Eric Thomas is one of the few true pioneers in Internet technology. In 1986, Eric invented LISTSERV, the first email list management program, representing a major milestone in Internet history. Eric originally created LISTSERV while he was a university student, effectively launching the email list communication industry. In 1994, Eric started L-Soft, for which he serves as CEO.
From an idea ...
In 1985, a university student named Eric Thomas discovered a new passion: the Internet. Since then, he has played an active role in the development of the Internet. In 1986, Eric invented LISTSERV in Paris, France. LISTSERV was the first email list management software – the only program to automate email list distribution. At that time, Europe and the United States were connected by two links with a capacity of 9.6 kbps each, and it could take days for email to reach across the Atlantic Ocean.
Eric graduated in 1988 and moved to CERN in Switzerland (where the World Wide Web was invented). He then moved to Stockholm, Sweden, in 1990, where he was hired to build a computer network by SUNET, whose ambition was to make Sweden the leading IT nation in Europe in spite of the country's small size (8 million inhabitants).
... to a lasting reality
Three decades have passed since Eric invented LISTSERV – beginning the email list management industry in the process – and today LISTSERV continues to set the industry standard. To say that technology has progressed greatly since the industry began in 1986 is an understatement.
Today we expect large attachments and digital photographs to reach the receiver in a few seconds. We worry about phishing, email authentication, deliverability and spam filters. We debate best practices to make email more relevant and targeted. Email continues to evolve and become more complex. In fact, email has become an integral part of business, government and life in general, and it remains the most popular Internet activity. Who would have thought back in 1986 that Eric's software would handle more than 100 million email list subscriptions today?
In the '90s, Eric founded L-Soft; today, he continues to serve as an expert in the development and policy of email list technology.
If you want to learn more about Eric Thomas' invention of LISTSERV and the history of L-Soft, check out the following links:
History of LISTSERV:
More on Early History of LISTSERV:
History of L-Soft:
Eric Thomas' CV:
Short Clip of 17-Year-Old Eric Thomas on French TV:
LISTSERV Site Administrators' Forum:
(First and oldest LISTSERV email list, with archives dating back to 1986)
Slide Show: The LISTSERV Story:
Slide Show: The LISTSERV 25th Anniversary Tour:
L-Soft Founder and CEO Eric Thomas, who began the email list communication industry in 1986 with the invention of LISTSERV, shares his reflections, visions and musings.
LISTSERV at Work (LISTSERV 20th Anniversary Issue):
LISTSERV 25th Anniversary – Inventor Reflections: Past, Present & Future
Online Chat with Eric Thomas, the LISTSERV inventor
Eric Thomas has spoken at numerous conferences, trade shows and events. Selected presentations include:
E-post igår, idag och imorgon: möjligheter och visioner (Swedish)
Email Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow: Opportunities and Visions
E-postmarknadsföring 2.0, Guest Speaker, February 22, 2007
Future Approaches to Stop Spam: Certification Services for Everyone (English)
The Internet Days (Internetdagarna), October 24, 2006
AOL: You Have Certified Mail! Will Paid E-mail Lead to Separate, Unequal Systems or is it the Foolproof Answer to Spam?
Public Hearing: The California Senate Select Committee on E-Commerce, Wireless Technology and Consumer-Driven Programming, April 3, 2006
Freeing the Internet from Spam – Opt-In, Filtering and Other Approaches
IP-Dagarna, November 19, 2003
The Evolution of E-Mail
IP-dagarna, Keynote, November 19, 2002
IT Issues: New Frontiers in E-mail Communication: LISTSERV & Beyond
IBM SHARE, July 25, 2001
The WWW as a Generic Tool Interface – Users' and Programmers' Ideas
TERENA-NORDUnet Networking Conference, June 9, 1999
LISTSERV for the non-technical user
The Network Services Conference, October 13, 1993
Organized by EARN in conjunction with EUnet/EurOpen, NORDUnet, RARE, and RIPE.
"LISTSERV started in 1986 as a weekend project to improve the usefulness of mailing lists. I had no idea at the time that there would be so much interest from so many people, let alone that I would still be improving LISTSERV 20 years later."
"My goal was simply to create a tool that would allow mailing lists to prosper while making life easier for subscribers and list owners. It was a simple idea whose success exceeded all my expectations. Sometimes you set about solving a small problem, and later on you realize that you have actually solved a big problem."
"I had no idea in 1986 that LISTSERV would end up playing such an important role in people's lives, in some cases even saving lives. ACOR (Association of Cancer Online Resources) is the most dramatic example – you have people with a problem and they form a list to talk to each other. They're not doctors, but they connect with each other and with researchers running clinical trials. When you see something like that, it's amazing."
– Eric Thomas about LISTSERV's 20th anniversary in 2006
"I am always amazed by the creativity and ingenuity of LISTSERV users. Who would have thought that LISTSERV lists would be used to help cure cancer, find lost dogs or solve crimes?"
– Eric Thomas about email lists (LISTSERV Choice Awards 2004)
"We wanted virus writers to know that they will not succeed in changing the way people use email. Mailing lists are and will remain an effective, time-saving communication tool."
– Eric Thomas about LISTSERV's built-in virus protection in 2001
"We have come a long way since I flew to the U.S. and founded L-Soft with three thousand dollars and a laptop. We owe our success to the reliability and scalability of our offerings, and to our corporate culture that promotes diversity and encourages employees to develop to their fullest potential."
– Eric Thomas in 2000 when Deloitte & Touche honored L-Soft with its Maryland Technology Fast 50 Award
"As a student, it can be very difficult to get support or funding for your ideas. When I was in college, I was fortunate enough to be offered free access to an IBM mainframe at another university, with no strings attached, and this is how LISTSERV came to be. If I hadn't had the freedom to work as I pleased or if the university had asserted ownership rights to my work, I would probably have done something else with my time. I wish more companies would extend such opportunities to students because, in the long run, it benefits everyone."
– Eric Thomas when L-Soft earmarked donations for student organizations in 1994
"Email fulfills a fundamental human need – the need to form communities and share ideas, experiences, joy and pain. People have been doing this for as long as mankind has existed, but LISTSERV removes the barrier of physical distance."
"Email gives you control and depth. You can decide who receives your message exactly and you can see who has acted on it. You are not at the mercy of changes in security policies on social networks. And you can write more than 400 characters."
"I do not think email is being migrated to social tools. I think social tools complement email just like instant messaging complements both social tools and email."
– Eric Thomas about email and social media in 2011
Eric Thomas has authored numerous articles on email communications and other technology topics. Here is a list of selected articles:
Dealing with Spam Is Just One of Many Costs of Doing Business
DMNews.com, February 2006
EU workshop on unsolicited commercial communications or spam – Brussels, October 16, 2003
L-Soft Comment Paper, October 2003
Françoise Becker, Eric Thomas, Outi Tuomaala
Sverige – försökskaninen för den nya ekonomin
Computer Sweden, February 12, 2001
CRM: rising to the e-mail challenge
Customer Loyalty Today, July-August 2000
History of LISTSERV
Eric Thomas, 1995
The Revised List Processor (LISTSERV@FRECP11)
NetMonth, July 1986
Art Criticism Online: A History
Gylphi Limited, 16 May 2019, p. 79
"The first (fully) automatic email-based discussion group software (or listserv software) was developed by programmer Eric Thomas in 1986."
The "Hidden" Prehistory of European Research Networking
Oliver Martin, October 2012
The Future of Neighborhood Communication
The Kojo Nnamdi Show, Tech Tuesday, July 31, 2012
Kojo Nnamdi, Jennifer Golbeck, Maria Thomas, Eric Thomas
L-Soft's LISTSERV is 25!
ReadWriteWeb, September 9, 2011
The Fathers Of Social Media
Salty Waffle, June 19, 2011
Email Everywhere: 25th Anniversary Of LISTSERV
Fast Company, May 18, 2011
Rachel Z. Arndt
2011's 25 Geekiest 25th Anniversaries
Network World, Buzzblog, January 12, 2011
The Joy of Listservs: One of the Internet's earliest innovations is still one of its best
Slate, August 5, 2010
Plaidoyer pour la réhabilitation des mailing lists: Ringardisée, la bonne vieille liste de diffusion reste indispensable
Slate, August 14, 2010
L-Soft facilite la communication par e-mail
Francofil, May 2004
De byggde Internet i Sverige
The Swedish Chapter of the Internet Society (ISOC-SE), 2003
Inga Hamngren, Jan Odhnoff
E-mail lists get virus protection
CNN.com/SCI-TECH, October 30, 2001
A Social History of Bitnet and Listserv, 1985-1991
The IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, April-June 2000 (Vol. 22, No. 2) pp. 32-41
David Alan Grier, Mary Campbell
Succén som Sverige nobbade
Dagens IT/Datateknik 3.0, October 1999
Lista postittaa viestit maailmalle
Helsingin Sanomat, October 8, 1999
A Family Links Up, But United We Fall
New York Times, May 14, 1998
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