by Jonathan Ellis
September 8, 2014
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There is no dispute that Fran Drescher is now happily married.
There is, however, a great deal of dispute over her new husband's biggest claim to fame. He says he invented email. The rest of the Internet isn't so sure.
Drescher, 56, married V.A. Shiva Ayyadurai, 50, on Sunday in Malibu. And if a number of headlines are to be believed, the groom was the "creator of email."
Fran Drescher ✔ @frandrescher
Surprise!!!!! We got married!
5:57 PM - 7 Sep 2014
Ayyadurai certainly seems like a smart guy; he holds four degrees from MIT, and has apparently started two multimillion-dollar companies. He met Drescher after giving a talk about innovation at an event hosted by Deepak Chopra.
But he also claims that he invented email in 1978, when he was 14 years old.
Or at least, he created a messaging system he called "EMAIL" while working at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. It may have been a perfectly good way for people at the school to communicate electronically, but as Gizmodo noted in an extensive debunking in 2012, it was a far cry from being part of the system that became email as we know it today:
It's doubtful he realized it as a little teen, but laying claim to the name of a product that's the generic term for a universal technology gives you acres of weasel room. But creating a type of airplane named AIRPLANE doesn't make you Wilbur Wright.
The actual pioneers of email were breaking new ground more than a decade before Ayyadurai concocted his dental memo system. Electronic mail predates Ayyadurai's ability to spell, let alone code. Ray Tomlinson is best known for having sent the first text letter between two computers on ARPANET in '71—y'know, an email. He also picked out the @ sign.
Earlier in 2012, The Washington Post had run a glowing profile of Ayyadurai as the Smithsonian added the documentation for his "EMAIL" invention to its permanent collection. But as Ayyadurai's claims caught flak, the Post was forced to run this lengthy correction:
A previous version of this article incorrectly referred to V.A. Shiva Ayyadurai as the inventor of electronic messaging. This version has been corrected. The previous, online version of this story also incorrectly cited Ayyadurai’s invention as containing, “The lines of code that produced the first ‘bcc,’ ‘cc,’ ‘to’ and ‘from’ fields.” These features were outlined in earlier documentation separate from Ayyadurai’s work. The original headline also erroneously implied that Ayyadurai had been “honored by [the] Smithsonian” as the “inventor of e-mail.” Dr. Ayyadurai was not honored for inventing electronic messaging. The Smithsonian National Museum of American History incorporated the paperwork documenting the creation of his program into their collection. A previous version also incorrectly stated that had Ayyadurai “pursued a patent, it could have significantly stunted the technology’s growth even as it had the potential to make him incredibly wealthy.” At the time, patents were not awarded for the creation of software.
Ayyadurai seems to spend a lot of time trying to back up his assertions. He runs InventorOfEmail.com, which attempts to document "the facts" surrounding his invention. It includes testimonials from Noam Chomsky, among others.
But perhaps by marrying Drescher, Ayyadurai is finally getting the attention he deserves.
We wish the happy couple all the best.
True Friends Don't Stab You in the Back