Hello Meg. Excellent article!! You've got the right scope and focus. I would much rather read about the factors that influenced the evolution of email, than what I see in other historical accounts - a boring chronology of technical detail. This may require further investigation and interviews with the participants, something I plan to do when I get done with the technical side of the Email system cluster. If you want to get on this sooner, I welcome the collaboration.
The key questions in my mind are what factors have held back a technology with such obvious benefits as email. Starting in the early 70's, when we were still using 300 baud modems, I remember a conversation with a Bell labs researcher. We were both frustrated and puzzled as to why the phone company (a huge monopoly at the time) was holding back on digital communications. It was clear to us that there was some politics involved. The phone company would lose billions if businesses replaced inefficient "telephone tag" with digital communications. We were not even thinking of email, just automated systems to place orders, get confirmations, shipping schedules, etc.
The next big hurdle, what you call "the complicated addressing that needed to be worked out", was another ruse, in my humble opinion. The culprits this time were the big email service providers, CompuServe, The Source, OnTyme, etc. These companies were all trying to establish a monopoly on email, and the strategy was to limit exchange of messages between companies. You had to have an account at each company whose subscribers you wanted to communicate with. That was a zero-sum game, in fact far less than zero, if you believe that the total pie would be much bigger when email was universal. The marketing departments at these companies apparently did not believe that. It wasn't until the aggregate of small competitors using a shared protocol (SMTP) grew large enough that they had to support that protocol.
The barriers we face now in further development of email reliability is similar to what we faced with acceptance of SMTP in the late 80's. The historical parallels are amazing. Large companies who benefit from the status quo are using technical bullshit for excuses. According to these companies, the problems with email are "intractable". The reality is that these problems have simple technical solutions, but that technology is being kept as a competitive advantage, not shared with the public.
The need for more email reliability now is not as compelling as the need for SMTP then, but the required effort is also much lower. I see no progress at the moment, but I am optimistic in the long run. One of two things will happen. Either the technology will "leak" from one of the large companies and become a public standard, or someone with no interest in industry profits, perhaps a government agency - someone will provide the needed systems as a public service.
I am hopeful that our cluster on the Email system will make the barriers come down sooner. The more people understand how the email system works, the more embarrassing questions will be asked of those who are defending the status quo. --David MacQuigg 14:48, 1 October 2009 (UTC)