Putting panic to good use

The ‘Undo Send‘ feature on Gmail is genius.

Once enabled, it keeps an email in our outbox for a few seconds before sending it out. In that time, you can stop it from going out by pushing the ‘Undo Send” button that hovers on your screen. It has spared me the embarrassment of sending out incomplete or incorrect email several times.

At the root of the Undo Send feature, is a deep understanding of human behaviour. Once we hit the send button on any email, we feel a rush of excitement within. The more important the email, the greater this rush is. In that tense moment, our intuition raises a red flag if we have made a mistake or forgotten to say something important. When that happens, the Undo Send button helps us prevent the email from going out.

The key here is the sequence of events. Our intuition perks up in the split second after we hit the send button.

A feature that delays sending an email by a few seconds is the simplest to build. Yet, it has a profound impact on its users, who send out hundreds of emails on a busy day. In essence, it is a placebo. It tricks our brain into thinking that the email has been sent, to trigger a reaction. It employs an unconscious response to a mistake, while empowering the user to correct it.

The most elegant features have the highest impact for the least programming effort. I only wish Microsoft Outlook would adopt this soon, and thereby save thousands of professionals from following up with an apology note.

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