The everyday blog of Richard Bartle.
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3:54pm on Monday, 26th April, 2010:
I was asked this morning why I start off all my emails the way I do.
For those of you lucky enough never to have received an email from me, the way I start them is with your first name in upper case, then a tab, then a dash, then a blank line, then the text. If I were sending an email to myself, it would therefore look something like this:
This is a test email.
This is an unusual way to start an email, and can look a bit rude (not that this stops me from writing to important people using the same format), but there is an explanation for it.
Back when I was a student, there was no standard email program that came with the DEC-10. The email program we used was written by one of the people in Computing Service (Noel Wilson, I believe), and it worked by keeping a message file on every account to which mail was sent (the program had what we'd now call admin privileges, so it could do this). Accounts were identified using a PPN, or Project Programmer Number. The one for the Computer Society, CompSoc, was [2011,2011], for example.
Now the thing was, some accounts were used by more than one person. [2011,2011] was used by the CompSoc committee, for example, and [2011,2653] was the MUD players' account. This meant that if you sent a message (they weren't called emails back then) to an account, none of the potential recipients knew to whom it was intended unless it started by telling them. The convention therefore arose to begin each message with the name of the intended recipient, so that other people could ignore it unless they were being nosey. Also, because messages were being sent from a multi-person account, it wasn't always immediately obvious who had sent a message if you couldn't see it on the screen — you'd have to page through to the next screen (which at 1200 baud and bad lag isn't something you'd want to do). People therefore adopted personalised ways of identifying who was the sender. I did it by putting the name in upper case, then a tab, then a dash, then a blank line.
That's still how I send emails, unless I don't actually know your name or it's to a long list of people. If you see an email that starts off like that, either it's from me or it's from someone pretending to be me. Likewise, if you see an email from me that doesn't start like that, either it's not from me or I don't know your first name or I do but think it'll go badly if I do it.
See? It's not illogical that I do it; just, perhaps, that I still do it...
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Copyright © 2010 Richard Bartle (firstname.lastname@example.org).