Google finds panacea to the ill-advised email

March 25, 2009

How many times have you smacked your forehead in frustration after sending a bawdy e-mail to your boss that had been meant for a friend?

Until now, there had been no way to retrieve the missive. Even if the person’s on vacation, it’s only a matter of time before – as the saying goes – your nether region is grass. Enter Google’s Gmail Labs and “Undo Send”. If you enable the feature, every time you hit ‘send’, a button allowing you to ‘undo’ the send will pop up along with confirmation that the e-mail has been sent. You have five seconds to decide.

Etiquette hounds coach you to leave the “to” blank while you write an e-mail (especially if it’s a subject you feel strongly about) and not forward an e-mail without permission. As author and business consultant Tim Sanders says, “you never need to send an e-mail that’s regrettable.” But it happens all the time.

With Google’s snazzy new tool, if you click “undo”, the message is brought back to the first, “compose” screen. But it hasn’t won over everyone.

“That’s a really small window,” said Sanders, who was part of a May 2006 study on how people use e-mail. The study, which included 16,000 people, in part examined which e-mail messages were regrettable and why. “We make a lot of mistakes over e-mail that sabotage our lives,” Sanders said. “You’d need [the waiting period to be] a day to really prevent yourself from making mistakes.”

If you feel the same way and want, say, a drop-down menu where you can set the amount of time you want the undo option to last, let Gmail Labs know by sending them feedback. You’d be building a delay into a technology that is prized for its speediness, but it might save you your job.

These are just the sort of tricks that are increasing Google’s market share. Google saw a 32 percent worldwide increase in unique visitors to its Web sites last year, according to comScore. The total number of visitors topped 775 million – compared to Microsoft’s 20 percent increase to 647 million visitors and Yahoo’s 16 percent increase to 562.6 million visitors

Analysts say some of that growth is because of new features put out by Gmail Labs. At this point Gmail Labs only works with Internet Explorer 7.0+, Firefox 2.0+, Safari 3.0+ and Google Chrome.

— Reporting by Clare Baldwin

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