Mail Goggles: Google’s Gift to the Inebriated

October 08, 2008 02:30 PM
by Josh Katz
A Google app that tests a user’s mental capacity may help prevent those regrettable late-night e-mails to exes, coworkers and friends.

Drinking With Google

Google has announced a new program called Mail Goggles that tests the math ability of Gmail users before allowing them to send late night e-mails. Failing the test denies users the ability to send that potentially embarrassing message.

Google has plenty of money to spend, according to the Wichita Business Journal, and it “spends that money on a wide variety of issues, from the profound to the absurd.” For example, last week the company made some recommendations about cutting the country’s dependence on fossil fuels. This week, e-mail sobriety is the issue of choice.

The program tests a user’s ability to solve math problems in a set period of time (“69-38 =?, 11x2=?, and so on”)  before they can send off that e-mail, the Journal writes.

The default setting for the program is late at night on weekends, when “you’re most likely to need it,” according to a post on the “Official Gmail blog.”

Jon Perlow, the Google employee who authored the post, says his inspiration was “the time I told that girl I had a crush on her over text message.” Nonetheless, the service is limited to e-mail, for now. Wired writes, “As for drunk dialing and texting, you’re still on your own."

The Guardian cites an example of one situation when the Google Goggles probably could have come in handy. Alastair John Campbell, former director of communications and strategy for British prime minister Tony Blair, admitted that he was “not very good at this email Blackberry malarkey,” after he accidentally sent an inappropriate and profane e-mail from his Blackberry to a BBC reporter instead of Labour Party advertising advisers.

Opinion & Analysis: Mail Goggles a good Google idea?

Eric Zeman of Information Week expresses his approval of Gmail’s new feature. “When you were on the prowl, you probably had a wingman or other friend who served as a filter to prevent you from making a mistake when you were wearing your beer goggles,” he says. “Think of Mail Goggles as your new, electronic wingman.”

Mathew Ingram of Canada’s Globe and Mail notes that the only criticism of Google’s new tool has come from people who may not be as adept with numbers. “Perhaps Google needs something a little more right-brained? Maybe a ‘spot the differences in these two photos’ test, or a ‘which wine goes with this cheese’ exam. Come on Google—not everyone is a math geek.”

In BetaNews, Angela Gunn points out some suggested improvements by observers, “including a proposed ‘clawback’ feature that would delay e-mail transmissions for a few seconds for those with a tendency to fat-finger responses to exactly the wrong recipients.” She also notes that one person thought it “might be easier to simply to put a straight line on-screen and require the e-mail user to ‘walk’ along it via mouse.”

Ben Patterson also argues in Yahoo Tech that drunk users have too many ways to circumvent the feature, including by simply disabling it. Plus, the questions might be fairly easy to some, no matter how drunk they are. He suggests that Google store any message a person tries to send for later view, giving them a chance to take a fresh look at them. And, “Once enabled, the Mail Googles (sic) queue can’t be turned of (sic), or maybe you’d need a secret password held by a trusted pal (who won’t give it to you, no matter how much you beg).”

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