com>
Cc: Christine Finn
<christine.finn at gmail.com><mailto:christine.finn at gmail.com>; David Golumbia
<dgolumbia at gmail.com><mailto:dgolumbia at gmail.com>;
Sigcis<members at sigcis.org><mailto:members at sigcis.org>
Subject: Re: [SIGCIS-Members] Resources on Ayyadurai saga

Maybe the document should be something like a friend-of-court brief that is
provided to the defense attorney rather than a public document and the court
if the case ever goes to court.  There is plenty of time for public
documents later.  I would think that passing Tom's list below to the defense
attorney would already be useful.
Best regards, Dave
 http://walden-family.com/bbn/email-invention.html (not updated in several

Sent from my iPad

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