|Information Systems||College of Business Administration||University of Missouri - St. Louis|
Electronic mail (or "e-mail") is a computer-based system for exchange of messages and other information, which may include textual and numeric data, computer programs, and (in some advanced systems) graphics. E-mail is one of the most common applications of time-shared computers, mainframe computer networks, and (more recently) local area networks of microcomputers; it fulfills a widespread need for rapid, easy, inexpensive communication with individuals and groups, all of whom need not be available simultaneously.
Electronic mail should be distinguished from two related forms of electronic communication, voice mail and facsimile (fax). Voice mail is a computer-based system for exchanging voice messages, which can be recorded, reviewed, forwarded, filed, and retrieved from local as well as remote telephones. Such systems are especially popular among non-typists and those who travel frequently. Fax is a system for transmitting images via telephone lines; the typical fax machines a dedicated device containing a scanner for converting printed images into digital form, a modem for sending and receiving the data, and a printer. Fax machines are extremely easy to use and have the advantage over most e-mail systems of transmitting graphics as well as text; unlike e-mail, however, the transmission is not easily manipulated on the receiving end, since most faxes produce only paper output.
Although it is useful to keep these three technologies distinct conceptually, they are, in fact, merging. For example the computer workstation introduced in 1988 by NeXT, Inc. features voice mail integrated with electronic mail, and several companies have recently announced add-on hardware and software for sending and receiving fax transmissions via personal computers.
How Does Electronic Mail Work?
"Date" is included automatically.
"To:" is your correspondent's computer user identification, which could be "Catherine," or "Smith," or "AYG93G." If you are sending mail to another computer, the address will commonly include both a user ID and a computer (or "node") ID, such as "Dunn@Tufts," or "IRMUFFO@VTVM1," or "Updegroveemail@example.com." The last address is in the so-called "domain" style, with the suffix "edu" designating education, as opposed to commercial ("com"), military ("mil"), etc. Alternatively the memorandum could be sent to a pre-defined list, such as "managers."
"From:" is the sender's user identification, inserted automatically by the system.
"Subject" is usually a few key words typed by the sender.
Once this "header" is complete, the content of the memorandum is entered either from the keyboard or by including a previously-composed file (perhaps from a personal computer).
The completed memorandum is "sent" to the recipient(s), who at some later time can issue a command (again depending on the local system) to read, reply, delete, print, forward, or file. Reply is especially convenient, since most systems can simply reverse the "To:"and "From:" in the header.
This sounds pretty simple, but what does "send" mean? If both sender and recipient are users of the same time-shared computer (or local area network file server) sending is simply storing a copy of the message on a system disk and alerting the recipient that mail has been received. In the case of a networked campus, the message may travel from the sender's IBM PC through a departmental network connected to the campus backbone network, which relays it to another departmental network where it is accessed by the recipient using an Apple Macintosh. If the correspondents are in different institutions, the message could be transmitted via the rapidly growing national and international networks.
National and International Academic Networks
The largest general purpose academic network is BITNET, founded in 1981 by City University of New York and Yale, which now links over 480 American colleges and universities with a similar number in Asia, Africa, Canada (where the network is known as NetNorth), Europe (where the counterpart network is EARN), Latin America, and the Middle East (Exhibit I). The primary uses of BITNET are electronic mail and file transfer, with transmission speeds typically limited to 9600 bits per second (bps) over leased phone lines. (At 9600 bps, one screen full of text can be transmitted in under 2 seconds.) BITNET is governed by an independent Board of Trustees and is managed under contract by EDUCOM, which works closely with NetNorth and EARN to ensure dependable operation of a network that connects 2,850 computers and provides "gateway" connections to numerous other networks (Exhibit II).
In September 1989, the governing bodies of BITNET and CSnet agreed to an administrative, under the aegis of a new Corporation for Research and Educational Networking--CREN. The basic BITNET network services described in this article are not expected to be affected by this merger.
NSFNET is a newer, higher-speed network created with support from the National Science Foundation to provide remote access to supercomputers and other resources needed for advanced academic and commercial research and development. NSFNET is a three-level network: the backbone (national trunk lines) interconnects twenty-three mid-level nets, which in turn provide connection points for over 250 campus networks (see Exhibit 3). Collectively, the NSFNET backbone, mid-level, and campus nets, plus several other interconnected networks that all use a common protocol (TCP/IP) and the domain naming convention, are often referred to as "the Internet."
The NSFNET backbone provides 150 times the capacity of the typical BITNET line (1.5 million bps), to enable researchers to send large files to and from supercomputers and to support remote log-in. That is, unlike BITNET, the Internet allows users in one institution to log-in to another institution's computer, which might contain a specialized database, statistical analysis program, or an on-line library catalog (see Exhibit 4). Of course, NSFNET also supports electronic mail and file transfer.
Although NSFNET offers much greater communications capacity than BITNET, an even more powerful network is being proposed. The National Research and Education Network (NREN) will support communications at 3 billion bps by 1996 if leaders in education, industry, and government are successful in attracting the necessary funding for research, development, and infrastructure. NREN is essential, according to proponents including Tennessee Senator Albert Gore, to support the research and development needed for long-term American technical and corporate competitiveness. Academic support for NREN is led by EDUCOM's Networking and Telecommunications Task Force (NTTF), a group of about sixty universities. While the average university administrator may not need remote access to supercomputers, we stand to gain from any developments that improve linkages among universities.
A good way to learn more about technical, economic, and political prospects for NREN is to attend the annual spring conference on networking initiatives in in Washington, D.C., co-sponsored by EDUCOM NTTF and CAUSE.
Institutional Costs for Network Membership
Institutions do not join the NSFNET directly, but instead join one of the mid-level networks (Exhibit 3), each of which has its own schedule of fees. In general costs of attaching to one of these networks are higher than BITNET, because of the greater transmission speeds and complexity of Internet.
How University Administrators Use E-mail and Networks
Planning (SCUP), National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO), National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges (NASULGC), and others.
Another use of electronic mail is making data requests or conducting surveys of colleagues. Many of us have "peer" institutions with which we compare ourselves regularly or occasionally, exchanging data and policies on many subjects. The traditional way of soliciting quick responses from our peers is to make telephone calls--with all the attendant problems of "telephone tag." Data exchanges using electronic mail have now become commonplace. A key advantage is that information has to be entered into a computer only once. (A disadvantage is that the old excuse of the survey's being "in the mail" has very little credibility!)
A third application is subscribing to interest group lists, which now number over 400 on BITNET alone. Topics range from agricultural expert systems and AIDS to yachting and yeast genetics. Some lists, like the one for data administration (DASIG) operate as open forums, wherein subscribers pose questions and problems and anyone on the list can reply, either directly to the questioner or to the entire list. Others have moderators who receive all contributions and distribute a weekly newsletter ,for example AIR-L for institutional researchers and SCUPNEWS for university planners. Some newsletters, like NetMonth, which is devoted to news and commentary about BITNET, run to thirty pages and feature cover art and regular columnists. Although a few lists are closed or open only with permission of a "list owner," most are open for subscription by anyone. Since there are no charges assessed for any of the lists, it is worthwhile to try several in order to find the optimal point between too little and too much information. Exhibit 5 offers a sample of lists likely to be of interest to university administrators, and Exhibit 6 provides details of how to join a list and access other network resources.
If your campus is not connected, you have two choices: find other colleagues on campus who would benefit from a network connection and lobby the powers that be, or obtain a computer account on the nearest campus with a network connection. In the second case, the payoffs you report--and demonstrate to interested colleagues--from your personal guest account at another institution could be instrumental in convincing the campus to join a network.
To obtain a guest account at another campus for network access, contact their computer center. Most centers have standard procedures for issuing such accounts, and will inform you of charges for connect time, disk storage, etc. Depending on the rates charged and the time of day that you log-in, you can expect to pay $25-$50 per month for a moderately active account. In some cases, accounts are available to academic colleagues without charge. Finally, unless you want to use that campus's public terminals, you will need a terminal or microcomputer with communications (often called "terminal emulation") software, a modem, and a phone.
Lobbying appropriate administrators on your campus for a network connection will be more time consuming, but could have greater long-term rewards. For one thing, you are likely to pay less (perhaps nothing or "soft money") for an e-mail account on your campus computer. For another, your colleagues will share the benefits of connecting to this worldwide network of colleagues, computers, and information resources.
Using these Networks
First, there is no universal microcomputer communications software although Kermit, Red Ryder, VersaTerm, and MacTerminal are in widespread use. Most campuses support one or several. Check with the computer center for the best fit between your microcomputer, your needs, and their systems and support expertise.
Second, there is no universal interface to BITNET or Internet. Even the most common mainframes -- Digital VAXes running VMS and IBM systems running VM/CMS -- have several available electronic mail systems, and some campuses make modifications or design their own. Our recommendation is to find--and read!--the campus documentation about e-mail and networks.
Third, campus support for e-mail and networks varies widely. Some campuses provide a comprehensive guide book on computing and networking to all entering faculty, staff, and students; others seems to operate on the perverse philosophy that "real networkers don't need documentation, since it's all available on-line through the network!" The best way on some campuses may be to hang around the computer center and buy sodas for programmers and students until you catch on.
Fourth, there is not yet a universal equivalent to the telephone white pages and directory assistance, although campuses and associations increasingly are listing e-mail addresses in printed or on-line directories, and some provide a "postmaster" account to which questions can be sent. In general, you have to call or write to colleagues to determine their network addresses. They, in turn, would benefit from your using your network address on business cards and correspondence.
Fifth, although virtually all academic networks are interconnected, some require sophisticated "gateway" computers to convert their otherwise incompatible technical protocols. Fortunately one protocol is used widely in the U.S., the "TCP/IP" protocol originally developed for ARPANET and now the basis for the Internet. Unfortunately TCP/IP is not compatible with the emerging international standard (ISO/OSI), nor with the protocol used by BITNET. Users with access to a TCP/IP network can, however, take advantage of remote log-in, an increasingly important option. Though you need not be concerned with these underlying protocols, you may have to learn extra local tricks to send mail through certain gateways.
Finally, because e-mail is a relatively new medium, network ethics and etiquette are still evolving. See Exhibit 7 for some widely accepted guidelines.
In the interim, university administrators would be wise to stay abreast of developments in this area. If your campus is already connected to one of the academic networks, we encourage you and colleagues in your professional association to learn how to use it effectively; if not, we urge you to take the lead in educating your colleagues about the advantages--for effective administration as well as scholarship--of joining the growing worldwide information community.
Countries Connected Directly to BITNET/NetNorth/EARN as of February 1990
Africa: Egypt, Ivory Coast
Asia: India, Japan, Korea, Singapore, Taiwan
Europe: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Finland, Great Britain, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, West Germany, Yugoslavia
South America: Argentina, Brazil, Chile
Middle East: Israel, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia
North America: Mexico, Canada, U.S.A.
Source: file named "Interntl Sitelist," available on-line from LISTSERV@BITNIC.BITNET. See Exhibit 6.
Networks with Gateways to BITNET/NetNorth/EARN as of February 1990
Internet NSFNET, CSNet, et al.
UUCP Unix network
HEPnet High energy physics network
MFEnet Magnet fusion energy network
IBM-VNET IBM corporate net
CDNnet Canadian research and education network
DFNnet West German research network
HEAnet Irish higher education authority network
INFnet Italian nuclear physics network
JANET United Kingdom joint academic network
Source: file named "BITNET TOPOLOGY," available on-line from LISTSERV@BITNIC. (See Exhibit 6.)
NSFNET Mid-level Networks as of February 1990
BARRNET Bay Area Regional Research Network
CERFNET California Education & Research Federation Net
CICNET Committee on Institutional Cooperation Network (upper Midwest)
CSnet Computer Science Network
JVNCNET John von Neumann Center Regional Network
LOS NETTOS Greater Los Angeles Area Network
MERIT Michigan Educational Research Network
MIDNET Midwest Network
MRNET Minnesota Regional Network
NCSANET National Center for Supercomputing Applications Network
NEARNET New England Academic and Research Network
NORTHWESTNET Northwestern States Network
NYSERNET New York State Education and Research Network
OARNET Ohio Academic Resources Network
PREPNET Pennsylvania Research & Economic Partnership Network
PSCNET Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center Network
SDSCNET San Diego Supercomputer Center Network
SESQUINET Texas Sesquicentennial Network
SURANET Southeastern Universities Research Association Network
THENET Texas Higher Education Network
USAN NCAR's University Satellite Network
VRnet Virginia Research Network
WESTNET Mountain States Network
Source: NSF Network News and file "NSFNET Networks," available on- line from
Selected Internet-accessible Library Catalogs & Databases
Institution Internet Address
Boston U LIBRARY.BU.EDU
Brown U BROWNVM.BROWN.EDU
U of California System MELVYL.UCOP.EDU
Colorado Alliance of Res Libraries PAC.CARL.ORG
Cornell U CORNELLC.CIT.CORNELL.EDU
Dartmouth College LIB.DARTMOUTH.EDU
U of Delaware DELCAT.UDEL.EDU
Emory U EMUVM1.CC.EMORY.EDU
Florida State U NERVM.NERDC.UFL.EDU
U of Illinois at Chicago UICVM.UIC.EDU
U of Kansas KUHUB.CC.UKANS.EDU
U of Maryland UMCAT.UMD.EDU
U of Michigan CTS.MERIT.EDU
U of Minnesota LUMINA.LIB.UMN.EDU
U of Notre Dame IRISHMVS.CC.ND.EDU
U of New Mexico BOOTES.UNM.EDU
U of Oregon JANUS.UOREGON.EDU
U of Pennsylvania PENNLIB.UPENN.EDU
Penn State U LIAS.PSU.EDU
Princeton U PUCABLE.PRINCETON.EDU
Rensselaer Polytechnic U INFOTRAC.RPI.EDU
SUNY Binghamton BINGVMC.CC.BINGHAMTON.EDU
U of Tennessee DCA.UTK.EDU
Texas A&M VENUS.TAMU.EDU
U of Texas at Arlington ADMIN.ARL.UTEXAS.EDU
U of Texas at Austin UTAUS.CC.UTEXAS.EDU
U of Texas at Dallas IBM.UTDALLAS.EDU
Virginia Poly Inst & State U VTNET1.CNS.VT.EDU
Source: file "Internet Library," available on-line from LISTSERV@UNMVM.BITNET,
compiled by Art St. George, University of New Mexico.
Selected BITNET Special Interest Group Mailing Lists and Electronic Newsletters
List Address () List Title
ADVISE-L@UGA User Services ()
AIR-L@VTVM1 Institutional Research & University Planning
ALLIN1-L@SBCCVM Digital's All-in-1 Managers & Users
APOGEES@FRMOP11 Strategic Information & Management
BDGTPLAN@UVMVM University Budget Planning
BIG-LAN@EBOUB011 Campus-wide Networks
BLIND-L@UAFSYSB Computer Use by and for the Blind
CACCS-L@UOGUELPH Canadian Asso of Campus Computer Stores
CASE-L@UCCVMA Computer Aided Software Engineering
CCNEWS@BITNIC Campus Computing Newsletter Editors
CUMREC-L@NDSUVM1 Administrative Computer Use
CWIS-L@WUVMD Campus-wide Information Systems
DARS-L@MIAMIU Degree Audit Reporting Systems
DASIG@SUVM Data Administration
EDI-L@UCCVMA Electronic Data Interchange
EISSIG@ASUACAD Executive Information Systems
ETHICS-L@UGA Ethics in Computing
FUNDLIST@JHUVM University Fund Raising
IBM-MAIN@AKRONVM IBM Mainframes ()
IBMPC-L@UBVM IBM PC & PS/2 computers ()
INFO-MAC@UIUCVMD Apple Macintosh computers ()
INFO-VAX@MARIST Digital VAX computers ()
JUDICI-L@BINGVMB Campus Judicial Affairs
NACUBU@BITNIC Business Officers
NEWSB-L@BUACCA College News Bureaus
NEXT-L@BROWNVM NeXT Computers ()
NIHGGC-L@UBVM NIH Grants & Contracts
PCSERV-L@RPICICGE Public Domain Software Servers
RISKS@MARIST Risks to Society in Use of Computers ()
S-COMPUT@MARIST Supercomputers ()
SCUPNEWS@UCBCMSA Society for College & University Planning
SECURITY@UGA Information & Physical Security ()
() Indicates that list has large subscriber base and has been divided into several "peers" (regional sub-lists). Your subscription command to this list may be routed to a closer LISTSERV node and you will be informed accordingly.
Source: file "Listserv Lists," available on-line from LISTSERV@BITNIC.BITNET. See Exhibit 6 for instructions on subscribing to a BITNET mailing list.
Additional Network Resources
For on-line information about NSFNET and its resources, send mail containing this text:
to INFO-SERVER@NNSC.NSF.NET and you will receive via return mail an index of available files and further instructions on using this server.
The Network Information Center computer operated by EDUCOM is a great repository of on-line information, much of which is easily accessed by sending electronic mail to LISTSERV, a program that not only maintains many of the interest group mailing lists but also functions as a general purpose file server. To obtain a directory of this information, send mail to LISTSERV@BITNIC.BITNET with a null subject and the following two lines of text:
Any of the files listed in the directory can be retrieved using the "GET" command. For three especially useful files, send mail to LISTSERV@BITNIC.BITNET containing these three lines:
get bitnet userhelp
get bitnet servers
get articles index
The first two are well-written introductions to BITNET and its information services, and the third is an index of articles on a range of topics from campus computing newsletters, which are compiled by EDUCOM staff on the CCNEWS project. For a "list of lists" send this line
in mail to LISTSERV@BITNIC:
and you will receive a twenty-page list of interest group and electronic newsletters available for subscription. To subscribe to any of these lists, send mail to the appropriate LISTSERV shown in the list of lists. (Not all of the lists are maintained at BITNIC.) Your subscription will be processed automatically for some lists or forwarded to the list "owner" (who may ask for more information about you before signing you up.) For example to subscribe to the Data Administration Special Interest Group (DASIG) maintained at Syracuse University, send mail containing this line:
sub dasig FirstName LastName - Institution
to LISTSERV@SUVM.BITNET and you will receive an automatic message confirming your subscription. You will shortly begin receiving messages from the list. To send a message that will be distributed to all DASIG subscribers, send mail to DASIG@SUVM.BITNET (not to LISTSERV@SUVM.BITNET). If you find this particular list is not of great interest, you can resign by sending mail to LISTSERV@SUVM.BITNET containing the line:
When replying to a message received from a list, note carefully what address your local mail software places in the "To," field-depending on the list and on your software, your reply might go just to the original sender or to the entire list.
Guidelines for Using E-Mail
Cover only one subject per message. This will facilitate replies, forwarding, and filing.
Use upper and lower case text, because MESSAGES IN ALL CAPITAL LETTERS HAVE THE EFFECT OF SHOUTING.
Be careful of spelling and diction. You might find your "quick and dirty" reply posted on the coffee-room bulletin board.
Be diplomatic. Criticism is always harsher when written, and electronic messages are easily forwarded.
Be calm. You may have misinterpreted the implied criticism or missed the ironic humor in a message; don't send a reply while you are still hot under the collar. (Networkers call this "flaming.")
To signal your humorous intent, use the "sideways smile." :-)
Don't use the academic networks for commercial or proprietary work.
Be extremely careful about executing any programs that you receive over the network, since they may contain viruses that erase or damage your files or, by propagating themselves, disrupt the network.
Don't send anything electronically that you wouldn't want to see on page one of The Chronicle of Higher Education. There is no assurance that a message you intend to be confidential isn't being read routinely by a secretary or casually by a colleague or family
member passing by a terminal, and lack of encryption in most systems means that someone unscrupulous could be monitoring network traffic somewhere along the line. Moreover, as shown in the Iran-Contra affair, even "deleted" messages might be saved on system backup tapes.
For further reading:
Arms, Caroline, ed. Campus Networking Strategies. Bedford, Mass.: Digital Press, 1988. (In addition to ten campus case studies, contains excellent background materials and index of networking terms.)
Arms, Caroline, ed. Campus Strategies for Libraries and Electronic Information. Bedford, Mass.: Digital Press, 1989.
Condon, Christopher. "BITNET Userhelp," and "BITNET Servers," electronic for files available on-line from LISTSERV@BITNIC.BITNET.
Dunn, John A. Jr. "Electronic Media and Information Sharing," in Peter Ewell, ed. Enhancing Information Use in Decision Making, New Directions for Institutional Research.. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1989, pp 73-84.
Dunn, John A. Jr. and John Muffo. "Exhilaration and Exasperation: An Open Letter to Everyone Who Thinks His Professional Association Should Communicate Electronically," EDUCOM Bulletin 23, Summer/Fall 1988, pp. 88-92; available on-line as file "Enews Dunn_J" from LISTSERV@BITNIC.BITNET.
Frey, Donnalyn and Rick Adams. !%@:: A Directory of Electronic Mail Addressing and Networks. Sebastopol, CA: O'Reilly & Associates, 1989.
King, Kenneth M. "In Search of a National Computing, Information Access, and Networking Strategy," EDUCOM Bulletin 22, Fall 1987, pp. 2-4.
LaQuey, Tracy Lynn ed. Users' Directory of Computer Networks. Austin, Texas University of Texas System Office, Balcones Research Center, 1989; Bedford, Mass,: Digital Press, forthcoming.
"NREN: The National Research and Education Network." Washington, D.C.,: EDUCOM, 1989.
Oberst, Daniel J. and Sheldon B. Smith. "BITNET: Past, Present, and Future," EDUCOM Bulletin 21, Summer 1986.
Quarterman, John S. The Matrix: Computer Networks and Conferencing Systems Worldwide. Bedford, Mass,: Digital Press, 1990.
Rickard-Bollentin, Wendy ed. "Articles Index," an electronic file available on-line from LISTSERV@BITNIC.BITNET.
"Special Issue on Networking," EDUCOM Bulletin 23, Summer/Fall 1988. (Excellent overview of NSFNET and NREN plans and prospects.)
Shapiro, Norman, et al. Towards an Ethics and Etiquette for Electronic Mail. Santa Monica, Calif,: Rand Corporation (publication R-3283- NSF/RC), 1985.
Updegrove, Daniel. "CCNEWS: A Wire Service for the Wired Campus," EDUCOM Review 24, Spring 1989, pp. 55-57.
For further information:
About connecting to BITNET, contact: BITNET Network Information Center, EDUCOM, Suite 600, 1112 16th St. NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-872-4200; fax 202-872-4318; e-mail address BITNET@BITNIC.BITNET.
About connecting to NSFNET, contact the NSF Network Service Center, c/o BBN Laboratories, 10 Moulton St, Cambridge, MA 02238; 617-873-3400; e-mail address NNSC@NNSC.NSF.NET
About the authors:
Daniel Updegrove is Assistant Vice Provost for Information Resource Planning and Data Administration at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia; previously he was Vice President for Membership Services at EDUCOM. His electronic mail address is Updegrove@a1.relay.upenn.edu (alternatively Updegrovefirstname.lastname@example.org), and his phone number is 215 898-2171.
John Muffo is Associate Director of Institutional Research at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, Virginia, and Editor of the electronic AIR Newsletter. He can be reached electronically at IRMuffo@VTVM1.BITNET, or via phone at 703 961- 6003.
John A. Dunn, Jr. is Executive Director of the Center for Planning Information (CPI) in Medford, MA. Previously he was Vice President, Planning, at Tufts University, and first editor of the electronic SCUP Newsletter. His electronic mail address is Dunn@Tufts.BITNET, and his phone number is 617 381-3808.
CCNEWS Copyright Notice
If you use any of these articles, in whole or in part, in printed or electronic form, you are legally and morally obligated to credit the author and the original publication name, date, and page(s). We suggest that you also inform the author or editor of your intention to use this article, in case there are updates or corrections that he or she might wish to suggest.
If space and format permit, we would appreciate your crediting the "Articles database of CCNEWS, the Electronic Forum for Campus Computing Newsletter Editors, a BITNET-based service of EDUCOM." We would also appreciate your informing us (via e-mail to CCNEWS@EDUCOM.BITNET) when you use an article, so we will know which articles have proven most useful.