The Sorta Cool New Feature on Your Gmail and How to Swing It

Teach me Sensei

I don't want to brag, but I send a lot of e-mails. (I'm kind of a big deal.)


I work digital response because my boss didn't know how to tell me my people skills suck. The company has very specific letter-answering protocol: what the subject line should be, what the signature should be, how we address clients — so on, so forth. Luckily, those rarely get followed-up on.


The reason I say that is because I have this issue where I forget to proofread. I'm an absent-minded person, and there are times when I finish the email and realize, a split-second after hitting send, that I've forgotten to format any of the above things. Occasionally, the issue is simply that I didn't modify the form letter, so an email goes out leading off with "Dear Valued Client." Since I've already hit send, however, all I can do is sit back and hope they don't notice, or that they're nice enough to not bring it up.


And don't get high-and-mighty and pretend you don't do it, too. Or, if you really don't ... teach me, sensei.


At any rate, our worries have all been solved. Google's coming through for us on this one. After six years of beta testing, Gmail is finally implementing the somewhat-misleadingly-named "unsend" feature. The feature doesn't actually unsend, of course, but it does delay the message for a pre-specified period of time: between 5 and 30 seconds (it's 10 seconds if you leave it at the default setting). So while a confused ex might not see your email mysteriously disappear from their inbox, you will be able to change that typo before letting that e-mail actually go out.


Beyond typos, this could also be a great tool for when you're angry (although you'll might conceivably need more than 30 seconds for your righteous furor to simmer down to the level of "Wow, this is a really bad idea"), and also for checking the address to be super-duper sure that you're sending that spicy note to your spouse and not your supervisor. The downside is, of course, that if you have to wait, so does everybody else. So if you tell somebody that you're sending something important "right now," then you're a liar. Still, many people agree that it's still better to have a tiny safety net then to have immediate sending.


Like I said, though, this has been around for six years. It's only after Gmail added it to your settings (earlier this year) that people started to take notice. So why didn't you know about it? Well, because it was relegated to a little place called "Labs." If you click on the "settings" gear in Gmail and then click on "Settings," you'll see "Labs" mixed in with the other stuff. This is where Google keeps the good stuff. For instance, I like to queue up all my new messages at once, rather than getting kicked back to the inbox every time I archive or delete one. This function is not available in Gmail's regular settings, but it is available as a Labs add-on. Or if you want keyboard shortcuts, Labs has that too. It's worth checking out.


Ultimately the "unsend" feature was added because it's simple, popular and difficult to abuse. So ... what if you want to abuse it? What if you have a tendency to write angry e-mails, and you wish there was a way to delay your message for a whole day? Well, you're not the first to want this, and where there's a want, there's an opportunistic developer. Check this link out, and don't say I never did nuthin'  for you.


If you'd like to enable the unsend feature in your Gmail, just go to settings, click on the settings gear, open the Settings tab, and scroll down to the bottom.  There's an option to enable the unsend feature, along with a drop-down menu for the grace period. Unless you don't need it. And in that case ...


Teach me, sensei.


Would you like more insight into the history of hacking? Check out Calvin's other articles about historical hackery:
About the Author
David Telford

David Telford is a short-attention-span renaissance man and university student. His current project is the card game MatchTags, which you can find on Facebook and Kickstarter.