Back to blog

Gmail’s new panic button

panic button

Ok, so it’s generally our policy not to blog about something that’s already gotten exposure on sites like Digg (let alone made it to the top ten), but for this one I’ll make a quick exception. Google just added an undo send button to its labs suite (or as TechCrunch calls it, a panic button).

This is the kind of “feature” enhancement I love. It’s a natural, yet subtle extension of how I use mail every day, it’s lightweight and unobtrusive, and it’s grounded in an aspect of human experience with email that’s so familiar and fundamental but ignored until now. The word I’d choose to describe this kind of feature is “humane”.

How many times have you sent out an email, just then noticing that you forgot to attach the file you were writing about in the first place? How many times have you forgot to copy someone, or realized you were addressing the wrong Steve, etc., etc. directly after hitting ‘Send’? For me it’s too many times to be a coincidence.

Often when we write emails—especially critical ones where pressure is involved—we get into a very focused, depth-first mode of reasoning. This makes it hard to see mistakes that would otherwise be obvious. My hypothesis is that as soon as we hit send, there’s this cathartic moment where pressure is relieved and we are suddenly able to reason more broadly, or in a breadth-first way. It’s only then that we notice the embarrassing mistakes we are now going to have to write a follow-up email to address. (There’s evidence to suggest this is the case, by the way, and I think it’d make for a great applied research topic.)

I’ve been waiting for a panic button in my mail app for a while now. Apple’s Mail got something like this (there’s a little cancel button next to the outgoing message progress bar in the Mail Activity), but I think it’s more for server-side issues and other technical stuff. I never have time to cancel my outgoing messages—there should be a 5-10 sec buffer between the time I hit send, and the time the message goes out, as in the new Gmail feature.

David Gillis More posts by David Gillis