If you have an email address, it’s guaranteed that you’ve had spam fill up your inbox. Spam has been around since the earliest stages of computer networking and the internet. On average, spam makes up close to half of all email traffic on the internet every day! Spam got its name from an unfortunate administrator error on the early internet. In April of 1993, Richard Depew accidentally posted 200 messages to news.admin.policy on the Usenet newsgroup network. In the aftermath of the accident, one user compared the incident to the famous Monty Python comedy sketch in which two customers are lowered by wires into a café and try to order breakfast from a menu that includes Spam in almost every dish. It ends with a group of Vikings singing about Spam.
The first week of May is the anniversary of what is considered the first instance of spam email. Before the Internet there was an early networking project called the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network or ARPANET. This was a project funded by United States Department of Defense in collaboration with major universities and research centers. ARPANET allowed different nodes on the network to send messages to one another. Not yet called email, it was a very early electronic mail system. On May 1, 1978, Gary Thuerk, Marketer at Digital Equipment Corporation, sent out an advertisement for a demonstration of their new DECSYSTEM-2020 series to 400 ARPANET users. The following is the original message:
Mail-from: DEC-MARLBORO rcvd at 3-May-78 0955-PDT
Date: 1 May 1978 1233-EDT
From: THUERK at DEC-MARLBORO
DIGITAL WILL BE GIVING A PRODUCT PRESENTATION OF THE NEWEST MEMBERS OF THE
DECSYSTEM-20 FAMILY; THE DECSYSTEM-2020, 2020T, 2060, AND 2060T. THE
DECSYSTEM-20 FAMILY OF COMPUTERS HAS EVOLVED FROM THE TENEX OPERATING SYSTEM
AND THE DECSYSTEM-10 <PDP-10> COMPUTER ARCHITECTURE. BOTH THE DECSYSTEM-2060T
AND 2020T OFFER FULL ARPANET SUPPORT UNDER THE TOPS-20 OPERATING SYSTEM.
THE DECSYSTEM-2060 IS AN UPWARD EXTENSION OF THE CURRENT DECSYSTEM 2040
AND 2050 FAMILY. THE DECSYSTEM-2020 IS A NEW LOW END MEMBER OF THE
DECSYSTEM-20 FAMILY AND FULLY SOFTWARE COMPATIBLE WITH ALL OF THE OTHER
WE INVITE YOU TO COME SEE THE 2020 AND HEAR ABOUT THE DECSYSTEM-20 FAMILY
AT THE TWO PRODUCT PRESENTATIONS WE WILL BE GIVING IN CALIFORNIA THIS
MONTH. THE LOCATIONS WILL BE:
TUESDAY, MAY 9, 1978 - 2 PM
HYATT HOUSE (NEAR THE L.A. AIRPORT)
LOS ANGELES, CA
THURSDAY, MAY 11, 1978 - 2 PM
DUNFEY'S ROYAL COACH
SAN MATEO, CA
(4 MILES SOUTH OF S.F. AIRPORT AT BAYSHORE, RT 101 AND RT 92)
A 2020 WILL BE THERE FOR YOU TO VIEW. ALSO TERMINALS ON-LINE TO OTHER
DECSYSTEM-20 SYSTEMS THROUGH THE ARPANET. IF YOU ARE UNABLE TO ATTEND,
PLEASE FEEL FREE TO CONTACT THE NEAREST DEC OFFICE
FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT THE EXCITING DECSYSTEM-20 FAMILY.
The message was not met with great reviews. In fact, many APRANET managers and users were offended. The Chief of the Defense Communication Agency wrote back:
ON 2 MAY 78 DIGITAL EQUIPMENT CORPORATION (DEC) SENT OUT AN ARPANET MESSAGE ADVERTISING THEIR NEW COMPUTER SYSTEMS. THIS WAS A FLAGRANT VIOLATION OF THE USE OF ARPANET AS THE NETWORK IS TO BE USED FOR OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT BUSINESS ONLY. APPROPRIATE ACTION IS BEING TAKEN TO PRECLUDE ITS OCCURRENCE AGAIN.
IN ENFORCEMENT OF THIS POLICY DCA IS DEPENDENT ON THE ARPANET SPONSORS, AND HOST AND TIP LIAISONS. IT IS IMPERATIVE YOU INFORM YOUR USERS AND CONTRACTORS WHO ARE PROVIDED ARPANET ACCESS THE MEANING OF THIS POLICY.
THANK YOU FOR YOUR COOPERATION.
MAJOR RAYMOND CZAHOR
CHIEF, ARPANET MANAGEMENT BRANCH, DCA
All this rage over ONE spam message! The DECSYSTEM-2020 was the first family of DEC computers to have ARPANET software built into it, making it understandable why Thuerk thought it would be appropriate to advertise the new systems on the network. If you are interested in learning more about the DEC-2020 computer mentioned in this blog post, Living Computers: Museum + Labs has one online available for free public use. To learn more and logon, check out our online systems: https://ssh.livingcomputers.org/
Documentation is available for these systems here.
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