Over the last few days, the internet has gone (slightly alarmingly) crazy for a new Gmail feature that lets you unsend your email, sort of. But really, this is old news — America Online had a better version of the same feature back when people still called it electronic mail.
Gmail’s new feature has been attracting nerd-rage for two things: firstly, it’s not a new feature, exactly, having been part of the Google Labs experimental features for six years; and, secondly, it’s not actually an ‘unsend’ option: it’s more of a delay on emails that gives you time to reflect on your sins.
But AOL, internet visionary that it was, had an actual unsend feature. Up until 2012, if you sent an email from you AOL account to another AOL account, you could unsend it, as long as the recipient hadn’t opened your electronic missive.
Gmail’s solution, on the other hand, is to delay sending emails for a short time period of your choosing (normally 30 seconds), which gives you the chance to ‘unsend’ an email for half a minute after hitting Enter — basically, a more streamlined version of the race that you sometimes have to get to the Outbox before something sends.
From a technological standpoint, there was nothing particularly complicated about AOL’s solution. Gmail could feasibly introduce something similar tomorrow, were it not for the host of legal and privacy issues that go along with surreptitiously removing emails from users’ inboxes. But it’s still fun to realise that on some levels, AOL was better than Gmail. You don’t get to say that every day.