Email Miles: Tracking down the path of an email delivery

Internet electronic mail or simply email, is one of those technological breakthroughs that has greatly revolutionized the way in which people communicate today. Email has been around for a while now and just about everyone with an online presence has at least one email account.

Email has become so common and the preferred mode of communication online where millions of emails are exchanged every single minute worldwide. You will be surprised to find out that very few people who make use of email services actually know and appreciate what goes behind the scenes after they click on the send button.
To them, email has become this virtual thing that seems to instantly deliver messages to their intended recipients regardless of their geographical location. In actual sense email delivery these days is near instantaneous, but that email message you have just sent out to your boss or work mate might have travelled thousands of miles just to get delivered to their machine which is just a few feet away from you.
To be able to track down the actual path of an email message in transit, Brucker-Cohen has created a plugin by the name Email Miles that uses GPS technology and internet tracking to log where a message was sent and where it was received.

Email Miles is a free plug-in for email programs such as Apple’s Mail and Google's Gmail.When an email is sent, the location of the server sending the message is tagged into the code of the mail.
Email Miles scans an email for this so-called Geolocation tag, every time an email is received by a new server, the new location tag is added to the email.Brucker-Cohen's plug-in tracks the different server locations of the emails and calculates the distance, in miles, between the two using GPS co-ordinates.The distance is direct, from one point to another, and may not account for the length and shape of the cables it passes through.

Given the nature of packet routing, email messages can travel very long distances to reach the recipient, in most cases even longer than the actual physical distance between the sender and receiver.[/caption]
One of the program's more interesting revelations is how indirect the route of many emails can be.For example in the image above, an email sent from New York to Dakar in Senegal travelled a total of 12,115 miles - much further than the actual distance between the two cities.
This is because the email first travelled 790 miles west to Chicago, then another 2,163 miles west to Mountain View in California.After that it finally started making its way back east - first 1,699 miles to Dallas, then 4,745 miles to London, before eventually heading 2,718 miles south into the West African city.
The nature of email and web traffic means that for emails to travel long distances, it sometimes has to be passed through different servers as it enters and leaves different countries. Brucker-Cohen claims the program does all of its time and distance calculations using the internet and a coordinate mapping system.

'Email Miles is beneficial because it adds a physical component to a phenomenon like email that is perceived as purely virtual,' he said.


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