What is Email?
Email, short for ‘electronic mail’ and sometimes written as ‘e-mail’, is a method of sending a receiving messages through the use of computer networks, such as the internet, and electronic devices, including computers, mobile phones and tablets. These messages may consist of text and images, and may also contain other attached files.
The history of email can be traced back to the 1960s, when computer-based mail messaging was first utilised, but it is widely accepted that the first email, as we know it today, was sent in 1971 using the ARPANET, which was a forerunner of the internet. In 1996, the volume of sent emails overtook postal mail for the first time.
When answering the question “what is email?” it is also important to understand email addresses and how they work. Each email user has their own unique email address, which other email users can utilise to send them mail. Email addresses all follow the same basic format, which is as follows:
[username]@[domain name] – e.g. firstname.lastname@example.org
Typically, the user will be able to choose their own username, although it may be allocated to them. The domain name refers to the domain which hosts the email service that particular user is using.
What Are the Most Popular Free Email Services?
Today, there are a large number of free email services available for users and the vast majority offer a webmail service, meaning that emails can be accessed through an internet browser. Some of the most popular services are:
- Gmail – The most popular webmail service, operated by Google.
- Outlook.com – Operated by Microsoft and formerly known as Hotmail.
- Yahoo! Mail – An email service offered by the popular web company Yahoo!
- Zoho Mail – Geared towards businesses and professional users.
- iCloud Mail – A free email service for Apple users.
Pros and Cons of Using Email
One of the most significant advantages of email over more conventional postal mail is the ability to send and receive messages almost instantaneously. Messages can be sent to almost anywhere in the world and can be accessed from any compatible electronic device that is connected to the internet.
Aside from the cost of an internet connection, email is also completely free. Unlike with postal mail, there is no need to purchase an envelope, a stamp, or paper, as the mail is sent electronically. This also offers environmental benefits, by reducing the amount of paper and packaging that is used to send information to people.
Attachments allow users to send files to one another and multiple files can be attached to the same email, making data transfers simple. Moreover, an email can be sent to multiple email addresses, facilitating mass communication.
Emails are stored electronically, which is both a pro and a con. Electronic storage potentially means that mail can be stored for long periods of time, perhaps even indefinitely, without taking up physical space. However, the email provider could potentially terminate their service, making it impossible to access stored mail.
Another potential drawback is that mail can only be sent to people with an active email address and can only be accessed where there is an internet connection. Moreover, spam email has become a problem, attachments sent via email may contain viruses and some people change email addresses regularly as they switch jobs or ISPs.