MIME & Me (nsb)

MIME stands for Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions. It is the official Internet standard that defines the way that multimedia objects are labelled, compounded, and encoded for transport over the Internet. Ned Freed and I led the specification of MIME. It is now used to identify and encode nearly every media object in email, the web, and elsewhere, and is used trillions of times each day.

While working on MIME, I was a researcher and developer of multimedia email tools, and am widely though inaccurately credited as having sent "the first email attachment." It was, more precisely, the first standardized attachment of any interest -- there were several predecessor attachment technologies, one of which (the Andrew Message System) I co-developed, but this is probably the oldest "attachment" that your current software might still be able to read.

At the time, I was working for Bellcore in New Jersey, where I sang with the Bellcore chorus (the "Dial Tones") and in an all-Bellcore barbershop quartet (the "Telephone Chords"). On March 11, 1992, I sent out the message containing the so-called "first attachment." It included audio and a a still picture. (Even a short video would have killed the Internet at that point, and I was actually criticized for wasting precious bandwidth on 52 seconds of sound!)

The message is shown here as a combined embedded picture and sound on a single web page, but the way a MIME message is actually displayed varies with the email reader that is used to view it. In most early MIME viewers, the still image and audio would each have popped up in separate windows, but here I've combined the image and audio and embedded it with the rest of the text, to approximate how the message might have looked in the earliest integrated MIME viewers.

Message-Id: <Edjbh9O0M2YtQL5uct@thumper.bellcore.com>
Date: Wed, 11 Mar 1992 16:27:37 -0500 (EST)
From: Nathaniel Borenstein <nsb>
Mime-Version: 1.0
To: ietf-822@...., info-metamail@....
Subject: Barbershop MIME

Those of you not running MIME-compliant mail readers won't get a lot out
of this, nor will those without ftp access to the Internet, but for the
lucky few....

Here are the infamous Telephone Chords, the world's premier (=only) 
all-Bellcore barbershop quartet, singing about MIME.  Note that because
the "message/external-body" MIME construct is used, this whole message
is only about 3000 bytes -- at least, until you start reading it.  :-)
(To the tune of "Let Me Call You Sweetheart")

Let me send you email if you have the time
Let me sing you email now that we have MIME
You have lots of bandwidth, I have lots of bits
Let's use MIME for email, plain text is the pits!

The Telephone Chords, 1992

John Lamb, bass; David Braun, baritone; Michael Littman, lead; Nathaniel Borenstein, tenor

Then, twenty years later almost to the day, the Telephone Chords were reunited, as part of the celebration of MIME's 20th anniversary. ACS (the successor company to Bellcore and Telcordia) hosted the celebration, and we sang that same ditty again. Thanks to the march of progress, we have audio and video of our reunion, and an actual audience, but alas we also show the effects of having spent a mere 5 minutes rehearsing after a gap of nearly 20 years:

We also posed to recreate the original picture. Note that in this reunion, if you consider the presence or absence of a tie or jacket as two binary digits, we represent all four possible values of the resulting 2-bit number. This was not an accident. Shockingly, people who are into both technology and barbershop singing are sometimes just a wee bit geeky.

The Telephone Chords, 2002

John Lamb, 01, bass; David Braun, 00, baritone; Michael Littman, 10, lead; Nathaniel Borenstein, 11, tenor