Once upon a time, email for systems not continually connected to the Internet was transferred via a system called UUCP (Unix-to-Unix Copy). I was reminiscing about this the other day, when WilW was talking about Akira and mentioned old BBS systems like GEnie and Compuserve.
UUCP worked sortof like Internet routing does now, by using a map to find the shortest path between two systems. Text map entries were published for each system, usually in Usenet groups (I found my old one in can.uucp.maps on Google Groups), indicating what other systems they connected to. Your UUCP program would build a map, then choose the shortest path and send mail to the appropriate upstream system. If you just had one upstream connection you wouldn't need to build the map, just send all outgoing mail to your upstream, but you still needed to publish a map entry for your system so people could send email and other files to you.
Periodically, usually every couple of hours but could be once a day or even less, your computer would automatically dial your modem to connect to your upstream connection, and any pending files would be sent/received. This could include email messages, Usenet group updates, or just files you wanted to send to another system.
It was fun to explore wacky things like FTP-by-email (send an email to an automated service email address and it would process FTP commands, including sending you back files split across multiple messages), and having a Usenet feed delivered to my own computer was so cool.
Below is the first entry I had in the international UUCP maps, and coincidentally the first Internet-compatible email address I had that ran on my own equipment - using this I could get email sent to email@example.com, or the address below. And yes, I called my organization Cyberspace -- hey, I was 19.
#N cspace #S Intel 486DX; SCO Unix 3.2v4 #O Cyberspace #C Bryan Fullerton #E cspace.comspec.com!bryanf #T [snip old phone number] #P [snip exact address], Toronto, Ontario, Canada, M4G 2J8 #L 43 40 N / 79 30 W city #R Home system only - mail/usenet/C programming #U comspec.com #W firstname.lastname@example.org (Bryan Fullerton);Thu Dec 24 19:15:00 EDT 1992 # # # # RATE TIMES NEWS cspace comspec.com cspace = cspace.comspec.com cspace comspec.com(DIRECT) #V32 24h Partial
My connection was obviously still heavily tied to my employer at the time, as they were my only upstream connection. In 1992/1993 I paid for a UUCP feed, first from UUNorth and then UUNet Canada, before finally getting on the real Internet with a dialup and then ISDN connection to Interlog in 1994.
Long after I registered and had working my SMTP email domain in 1995 I was still able to get email sent to cspace.uucp thanks to Bruce at GTS, until sometime around 2000/2001. I wonder if anyone still has active UUCP feeds, could be fun to set one up again.