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article imageOp-Ed: Does Gmail’s unsend feature really work?

By Jenna Cyprus     Jul 15, 2015 in Internet
Gmail has been playing around with an email recall feature in its Lab program for several years. Now, as of last month, Google users more broadly have access to this new tool. But is the unsend feature all it’s cracked up to be?
As it turns out, the structure underlying Gmail’s unsend feature, like many email platforms with this service, is not quite as effective as most would hope.
Embarrassing Email Errors
We’ve all made those big email blunders. Those times that we’ve hit send with the wrong person in the address box or sent an email full of spelling errors to a potential employer. In that moment after you hit send, wouldn’t it have been great to be able to unsend that email? This is essentially the feature that Gmail has unveiled, but with a few caveats.
Gmail’s unsend feature would more accurately be described as a send delay. Depending on your personal setting choice, Gmail will delay sending your email for 5, 10, 20, or 30 seconds. It’s not a lot of time, but it’s hopefully long enough for users to realize their mistake and stop the delivery process.
Don’t get too excited though. As Amit Chowdhry points out, if you’re having any kind of connectivity problem — an all too common Internet issue — Gmail’s unsend feature may not work. And since you can’t predict when this kind of problem will strike, your best bet is still careful proofreading and checking. Some days unsend might save you, but if you rely too heavily on it, you’ll likely wind up let down at some point.
Send Delays Versus Email Recall
The reason that Gmail’s unsend email feature has created so much buzz may be credited to the fact that most don’t realize the difference between a send delay and an email recall. What sets these two processes apart is their reach. The unsend feature has no real reach. It simply holds the email in limbo for a moment so that you can take an additional few seconds to decide whether or not you really meant to hit send.
Email recall, on the other hand, has reach — it does what most of us think of when we hear the word unsend. Recall goes into the recipient’s mailbox and takes the email back. It tends to leave a trace of the former email – the recipient will know you sent something and depending on when you decide to recall the email, they may have even read the message already. They won’t be reading it again, though.
A No Win Situation
If we think critically about both send delays and email recall programs, there isn’t really a standout winner. With send delays, you have such a limited amount of time to determine that the message shouldn’t be sent that you may not be able to assess the situation in time. After all, how many times do we realize our mistakes five minutes later when we’ve walked away from the computer?
Email recall is there for you when you recognize a problem five minutes or five hours after you send an email, but it has its own problems; mainly that it isn’t a time travel device. No matter how quickly you recall an email, you can’t be certain the recipient didn’t see it. They may have opened and read the message already, noticing your blunders. You can take it back, but you can’t make them unread it.
Beyond this, the traces that most email recall programs leave can start to look suspicious if you’re recalling emails too often. You don’t want to be the person known for retracting message after message — that’s no way to build a reputation.
If you’re going to send emails without careful proofreading, then either email recall or email delay could be right for you. At the end of the day, however, you can do a better job than either of these programs by treating email like snail mail – once you drop it in the box, it’s out of your hands, so make sure you get it right the first time.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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