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Huffington Post Finally Responds, Stands By Its Completely Bogus, Totally Debunked 'History Of Email' Series

from the destroying-all-journalistic-integrity dept

Over the past couple of days we've been writing about an incredibly questionable series of articles at Huffington Post, pretending to be about the "history of email" even though they're not. They're actually a completely bogus rewriting of well-documented history to falsely pretend that a guy named V.A. Shiva Ayyadurai invented email as a 14-year-old boy. He did not. Not only do Ayyadurai and some of his friends totally misrepresent reality, they fraudulently make claims that are easily debunked. As we've discussed, their two biggest claims are (1) that the "US government officially recognized Ayyaudurai as the inventor of email" in 1982 and (2) that a leading analysis of electronic messaging in 1977, by Dave Crocker at RAND, claims that a full interoffice email system is "impossible." Both of these claims are absolutely false.

As we've explained, the first one relies on blatantly misleading people about what a copyright is and what Ayyadurai copyrighted. Copyright does not cover "inventions." It only covers creative expression. What Ayyadurai got a copyright on is a specific computer program called "email." That does not mean he invented email. Just as Microsoft holds a copyright on "Windows" but did not invent windowed user interfaces, Ayyadurai did not invent email. The copyright does not mean that he did invent email, and the fact that he and his friends continue to pretend that a copyright is something it is not is farcical. They are relying on the ignorance of reporters and the public about what a copyright is. The second issue is even more damaging. Ayyadurai and his friends claim that Crocker's paper is the "smoking gun" that proves that no one else was working on a full email system at the time. And yet, as we noted, they never actually link to the paper. We did. You can read it here, and you see that not only does it say the exact opposite of what they claim (debunking Ayyadurai's claims), they deliberately misrepresent what Crocker said by taking two separate sentences, from different pages in the report, removing the context around them, and mashing them together to pretend they say something they do not. It's shameless.

In our first post, we claimed that perhaps it's true that Ayyadurai was the first person to shorten "electronic mail" (which was in widespread use at the time) to "email" -- but now even that has been called into question. Computer historian Thomas Haigh has been tracking Ayyadurai's lies and misrepresentations for years, and alerts us to the fact that Ayyadurai's story has notably changed over the years, revealing additional misrepresentations and attempts to change history. This includes, among other things, him changing his story about when he completed his work -- and when his program "email" was named. Here's Haigh's analysis:
“Electronic mail” was widely discussed in the 1970s, but was usually shortened simply to “MAIL” when naming commands. However, the Oxford English Dictionary (3rd edition online) gives a June 1979 usage (“Postal Service pushes ahead with E-mail”) so Ayyadurai was not the first to use this contraction in print.

The program name “EMAIL” is not mentioned in the 1980 newspaper article on Ayyadurai but does appear in his 1981 Westinghouse competition submission. By that year the name EMAIL was in use by CompuServe. Compuserve had offered timesharing computer access and electronic mail to businesses for years. In 1979 it launched a new service, aiming to sell otherwise wasted evening computer time to consumers for the bargain price of $5 an hour. A trademark application (later abandoned) that CompuServe made for “EMAIL” listed 1981/04/01 as its first use by the company, which fits with this May 1981 message mentioning CompuServe’s “EMAIL program.” By January 1983 “Email™” (for trademark) was part of CompuServe’s advertising campaign.

For years CompuServe users could type “GO EMAIL” to read their messages. Whether Ayyadurai or CompuServe was the first to adopt “EMAIL” as a program name it is clear that CompuServe popularized it.

Furthermore, Haigh details how Ayyadurai has conveniently tried to rewrite his own history to counter the debunkings. For example, in 2011, he originally claimed that while he was "challenged" to create an electronic interoffice messaging system in 1978, he didn't actually get it to work until 1980. But, of course, by then email was much more widespread. So, Ayyadurai changed the story, and pretended that he was both challenged and wrote his "50,000 lines of code" and got it all working in 1978. Furthermore, as we noted in our second post, Ayyadurai and his friends are now trying to rewrite history to ignore all those other previous email systems by tightly defining what an email system is such that only his qualifies. But, as we noted, most of the features he listed are arbitrary and unrelated to the basics of email. All of the core elements of email were widely used before Ayyadurai wrote his system. Haigh details how Ayyadurai has taken this to absolutely ridiculous extremes, claiming that it's not email unless it has 87 specific features (up from 32, which was ratcheted up from an original 6 -- as he continues to revise history):
One of the five main tabs on Ayyadurai’s new site is “Definition of email.” This presents a short version (“email is the electronic version of the interoffice, inter-organizational paper-based email system”) and two lengthy checklists. The first checklist presents 32 distinct features of the traditional mail system, all of which he claims were necessary (“if any one component was taken away…you no longer had a functioning interoffice mail system.”) The second checklist repeats these, with some additional items added, and places a check mark by each one to indicate that Ayyadurai’s system had that capability. There are 87 of these check marks. If I understand his argument correctly then this signifies that a system must possess 87 specific features to properly be called email.

Has this definition been widely accepted since 1978, as Ayyadurai claims? No it has not. Indeed, Ayyadurai’s own website did not include these definitions of email until recently. The old site (prior to June 2012) offered a quite different six point definition of “an E-Mail System.” These six points were: User-Friendly Interface; A Rich Set of Features; Network Wide; Security and Login; Enterprise Management; Database and Archival. The definition was originally presented as the work of one Matthew J. Labrador. Labrador claims to have “met Shiva in 1981 in a computer science class” and to have been impressed by his modesty. He recently been motivated by inaccurate reports on email origins to “do my own research… to provide readers with a more comprehensive and holistic history.” Ayyudari’s resume lists Labrador as a student whose bachelor’s thesis he supervised in 1990. Labrador, whose prose style closely resembles Ayyadurai’s own, expressed awe at Ayyadurai’s accomplishments (“in writing this History, I was amazed at the vision that Dr. V.A. Shiva Ayyadurai had even as a 13 year old, in developing that first E-Mail system”), acknowledged his graciousness in providing materials, and proceeded to show that Ayyadurai’s system met this unorthodox six point definition.

Either way, given the abundant evidence that Ayyadurai's claim is complete bullshit, we were still left amazed that Huffington Post has allowed this to remain on its site.

Late yesterday, a PR person from Huffington Post finally got back to me, claiming they did not get my original email. Huffington Post not only stupidly stands by the completely false story, it claims that the matter is okay because they've "updated each piece with a clarification." The clarification is not a "clarification" and it's not an apology for publishing a totally bullshit series. It's merely a repeating of Ayyadurai's lies. Incredibly, they repeat his exact language, suggesting the "clarification" is either from him directly, or taken from the claims in the bogus articles.
*Clarification about the series: Electronic messaging predates email. To paraphrase Noam Chomsky in 2012, email, spelled uppercase or lowercase, as defined in 1978, was a computer program which was the first full-scale electronic version of the interoffice mail system (Inbox, Outbox, Drafts, Folders, Attachments, etc.), containing the integrated features of what we experience today in "email" programs. However, this is not to imply that prior to the invention of email in 1978, simple methods of computer-to-computer or device-to-device electronic messaging did not exist. In fact such methods of sending text messages electronically -- text messaging -- could be said to date back to the Morse code telegraph of the mid-1800s; or the 1939 World's Fair where IBM sent a message of congratulations from San Francisco to New York on an IBM radio-type, calling it a "high-speed substitute for mail service in the world of tomorrow." The original text message, electronic transfer of content or images, ARPANET messaging, and even the familiar "@" sign were used in primitive electronic computer-to-computer messaging systems. While the technology pioneers who created these messaging systems should be heralded for their efforts, and given credit for their specific accomplishments and contributions, these early computer-to-computer messaging programs were clearly not email, the system of interconnected parts intended to emulate the interoffice mail system. There is much credit to spread around to the vast community of academic, industrial and military researchers and engineers who eclipsed the industrial revolution with their contributions to computer science and computer and network engineering. There is no intention to take credit where it is not due. However, email as we know and experience it today, not electronic messaging, was first created in 1978 at UMDNJ.
Except, this is equally misleading. The systems in place long before 1978 absolutely were "electronic mail" and absolutely "emulated the interoffice mail system." "Email as we know it" was absolutely not first created at 1978 at UMDNJ and any basic reading of the actual documentation would prove that. I asked Huffington Post's PR people if they really wanted to make this statement, pointing out that it would only make them look silly. For reasons I cannot fathom, they appear to be standing by it and have not yet replied.

Furthermore, this completely misleading and factually bogus "clarification" has not, in fact, been placed on all of the articles in this series. This HuffPost Live article by Emily Tess Katz does not include it at all, but rather repeats many long-disproved claims by Ayyadurai. Apparently Katz tweeted that she stands behind the article, but later deleted that tweet. I asked her again last night if she still stood by the article, but, par for the course, she has not replied.

Huffington Post's PR people further told me that (1) it had not received any money for publishing the series (i.e., it's not a sponsored post) and (2) that "the authors declared no financial interest." Oh really? As I've pointed out, Larry Weber is one of the biggest names in PR. He didn't just magically decide to write an entire series of blatant falsehoods about the history of email. In fact, it didn't take much sleuthing to discover that Ayyadurai and Weber are business partners in "EchoMail", the company that Ayyadurai also likes to insist was a major part of email's history (it wasn't). Ayyadurai claims that EchoMail "grew to nearly $200 million in market valuation" but provides no evidence for that. Was the company public? Where does this valuation come from? For such an important company, you'd think there'd be a lot more information online about it, but there's basically none. The Wikipedia page for it says that EchoMail is a "subsidiary of General Interactive, but was initially developed under Information Cybernetics." The only "citation" to support these claims is this page at General Interactive. However, General Interactive appears to just be yet another (in an increasingly long list) of websites of questionable businesses that appear to do nothing but promote... V.A. Shiva Ayyadurai.

For such a big company, you'd assume there'd be some press reports somewhere. So far, I can find none. It's possible they exist, but they are not readily available. It's not hard, however, to find news reports on other big companies of that generation. Either way, Echomail notes that companies like American Express and IBM are customers. It somehow leaves out that the only confirmation I can find of this is a lawsuit EchoMail filed against both companies in 2005. So, at least they were customers, though it doesn't appear to have ended on friendly terms.

Basically, no matter where you start to dig in, nearly everything about Ayyadurai's claims is incredibly sketchy, or outright disproven and debunked widely. It's incredible that Huffington Post has decided to stand by this and merely repeat debunked claims. Even if, as some have claimed, the posts by Weber, Ayyadurai and their friends are on the "unedited" blogs section of HuffPo, the HuffPo Live pieces are a part of the "news" business, and they are reporting blatantly false information.

As per usual, Ayyadurai himself refuses to address any of this other than pointing back to the same debunked claims. His Twitter feed is hilarious, just constantly repeating claims, in a foot stamping manner, sometimes referring to himself in the third person.
No evidence, no support. And, of course, BBN doesn't claim to have "invented email." Like pretty much everyone else, BBN notes that it was among those who made significant contributions to a large group effort that became email.

Oh, and there's also this amusing tweet in which Ayyadurai appears to be implying that we're paid off by Raytheon for writing this.
We're curious if Ayyadurai would like to try to present any evidence that a giant defense contractor is paying us off to (1) explain basic copyright law and (2) point to the actual 1977 paper that Ayyadurai himself totally misrepresents. Because we'd like to see him try.

In the meantime, the folks over at Huffington Post (the ones who still believe in journalistic integrity) might want to take a closer look at what's going on over there.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Violynne (profile), Sep 4th, 2014 @ 7:52am

    I don't know what's worse: HuffPo publishing this crap or people believing it.

     

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    rw (profile), Sep 4th, 2014 @ 9:30am

    It kind of put HuffPro in the ranks of Supermarket Tabloids doesn't it.

     

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    Michael, Sep 4th, 2014 @ 9:35am

    Re:

    At least they will print a retraction when someone points out that they are idiots.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 4th, 2014 @ 9:42am

    HuffPo has now gotten 2edgy4me after they cited Chomsky as part of their research.

     

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  5.  
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    allengarvin (profile), Sep 4th, 2014 @ 9:45am

    You're arguing with the Puffington Host!

    This is only a small step above sending a letter to the Daily Mail saying they got some facts wrong.

     

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  6.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 4th, 2014 @ 9:45am

    "Shiva Ayyadurai invented email as a 14-year-old boy."

    ...

    "The systems in place long before 1978 absolutely were "electronic mail" and absolutely "emulated the interoffice mail system.""

    Next thing you know he'll be claiming to have invented e-mail when he was one year old. Just like Al Gore invented the Internet too.

     

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  7.  
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    Just Another Anonymous Troll, Sep 4th, 2014 @ 9:46am

    A quote that sums this up

    "Not everything on the internet is true."
    -Abraham Lincoln

     

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  8.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 4th, 2014 @ 9:47am

    I suspect that some of Huffington Post's lack of timely response is them going "Shit, shit, shit!" at dawning realization that the multipart article on the history of email they agreed to run is actually just a propaganda piece in heavy conflict with the widely accepted facts.

    Leaving them largely paralyzed as they try and figure out what they want to do next.

     

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  9.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 4th, 2014 @ 9:47am

    Re:

    Oh, and I invented the abacus.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 4th, 2014 @ 9:49am

    Re:

    I suppose he can claim that he thought of the concept of email when he was one but he wasn't proficient enough with language yet to express it. As he got older and learned to read and write he learned how to express it and eventually he expressed his idea to the world. but he invented it long before.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 4th, 2014 @ 9:51am

    Sorry, Email can only be defined by exactly the exact code that he used exactly to create email. Anything that doesn't use the exact code that exactly runs email (lowercase) exactly doesn't count as Email and thus wasn't invented by anyone else.

     

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    JEDIDIAH, Sep 4th, 2014 @ 9:51am

    Mythology isn't just for HuffPo

    Forwarded email from Vint Cerf (vcerf@MCI.NET), September 28, 2000:

    Al Gore and the Internet
    By Robert Kahn and Vinton Cerf

    Al Gore was the first political leader to recognize the importance of the Internet and to promote and support its development.

    No one person or even small group of persons exclusively “invented” the Internet. It is the result of many years of ongoing collaboration among people in government and the university community. But as the two people who designed the basic architecture and the core protocols that make the Internet work, we would like to acknowledge VP Gore’s contributions as a Congressman, Senator and as Vice President. No other elected official, to our knowledge, has made a greater contribution over a longer period of time.

    Last year the Vice President made a straightforward statement on his role. He said: “During my service in the United States Congress I took the initiative in creating the Internet.” We don’t think, as some people have argued, that Gore intended to claim he “invented” the Internet. Moreover, there is no question in our minds that while serving as Senator, Gore’s initiatives had a significant and beneficial effect on the still-evolving Internet. The fact of the matter is that Gore was talking about and promoting the Internet long before most people were listening. We feel it is timely to offer our perspective.

    As far back as the 1970s Congressman Gore promoted the idea of high speed telecommunications as an engine for both economic growth and the improvement of our educational system. He was the first elected official to grasp the potential of computer communications to have a broader impact than just improving the conduct of science and scholarship. Though easily forgotten, now, at the time this was an unproven and controversial concept. Our work on the Internet started in 1973 and was based on even earlier work that took place in the mid-late 1960s. But the Internet, as we know it today, was not deployed until 1983. When the Internet was still in the early stages of its deployment, Congressman Gore provided intellectual leadership by helping create the vision of the potential benefits of high speed computing and communication. As an example, he sponsored hearings on how advanced technologies might be put to use in areas like coordinating the response of government agencies to natural disasters and other crises.

    As a Senator in the 1980s Gore urged government agencies to consolidate what at the time were several dozen different and unconnected networks into an “Interagency Network.” Working in a bi-partisan manner with officials in Ronald Reagan and George Bush’s administrations, Gore secured the passage of the High Performance Computing and Communications Act in 1991. This “Gore Act” supported the National Research and Education Network (NREN) initiative that became one of the major vehicles for the spread of the Internet beyond the field of computer science.

    As Vice President Gore promoted building the Internet both up and out, as well as releasing the Internet from the control of the government agencies that spawned it. He served as the major administration proponent for continued investment in advanced computing and networking and private sector initiatives such as Net Day. He was and is a strong proponent of extending access to the network to schools and libraries. Today, approximately 95% of our nation’s schools are on the Internet. Gore provided much-needed political support for the speedy privatization of the Internet when the time arrived for it to become a commercially-driven operation.

    There are many factors that have contributed to the Internet’s rapid growth since the later 1980s, not the least of which has been political support for its privatization and continued support for research in advanced networking technology. No one in public life has been more intellectually engaged in helping to create the climate for a thriving Internet than the Vice President. Gore has been a clear champion of this effort, both in the councils of government and with the public at large.

    The Vice President deserves credit for his early recognition of the value of high speed computing and communication and for his long-term and consistent articulation of the potential value of the Internet to American citizens and industry and, indeed, to the rest of the world.

    Version 1.2

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 4th, 2014 @ 9:53am

    Re:

    I'm sure they'll ignore it until it goes away and then try to quietly disappear any and all traces of the story from history by issuing a bunch of bogus DMCA takedowns and Right-To-Be-Forgottens.

     

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    Dave Cortright (profile), Sep 4th, 2014 @ 9:53am

    No response from Deborah J. Nightingale either

    For what it's worth, I reached out to Deborah J. Nightingale last night sending her the TechDirt article debunking her post and asking her for a comment. No bounce and no response.

    I can't say I was around for the beginning of email, but I do consider myself a bit of a domain expert, having worked on several email systems throughout my career including Lotus cc:Mail, Lotus Notes, Claris Emailer, Microsoft Outlook Express, Entourage, and Yahoo Mail.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 4th, 2014 @ 9:53am

    Große Lüge

    The louder you shout it and the oftener you repeat it, the better the chance the ignorant will believe "The Big Lie." Basic doctrine, straight from Mein Kampf.

     

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    Trevor, Sep 4th, 2014 @ 9:57am

    Software Developers: "Look at this program that is the result of years or development, which is essentially an electronic version of interoffice mail! It has been made possible by the combined efforts of hundreds of developers over many years.

    *Software Developer hands program to Ayyadurai*

    *Ayyadurai looks at program in his hand*

    Ayyadurai: "I made this."

    Huffington Post *ORGASM*

     

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  17.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Sep 4th, 2014 @ 10:02am

    Re: Re:

    They will? Where's their retraction of this, then?

     

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  18.  
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    MizuRyuu (profile), Sep 4th, 2014 @ 10:03am

    I'm in a TechDirt article!!

    I'm featured as part of a TechDirt article!! Really surprised that Shiva decided to respond to my tweet considering he probably get similar tweets all the time...

     

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  19.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 4th, 2014 @ 10:04am

    Re: Re:

    Yeah, ignore it until it goes away is probably the response they'll default to.

    I doubt they're stupid enough to try and remove the traces of it though.

     

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  20.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Sep 4th, 2014 @ 10:04am

    Re:

    "Just like Al Gore invented the Internet too."

    There are two major problems with this comparison:

    1) Gore never claimed to have invented the internet
    2) When people started saying that he did claim that, he didn't devolve into batshit insanity in his attempt to continue to make a claim he never made in the first place.

     

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  21.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 4th, 2014 @ 10:06am

    Re: Mythology isn't just for HuffPo

    "The fact of the matter is that Gore was talking about and promoting the Internet long before most people were listening. We feel it is timely to offer our perspective."

    and Obama was talking about and promoting government transparency before he got elected. Just because some politician was talking about and 'promoting' what their constituents want to hear so that they can get elected doesn't give them credit for anything.

     

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  22.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 4th, 2014 @ 10:07am

    Re: Re:

    Fair enough.

     

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  23.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 4th, 2014 @ 10:09am

    Re: Re:

    well I invented cheese.

     

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  24.  
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    Michael, Sep 4th, 2014 @ 10:13am

    Re: Re: Re:

    I meant the tabloids will.

    HuffPro is delusional.

     

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  25.  
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    Matthew A. Sawtell, Sep 4th, 2014 @ 10:14am

    Something to be said for an Editoral Staff that actually edits before publishing

    There is something to be said about a good editorial staff at a publication (whether traditional, "on-line", or both). They will keep in mind that a publication's livelihood will depend, on the long term, whether the reading public perceives them for having a 'good reputation', regardless if the publication is disseminated for free or for a fee. Sure, there will always be the prickly issue of human politics; no publication is immune to it. However, if a publication cultivates a reputation for integrity, no matter what the topic – there will be an audience that will read, trust, and respect to a certain degree what is published.

     

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    Michael, Sep 4th, 2014 @ 10:14am

    Re: Re:

    Holy crap.

    Al Gore presented as a legitimate example of a BETTER way to handle something.

     

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  27.  
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    OldMugwump (profile), Sep 4th, 2014 @ 10:16am

    Maybe he did invent email

    As mentioned re an earlier post, I personally recall using email prior to 1977.

    But that doesn't mean Ayyadurai didn't invent email long after that.

    It is quite possible, if he was 14 years old, that he hadn't heard about the many pre-existing email systems, and independently re-invented it. After all, email is a pretty obvious thing to do once you have a computer network.

    I, too, invented many common & important technologies ( http://mugwumpery.com/?p=443 ).

    It's just that I wasn't the first to do it.

     

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  28.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 4th, 2014 @ 10:19am

    having no doubt that he did not invent e-mail, why does those who did not respond, take him to task for spreading lies and if necessary, go even further? perhaps both him and the Huff will stop then!

     

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    Whatever (profile), Sep 4th, 2014 @ 10:29am

    The problem of this story really is pinning down (a) what really constitutes "e-mail", and (b) the potential that a whole bunch of people came to fairly similar concepts around or about the same time, back before there was the right this second internet as we know it now.

    It's a truly funny story, and more over what Huffington Post seems to be doing is ignoring reality - which in turn makes you wonder how many other stories they do it on. It makes upworthy seem reliable.

     

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  30.  
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    Rich Kulawiec, Sep 4th, 2014 @ 10:31am

    Re: Re: Mythology isn't just for HuffPo

    Do you have the slightest idea who Kahn and Cerf are? Do you grasp that they, of all the people on this planet, are among the handful that are in a position to address this point based on their first-hand experience?

    Gore does, in fact, deserve the credit that they give him, and he particularly deserves it because he consistently supported the idea even when it was somewhere between "unpopular", "unproven" and "science fiction".

    As to the bogus mythology, I posted this link yesterday, but apparently I need to post it again:

    http://metaphorical.wordpress.com/2007/02/20/how-a-journalist-invented-that-al-gore-invented-t he-internet/

    Read. Learn.

     

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  31.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 4th, 2014 @ 10:33am

    Re: Maybe he did invent email

    "It's just that I wasn't the first to do it."

    Webster: in·vent
    verb \in-ˈvent\
    : to create or produce (something useful) for the first time.

    So, no, he/you did not invent something if he/you weren't first. Redefining words to mean what you want them to mean doesn't count.

     

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    David, Sep 4th, 2014 @ 10:38am

    You got that wrong.

    What Ayyadurai got a copyright on is a specific computer program called "email." That does not mean he invented email. Just as Microsoft holds a copyright on "Windows" but did not invent windowed user interfaces, Ayyadurai did not invent email.

    You mean "Just as Microsoft [...] did not invent holes in a wall preferably protected with glass panes, [...]".

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 4th, 2014 @ 10:40am

    V.A. Shiva Ayyadurai, false server god

    Last time my email server crashed the angered server gods they told me to stop worshipping the false god V.A. Shiva Ayyadurai.

    After performing an exorcism on the server I now only use twitter and Facebook for electronic messaging. (aka email)

    Best thing I've ever done, now I never get SPAM from V.A. Shiva Ayyadurai flawed email invention.

     

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  34.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 4th, 2014 @ 10:43am

    Train google autocomplete to set the record straight!

     

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    Jeremy2020 (profile), Sep 4th, 2014 @ 10:43am

    Re:

    it's been in those ranks. It's actually probably worse.

     

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    pegr, Sep 4th, 2014 @ 10:44am

    Somebody needs to say the word

    He is a FRAUD.

    There, I said it. Now if he uses his claim to promote anything with a financial payback, he is committing fraud and should be held to account. Do that and watch his defenders scatter like cockroaches.

    Oh, and I invented ice cream back in 2002.

     

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  37.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 4th, 2014 @ 10:45am

    Which is more likely:
    A group of multi-billion dollar companies are engaged in a decades long conspiracy to steal credit for something they make little if any money from because they are filthy racists.

    Or

    One guy who's entire source of income is related to perpetuating the story that he invented email is completely full of shit.

     

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  38.  
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    Jeremy2020 (profile), Sep 4th, 2014 @ 10:45am

    Re:

    LOL, you think huffpost cares about stuff being true?!

     

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  39.  
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    Rich Kulawiec, Sep 4th, 2014 @ 10:47am

    One thing that's particular galling...

    ...is the deliberate misquoting of Dave Crocker.

    Unlike this utterly worthless asshole Ayyadurai, Crocker has had a profound, sustained, and enormously positive impact on the Internet's email ecosystem for decades. His name is all over the standards, and there's a reason for that: I don't think there's anybody on the planet who understands the subject matter better than he does. He participates in IETF working groups, he writes, he debates, he explains, and is one of the best possible people to learn from.

    I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that Crocker is to email as Berners-Lee is to the web. (And I don't mean to minimize the contributions of others: there are a long list of people mentioned in Partridge's excellent piece and they are all part of the story too.)

    So it really pisses me off to see this fine, brilliant man's words twisted in such a clearly dishonest fashion.

     

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  40.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Sep 4th, 2014 @ 10:50am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Ah, yes, true. Most tabloids are actually very, very careful to get their facts right, even if they spin them to be as sensational as possible. HuffPo apparently doesn't even rise to that level.

     

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  41.  
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    JEDIDIAH, Sep 4th, 2014 @ 10:51am

    It was simply time.

    The problem with your argument by dictionary is that it fails to capture the subtlety of the situation. Quite often inventions are not so much the product of a single lone inventor but are ultimately the end result of the entire state of the art at that time. The invention is the result of lightning reverberating through the zeitgeist.

    This is how you can have multiple people "inventing" the same thing at the same time all independent of each other.

    It is simply time.

    The jerk in question deserves credit for being able to do what everyone else did. The fact that he is a big jerk and wants to claim exclusive rights to it doesn't undo the significance of his work.

     

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  42.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Sep 4th, 2014 @ 10:52am

    Re:

    Perhaps. But it looks more likely that HuffPo simply couldn't care less.

     

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  43.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 4th, 2014 @ 11:05am

    Re: It was simply time.

    Hey, I invented the wheel! I'm awesome! Everyone just loves my invention! (I just wasn't first. It is simply time. So what.)

     

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  44.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Sep 4th, 2014 @ 11:10am

    Re: It was simply time.

    You are correct that sometimes an invention becomes inevitable given the state of the art and gets independently invented by multiple people as a result.

    However, this isn't the case with Ayyadurai. Email was invented years before he wrote his program.

     

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  45.  
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    Michael, Sep 4th, 2014 @ 11:12am

    Re:

    If they actually spent time thinking through what they do, they wouldn't be in this position.

     

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  46.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 4th, 2014 @ 11:15am

    Re: Große Lüge

    And even earlier than that it was recognized that "Ceterum autem censeo Carthaginem esse delendam" was effective and Cato the Elder was a manipulator. Hitler didn't provide much progress in thinking and invoking Godwin's Law seems unnecessary.

    The problems of the huffer should be apparent regardless. Sloppy research on source and claims is to blame.

     

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  47.  
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    connermac725 (profile), Sep 4th, 2014 @ 11:17am

    HUFFINGTON POST

    It is really hard to take that site seriously anyhow I mean come on they have a page dedicated to side boob pics
    its a fantasy Rag

     

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  48.  
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    sorrykb (profile), Sep 4th, 2014 @ 11:20am

    End game?

    This is all so strange. Prior to this latest PR push by Shiva Ayyadurai and friends, had there been some resurgence of truth-telling by people pointing out that he did not invent the first email? Is all this a reaction to that, or is it leading up to the launch of some new company/book/seminar series?

    This kind of PR is expensive, and while his apparent current connection with woomaster Deepak Chopra is no doubt profitable, it just doesn't make sense to me to devote so much time, effort, and money selling a lie. Then again, people are buying it. And sense doesn't always prevail. Maybe it's just a cult.

    And now I wonder if any of his other claims of invention and innovation are also false...

    Full disclosure: I once interviewed for a job at a federal agency whose offices were located on a Raytheon campus. They paid for my parking. /cabal_shill

     

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  49.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 4th, 2014 @ 11:29am

    I suspect this guy's planning to engage a lawyer to attempt some patent troll-type extortion using the HuffPost articles as "proof" his e-mail claim is legit.
    If only a couple of major companies buckle rather than fight (and many do), he'll reap millions.

     

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  50.  
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    AnonyBabs, Sep 4th, 2014 @ 11:30am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Thank you! Mmmmm, cheese...

     

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  51.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 4th, 2014 @ 11:54am

    Re:

    No, because any patents from that long ago are long expired, and because he only applied for copyright (and not a patent) on it.

     

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  52.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Sep 4th, 2014 @ 11:55am

    Re: End game?

    " is it leading up to the launch of some new company/book/seminar series?"

    It's because he's drumming up business for his recently released book "The Email Revolution".

     

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  53.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Sep 4th, 2014 @ 11:57am

    Re: Re:

    Software patents were not allowed when he wrote his program (thank god). That's why he makes the bizarre claim that copyright and patent were basically the same thing when he wrote it -- because patenting wasn't an option.

     

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  54.  
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    Crazy Canuck, Sep 4th, 2014 @ 12:00pm

    Re: Re: Maybe he did invent email

    Though it seams like "inventing" is the act of beating your rivals to the patent office.

    Look at Elisha Gray and Alexander Bell.

     

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  55.  
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    James Jensen (profile), Sep 4th, 2014 @ 12:02pm

    Re: Re: It was simply time.

    If you lived in an isolated community that had never heard of or had forgotten about the wheel, I'd say you could claim to have invented it.

     

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  56.  
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    Crazy Canuck, Sep 4th, 2014 @ 12:08pm

    First comment

    This is actually the first comment here as the first comment is defined as having a subject "First comment", starting with "This" and being exactly twenty nine words long.

     

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  57.  
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    Eliza, Sep 4th, 2014 @ 12:20pm

    Similar Experience with Huff Post

    I wrote up an article summary for Slashdot recently about Northern Illinois University's Acceptable Use Policy restricting student access to political content on their network & one of the comments noted that the Huffington Post had published an article stating otherwise. I read the article, and was taken aback by the lack of investigation into the facts (aka. the actual acceptable use policy on the university website). It was basically just an article repeating the University's PR spin.

    I e-mailed them & still haven't received any kind of a response. These kinds of situations concern me because, even with presented with clear, contradictory evidence, all of the effort goes to defending their now bogus claims instead of doing real journalism & investigation.

     

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  58.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 4th, 2014 @ 12:22pm

    Re:

    Wow. Whatever appears to agree with Mike on something in a non-trollish comment. Where's the Unexpected voting button when you need it?

     

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  59.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Sep 4th, 2014 @ 12:25pm

    Re: Re: Re: It was simply time.

    True, but he couldn't claim to have been the first, only, or even most important inventor, like Ayyadurai does.

     

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  60.  
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    Anonymous Anonymous Coward, Sep 4th, 2014 @ 12:35pm

    Re: Re:

    It is possible that they have.

    If one's goal is journalism, then they are wrong.

    If one's goal is page-views, and creating a controversy (right or wrong) gets page-views, then they are right.

     

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  61.  
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    GCowie (profile), Sep 4th, 2014 @ 12:45pm

    Thanks for the great fact-checking.

    HuffPo is poor at fact-checking; it's becoming a laughing stock when compared to reputable journalistic organizations.
    The story of BBN and its role in the foundations of the Internet--so well told in "When Wizards Stay Up Late," as you noted in your article here--is fascinating in and of itself.
    I applaud your work in setting the record straight. Please continue.

     

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  62.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 4th, 2014 @ 12:53pm

    Re:

    He'll claim to have invented electrons to subvert any more historical research.

     

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  63.  
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    GCowie (profile), Sep 4th, 2014 @ 12:58pm

    Re: Mythology isn't just for HuffPo

    Thanks for re-posting the Vint Cerf letter. There is a YouTube video of Cerf smacking down a presenter who misrepresented the importance of Al Gore's contribution. The laughing crowd soon becomes somber.
    It has become an Internet meme to continue the mockery of Gore, mainly by a minority of smart-aleck newtechs who are not aware of any history earlier than their graduation from grammar school.

     

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  64.  
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    GCowie (profile), Sep 4th, 2014 @ 1:03pm

    Re: Re: Mythology isn't just for HuffPo

    Vint Cerf clearly disagrees with your position on credit to Al Gore, as he states in his letter above, "The Vice President deserves credit…". No mythology here, except for the false claims about the contribution of Gore.

     

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  65.  
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    Jon, Sep 4th, 2014 @ 1:11pm

    American Express/IBM

    Reviewing the legal documents linked in this article, it's clear that at that time (2005) American Express was a client, but IBM was not.

    The issue at hand was that American Express used an outsourcing firm to review if a product was a good fit (read: common sense) every so often. Echomail noted in a phone call that they would be using some integration with IBM Lotus Notes Domino. From what I can gather (speculation), Echomail then lost the bid to continue working with American Express as a vendor.

    Echomail then assumed that American Express went to IBM to get the features they desired, and sued both companies.

    I've not had a chance to read through all the filings, but this is my best guess. I'd recommend that someone more law competent review the filings to make sure my assumptions are accurate.

     

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  66.  
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    Sheogorath (profile), Sep 4th, 2014 @ 1:12pm

    For those who are confused

    According to Wikipedia, the first email spam was sent by Digital Equipment Corporation in 1978. How'd that happen if this guy was in the process of getting a monopoly on 'his' invention, huh?

     

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  67.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 4th, 2014 @ 1:13pm

    Re: Re: Re: It was simply time.

    "If you lived in an isolated community that had never heard of or had forgotten about the wheel, I'd say you could claim to have invented it."

    It seems to me that he is already claiming to have invented it. And as long as he claims to have forgotten about prior knowledge of it, you'd agree with him. Wow.

     

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  68.  
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    Sheogorath (profile), Sep 4th, 2014 @ 1:19pm

    Re: Re: Re: Maybe he did invent email

    Except that Ayyadurai didn't go to the USPTO, he's just pretending that the USCO is the same thing.

     

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  69.  
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    Sheogorath (profile), Sep 4th, 2014 @ 1:44pm

    Re: Re:

    Either that, or he's just making a concerted effort to prove he's not out_of_the_blue under a sock puppet.

     

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  70.  
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    Rich Kulawiec, Sep 4th, 2014 @ 1:54pm

    Re: American Express/IBM

    Speaking of EchoMail, their Wikipedia entry reads like a press release. And once again, it makes grandiose claims and pretends to introduce novel technology that clearly existed previously.

    For example, the Elm email client was released in 1986, and one of the cool things about it was the "filter" program, which allowed one to write rulesets that did pattern-matching against incoming mail and then execute various actions. Elm was quite popular in the late 80's (as its interactive interface was easier to use than that of traditional unix mail or the BSD version of Mail) and it spawned various offshots, notably pine and mutt, both of which still see a lot of use today.

    Anyway, my point is that a lot of novel features mentioned in the EchoMail Wikipedia entry aren't. Which begs the question: who wrote and edited that entry?

     

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  71.  
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    TheMattRay (profile), Sep 4th, 2014 @ 2:07pm

    Re: Re:

    Yes, but I invented inventions, so...

     

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  72.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 4th, 2014 @ 2:25pm

    Re: For those who are confused

    "How'd that happen if this guy was in the process of getting a monopoly on 'his' invention, huh?"

    He wrote his next book (The Forgotten Kid Genius who invented Time-Travel) in 1962, it's been available in the Alternative Universe that he created before breakfast one sunny day in 1686 (predating Newton's Principia by a whole year - this kid is THAT GOOD!!).

     

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  73.  
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    James Jensen (profile), Sep 4th, 2014 @ 2:27pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: It was simply time.

    Except that his version has nearly nothing to do with email as it exists today. He may possibly have invented his own email system; he did not invent the email system anybody actually uses.

     

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  74.  
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    James Jensen (profile), Sep 4th, 2014 @ 2:27pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: It was simply time.

    Agreed. I wasn't defending him, just making a small semantic point.

     

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  75.  
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    James Jensen (profile), Sep 4th, 2014 @ 2:28pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    Sometimes I miss OOTB. He made me feel so much better about myself for not being him.

     

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  76.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 4th, 2014 @ 2:30pm

    Re: Re:

    a 14 year old knew and understood about interoffice communications, to include CC and BCC?

    and perfected it perfectly. first time?

    I know of companies that still use interoffice communications, and still implement it wrong. And a 14 year old kid did it right?

     

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  77.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 4th, 2014 @ 2:35pm

    Re: Große Lüge

    HuffPo called me to do an exclusive on a future invention of mine? Which should I disclose?

    I think i will talk about my favorite project - the fMail. more advanced than email, but not as spying as gmail.

    fmail will revolutionize the world by removing advertising from gmail, while giving you 88 features!

     

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  78.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Sep 4th, 2014 @ 2:36pm

    Re: Thanks for the great fact-checking.

    "it's becoming a laughing stock when compared to reputable journalistic organizations"

    I've never been a HuffPo reader, so I don't really know their track record and had no opinion of them. Pretty much my entire experience with them is reading these email articles. Based on those, there's no need to compare them with reputable journalistic organizations. They're a laughingstock all on their own.

     

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  79.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 4th, 2014 @ 2:58pm

    "Late yesterday, a PR person from Huffington Post finally got back to me, claiming they did not get my original email."

    You know who to blame for that don't you?

     

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  80.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 4th, 2014 @ 3:11pm

    Just another MSM that sold out it's integrity for cash long ago. More propaganda for the ignorant masses.

     

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  81.  
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    orbitalinsertion (profile), Sep 4th, 2014 @ 4:07pm

    Re: Re: Mythology isn't just for HuffPo

    Except that Al Gore did everything Vint Cerf says he did.

    So your point is what, exactly?

     

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  82.  
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    orbitalinsertion (profile), Sep 4th, 2014 @ 4:14pm

    Re: Re: End game?

    Soon to be a major motion picture directed by Michael Bay.

     

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  83.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 4th, 2014 @ 4:25pm

    Re: Re: Thanks for the great fact-checking.

    They started as a political newssite inhabited by volunteers but has branched out as their success had hailed them to be the future of journalism. They have made some decent articles on other issues in the past, but they are truely falling from grace. It is unfortunate when the journalistic basics are as often ignored or forgotten as they are in cases like this.

     

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  84.  
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    Rudyard Holmbast, Sep 4th, 2014 @ 6:25pm

    Re: Re: Re: Mythology isn't just for HuffPo

    Yeah, we get it, Al Gore's a real hero. He may in fact be the greatest hero in the history of Western civilization.

     

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  85.  
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    Rudyard Holmbast, Sep 4th, 2014 @ 6:30pm

    No freakin way. The Huffington Post is full of shit? Say it isn't so. I never would have predicted this in a million years.

     

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  86.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 4th, 2014 @ 6:42pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    Or he didn't get paid to disagree with this one.

    I can't say I blame him.

    You'd have to be pretty damn rich and stupid to get people to look the other way on a case like this.

     

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  87.  
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    Whatever (profile), Sep 4th, 2014 @ 6:51pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Well thanks, I think. I damn well wish I got paid to post here, but sadly I don't. It's my hobby.

    Now, that said, I also get to point out that there is a contradictory message in all of this, which is that Techdirt is often a proponent of "citizen jouralists and bloggers"m saying that the old media is pretty much lost compared to the new ways of getting news. Yet here we have a perfect example of what happens when there are apparently no real barriers to material getting posted on a site.

    It seems more like a situation where the public's trust has been misplaced, but it's hard to get them to see it. You have to wonder how many people have read this story and said "wow, he really did invent mail!". You have to wonder how many other stories on the HuffPo site are similarly less than complete. You have to wonder what the world looks like in the future if this is our source of news and information.

    That is the bigger story, the one being ignored.

     

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  88.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 4th, 2014 @ 7:09pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    There are many instances of every form of news media throughout history sometimes getting things wrong. There has always been a scale of trustworthiness on which different news organizations fall at different points. The only difference today is that people are far more likely to get information from multiple sources, because it's far easier to do so.

    How many people do you think will read at least two different blog posts from two opposing sources on this story, compared to the number of people who would have picked up two different daily newspapers?

     

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  89.  
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    Whatever (profile), Sep 4th, 2014 @ 7:46pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    The sad reality is that people who choose two sources often choose two similar sources, and thus are likely to get the same (slanted) story.

    Here's a good example of how HuffPo is blowing it:

    http://www.politico.com/blogs/media/2014/09/huffington-post-hires-truther-to-cover-national-secur ity-194868.html

    In other words, they are quickly sinking to the level of and perhaps well below the low water mark standards set by Faux News. It's as if they are all trying to compete with The Onion and Upworthy.

     

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  90.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 4th, 2014 @ 8:19pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    That does not change the fact that people are still far more likely to get their news from multiple sources, and potentially multiple opposing sources, than ever before. None of the problems you are bringing up are new to the internet -- in fact, they are ameliorated by it, though obviously not fully. Even you chose a traditional broadcast news organization as your "low water mark".

     

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  91.  
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    James Jensen (profile), Sep 4th, 2014 @ 8:31pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Mythology isn't just for HuffPo

    Yes, it's so tiresome to hear achievements properly attributed to people you don't like.

     

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  92.  
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    zip, Sep 4th, 2014 @ 10:30pm

    number of paid shills and PR men at H.P. ?

    I wonder how many shills have been exposed at huffingtonpost?

    One such example was Joseph K. Grieboski, a blogger who abruptly stopped blogging in 2011 when he was exposed as a paid shill masquerading as a "religious tolerance" advocate.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/joseph-k-grieboski/

     

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    Whatever (profile), Sep 4th, 2014 @ 11:50pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    I actually don't think of Fox News as a "traditional" news organization, it isn't that old. Traditional would be LA Times, or New York Times, Wall Street Journal... you know, traditional journalistic endeavors.

    The problem online is that while we have plenty of choices, many of those choices are presented to us from sites we already like. People who visit Torrent Freak (example) are very likely to visit Techdirt. People who visit the Drudge Report are more likely to watch or visit Fox News. What get isn't two sides of a story, but rather the group reinforcement of the story you already like. When these sources do reveal the other side to you, it's almost always done in a way that discredits that source and tries to make them look bad.

    The internet as a result becomes that big echo chamber, which is why it's so hard to kill off bad information.

     

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  94.  
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    Eldakka (profile), Sep 5th, 2014 @ 1:03am

    Re: HUFFINGTON POST

    They do? I gotta add it to my daily must visit sites.

     

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  95.  
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    MrTroy (profile), Sep 5th, 2014 @ 1:20am

    Re: Re: Re:

    That's why he makes the bizarre claim that copyright and patent were basically the same thing when he wrote it -- because patenting wasn't an option.

    I'm sure that'll work just as well as that time when I was a kid and mobile phones weren't an option, so I used a banana instead.

    Actually, probably not. I at least got to eat the banana.

     

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  96.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 5th, 2014 @ 5:25am

    Re:

    Ah, yes, the continued misrepresentation of what Al Gore actually said and meant. Context is important, but pundits will strip the context, and people will forever buy the lie.

     

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    OldMugwump (profile), Sep 5th, 2014 @ 8:55am

    Re: an invention becomes inevitable given the state of the art

    That's my point - most "inventions" are the result of reasonably bright and creative (but by no means exceptional) people doing the obvious thing under the circumstances.

    This is why we constantly see multiple independent re-inventions of the same thing - news of the earlier "invention" takes time to trickle out to the wider community (esp. young people who aren't well connected).

    So, those who haven't heard about it re-invent it themselves.

    Such multiple independent "inventions" ought to be the definition of "obvious to a person having ordinary skill in the art", thus making any patent on such inventions invalid.

     

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  98.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Sep 5th, 2014 @ 9:31am

    Re: Re: an invention becomes inevitable given the state of the art

    "Such multiple independent "inventions" ought to be the definition of "obvious to a person having ordinary skill in the art", thus making any patent on such inventions invalid."

    I couldn't agree more. It just seems obvious to me. Fortunately, software patents weren't allowed when EMAIL was written. If they had been, there'd be no internet today, let alone email as we know it.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  99.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 5th, 2014 @ 9:33am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Sounds nice and all -- but I don't see it, and there's no evidence for it. You're just desperate to tear it down.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  100.  
    identicon
    Shiva Ayyadurai, Sep 5th, 2014 @ 12:16pm

    Nuh Uh

    I invented it. I really did.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  101.  
    identicon
    Zonker, Sep 5th, 2014 @ 2:38pm

    It is because of this series of articles by the Huffington Post that all articles by them are now specifically excluded from my news feed.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  102.  
    icon
    Sheogorath (profile), Sep 6th, 2014 @ 5:30am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    I agree with you on Upworthy, but not on The Onion, which, being a satirical journalism site, is honest about the deliberate inaccuracy of its articles.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  103.  
    identicon
    V.A. Shiva Ayyadurai, Sep 6th, 2014 @ 5:41am

    Re: Nuh Uh

    No you didn't, I did. I also invented tampons, the pill, and the bra. Women fucking love me!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  104.  
    icon
    Sheogorath (profile), Sep 6th, 2014 @ 5:57am

    Fact #1: Email was created on the ARPANET.
    Fact #2: Ray Tomlinson invented email and sent the first email.
    Fact #3: The '@' symbol equals the invention of email.
    Fact #4: RFCs demonstrate email existed prior to 1978.
    Fact #5: CTSS, developed in 1960s, is email.
    After all, just because email wasn't called 'email' doesn't mean it didn't exist. To say otherwise is to claim that an American invented closets just because they were called different names in other countries.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  105.  
    icon
    Sheogorath (profile), Sep 6th, 2014 @ 5:58am

    Fact #1: Email was created on the ARPANET.
    Fact #2: Ray Tomlinson invented email and sent the first email.
    Fact #3: The '@' symbol equals an important step in the invention of email.
    Fact #4: RFCs demonstrate email existed prior to 1978.
    Fact #5: CTSS, developed in the 1960s, is email.
    After all, just because email wasn't called 'email', doesn't mean it didn't exist. To say otherwise is to claim that an American invented closets just because they were called different names in other countries.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  106.  
    identicon
    June Moore, Sep 6th, 2014 @ 9:54pm

    Huffington Post Retraction!

    Huffington Post has completely pulled the series and issued this statement:

    Editor's Note

    The post that previously appeared in this space -- part of a blogger-generated series on the history of email -- is no longer available. Readers and media commentators alerted us to factual and sourcing issues in the series and, after an internal review, we removed it from the site.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  107.  
    icon
    GCowie (profile), Sep 8th, 2014 @ 10:17pm

    Re: Huffington Post Retraction!

    But it lives forever in The Wayback Machine. So there, HuffPo.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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