Updated: Sunday, 20th April 2014 @ 5:36am

Happy 20th birthday to the email attachment!

Happy 20th birthday to the email attachment!

By Tom Midlane

This weekend sees the twentieth anniversary of the email attachment, a seemingly humble application that has had a huge impact on the subsequent development of the world wide web.

The days when you felt a frission of excitement at seeing ‘You’ve Got Mail’ (no, not the awful Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan film, I refer to the email notification program) may have faded as personal interactions have largely migrated from email to social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter.

Nevertheless, email is still big business. There are believed to be around 1.88 billion email users worldwide, with over 300 billion emails sent daily, although just under 90% of these are thought to be spam.

While primitive email systems actually predated the birth of the Internet, email remained of interest only in military and academic circles until attachments made it possible to share files over the web.

The creation of MIME (Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions) technology made it straightforward for the average internet user to share text, photographs and sound files, kickstarting the age of the popular web.

The very first attachment, sent way back in 1992, featured a recording of the Dial Tones quartet - the chorus for the Telephone Cords, a musical group composed of Bellcore employees - starring one Nathaniel Borenstein, Chief Scientist at Mimecast and the so-called “father of email”.

Borenstein and his three colleagues – Michael Littman, David Braun and John Lamb – composed and sang a short jingle in praise of the new MIME technology to the tune of Let Me Call You Sweetheart.

The first email with attachments included an audio recording of the jingle, a picture of the quartet, and a lyric sheet.

Twenty years after that first attachment, email is still making the news, although not always for the right reasons. In June last year an email branding Heidi Wither rude and "graceless", written by her future mother-in-law, went viral.

Part of email's selling-point is the speed with which users can draft and send emails, but that same speed can also be our downfall. Anyone with an email account will be familiar with the clammy anxiety that spreads through your body when you  realise you've hit 'send' to the wrong person.

A case in point: last year two City workers got themselves in hot water for lewd emails discussing one of the pair's ex-girlfriend, after she was accidentally copied into the exchange.

But for all the perils and pitfalls of email, its popularity in offices and homes globally is untouched. While new social networks and filesharing sites are born on a near-daily basis, only the terminally unwise would bet again email continuing to thrive for another twenty years.