Without email, affiliate marketing would not have grown into the billion-dollar industry it is today. However, most people don’t know when or how email came to fruition or the timeline of its gradual evolution into an advertising channel. Below is a brief summary of the history of email and the consequential birth of affiliate marketing.
1971 – Ray Tomlinson created an operating system with the first email application that was designed to copy files over a network. He chose the commercial at symbol to combine the user and host names, which made user@host the standard for email address formats. Tomlinson cannot remember what the first email message said, but began sending regular messages to his team as a means of office communication.
1978 – First electronically sent email advertisement goes out across a network of government and university computers. The advertisement promoted the newly available email relay capability that allowed users to access their email networks through dial-up phones.
1982 – The word e-mail was created to describe the message format originally created by Tomlinson in 1971.
1988 – The Corporation for the National Research Initiative (CNRI) was the first to sanction e-mail for commercial use as an experiment. Shortly after, Ohio University and other large institutions began introducing email as a means of commercial communication across their networks.
1989 – William Tobin created the first affiliate program, PC Flowers and Gifts. Tobin’s affiliates sent email notifications to consumers in the hopes that they would buy products from PC Flowers and Gifts after seeing the advertisements.
1993 – America Online and Delphi connected their email systems to the Internet, sparking the global transition towards email as a primary method of communication.
1996 – Amazon launches the second affiliate program called Amazon Associates Program. This program became the model after which many retailers created their own affiliate systems. Affiliate marketing gained global attention as the next best thing for companies doing business around the world.
1998 – The first two affiliate networks, Commission Junction and Clickbank, launched, offering the convenience of tracking and payment solutions between merchants and their affiliates. Also, the word spam, defined as “irrelevant or inappropriate messages sent on the Internet to a large number of recipients” is added to the Oxford English dictionary.
1999 – Someone sent a fraudulent email to millions of Americans posing as Bill Gates, bringing awareness to the vulnerability of personal information, misrepresentation, and identity theft via Internet communication.
2003 – George Bush signed the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography And Marketing Act of 2003. Otherwise known as the CAN SPAM Act of 2003, this bill set the national standards for sending unsolicited email campaigns, especially as a means of online marketing. While some understand CAN SPAM to mean spamming is allowed, the term was coined to imply that spam would be stopped, or “canned” with the bill in place.
2004 – To reinforce the CAN SPAM Act of 2003, the FTC codified email regulations to protect consumers from receiving deceptive and harassing messages. Technological advances allowed for the first multimedia emails to deploy, revolutionizing online advertising practices.
2012 – An estimated 64% of Americans, nearly 90 million people, accessed email via smartphones and other mobile devices instead of the Apple computers and PCs from which email originated.
2015 – 45% of global companies have teams of 2-3 people dedicated to email marketing and other forms of online advertising. Furthermore, 70% of US Internet users prefer email as the method of communication for business-related matters.
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