Un-send an email if you’re quick and on Gmail

It’s not quite what it looks like, but if you’re a Gmail user and you switch this feature on, you can now have between 10 and 30 seconds to change your mind about sending an email.

Around the web this is being touted as a way to stop the hellstorm of an ill-thought, kneejerk angry email you sent in a fury. I think more practically it’s going to be to save you some of the times you forget to add the attachment you meant.

Here’s what Google says:

Previously a popular feature in Gmail Labs, and recently added to Inbox by Gmail, today we’re adding ‘Undo Send’ as a formal setting in Gmail on the web.

‘Undo Send’ allows people using Gmail to cancel a sent mail if they have second thoughts immediately after sending. The feature is turned off by default for those not currently using the Labs version, and can be enabled from the General tab in Gmail settings.

Google Apps update alerts: Undo Send for Gmail on the web (22 June 2015)

It isn’t really an undo. It’s a not-do-so-quickly. What happens is that the email just doesn’t go when it says it does, it waits in a little limbo for a moment. That’s why you can have a brief time to ‘unsend’ it but you can’t, for instance, undo the bitter message you sent yesterday to your ex.

This also isn’t new. It’s a feature in other email services but Gmail is definitely the biggest one and it’s so big that you can bet money both Microsoft with Outlook and Apple with Mail will surely introduce it soon.

Read the full piece for a bit more detail.

Weekend read: Why a lack of photography killed Google+

It’s not as if Google+ is dead, but you log on there and it seems like it is. Here’s one idea of why:

The internet is not a place of fierce loyalty. Create a transformational product or build a better service and people will use it. Thus Hotmail gave way to Gmail, and MySpace to Facebook. So you can understand why Google thought it could build a better social network in Google+. But that’s not what happened. Or at least, it wasn’t able to build a more popular social network. But why not?

The answer to the question of why Google+ failed is simple. It’s the reason why any social network succeeds or fails. The answer is photos. Google+ now has one of the best photo management tools there is, period. It finds your best pictures for you, it’s amazingly searchable, it auto-generates highlight films and cool photos albums, and it even turns your burst shots into animated GIFs. Fancy! But all of that came far too late in its history. The big mistake Google+ made was in starting out as a place for people to have meaty in-depth discussions.

Why Photos Rule The Internet – Charlie Warzel, BuzzFeed (19 March 2015)

It could be true. I’m not convinced because actually I like a meaty read and I’ve never had that from Google+. Still, read the full piece and see where he’s going with all this.

Brilliant ide – no, backspace, delete – interesting idea

There’s this fella, right, James Somers, and he’s found a way to show you all the steps you took in writing something. Every letter you typed even if you then deleted it. Every paragraph you wrote, even if you started at the end or just changed your mind and moved stuff around.

You have to write in Google Docs – which I don’t – and you have to have his special Chrome extension installed – which I don’t. But stunningly, this thing doesn’t just work on anything you write now. It works on anything you’ve written ever – since you started using Google Docs.

Only you can do this, only you or anyone you’ve given editing rights to. Your rewrites can’t be seen by anyone else. And this is a relief because as an editor I have had people send me work without deleting their notes. I’ve also read some interesting remarks that they believed they had deleted – there was a Word bug once that showed me.

So for me, notes and workings-out equal trouble. But I am also only interested in the final piece – insofar as the toying and changing goes. It is interesting how long we spend havering over whether to use the word ‘buy’ or ‘yet’ but this trick doesn’t show that. It will show us writing one, deleting it and writing the other. It won’t show the five hours walking around a park debating it in our heads.

Which I suspect you think is obvious but the creator of this doesn’t see it. He believes we can learn writing by seeing how others write. This is how that point is made in an article about him in FiveThirtyEight:

Somers started all this because he thinks the way we teach writing is broken. “We know how to make a violinist better. We know how to make a pitcher better. We do not know how to make a writer better,” Somers told me. In other disciplines, the teaching happens as the student performs. A music instructor may adjust a student’s finger placement, or a pitching coach may tweak a lefty’s mechanics. But there’s no good way to look over a writer’s shoulder as she’s writing; if anything, that’ll prevent good writing.

Watch Me Write This Article – Chadwick Matlin, FiveThirtyEight (4 March 2015)

Read the full piece for how to do this and if you become a better writer, let me know.

Remote control Macs and PCs from your phone

This is Chrome Remote Desktop and it’s fiddly to set up unless you’re already in to the Chrome browser. But once it’s running, it’s remarkable how well it works and what it does:

Imagine squeezing your retina iMac screen down onto an iPhone 5. You can do it. It might look a bit silly, and initially you might wonder why you’d bother, but it has long been possible to see and remotely control your Macs and PCs on even your iPhone. Now that Google has released Chrome Remote Desktop for iOS, you can do it for free. You’ll do it, too: try this once, and you will forever keep finding other reasons why it’s incredibly useful.
It’s fantastic when you forget a file, for instance, and can now just find and email it to yourself from afar — and it will save your soul, your sanity, and your gas money when you are supporting several family members who live halfway across the country. Just open up your or their Mac’s screen on your iOS device and work as if you were right there in front of it.

Hands On: Chrome Remote Desktop (OS X, iOS) – William Gallagher, Electronista (19 January 2015)

Read the full piece.

There’s more than Google out there

You used Google today. Certainly you used it yesterday. Right? If you’re looking for something online, that’s what you do. But there are other options and some of them are so much better at certain types of search that they are extraordinarily useful to have.

Lifehacker has half a dozen suggestions, including somewhere you just ask people – that seems so quaint – and it’s first one is a favourite of mine:

Wolfram Alpha Crunches Big Numbers and Statistics

Wolfram Alpha is to Google’s answer cards as movies are to paper flip books. Google will tell you everyday things like how many ounces are in a cup. Wolfram Alpha can tell you about median salaries in a given field, or perform key financial calculations. You can even estimate your blood alcohol content. The site is excellent at in-depth research and calculations that go beyond web search results.

The Best Tools for Finding Information When Google Isn’t Enough – Eric Ravenscraft, Lifehacker (6 January 2015)

Take a look at Wolfram Alpha yourself: it’s a website but there’s also an app for it that’s rather useful. And read Lifehacker’s full piece for the rest.

Google searching you

The Washington Post’s Caitlin Dewey writes:

According to Google, I am a woman between the ages of 25 and 34 who speaks English as her primary language and has accumulated an unwieldy 74,486 e-mails in her life. I like cooking, dictionaries and Washington, D.C. I own a Mac computer that I last accessed at 10:04 p.m. last night, at which time I had 46 open Chrome tabs. And of the thousands and thousands of YouTube videos I have watched in my lifetime, a truly embarrassing number of them concern (a) funny pets or (b) Taylor Swift.

I didn’t tell Google any of these things intentionally, of course — I didn’t fill out a profile or enter a form. But even as you search Google, it turns out, Google is also searching you.

Everything Google knows about you (and how it knows it) – Caitlin Dewey, The Washington Post (19 November 2014)

I just had a peek for myself and Google seems to know far less about me than it does Dewey. Also most of it was a bit rubbish. Apparently I boguht one thing via Google Walllet some time. I don’t ever remember doing that. But also my last Google group of any description was something related to the To Do app by Appigo. I haven’t touched that in three years.

Still, Dewey is interesting and raises points here that I’m pondering away about. Read the full piece.

The password is dead – ish

There’s a new move to get rid of the password. I think I’d rather miss them but it is a bit 11th Century, isn’t it? Halt! Who goes there? Are you fr1n3d or f03?

We have already reduced them a lot with apps like 1Password – you just remember one password, it remembers all the rest securely and also creates very strong new ones when you want – and then there are tools like Touch ID on iPhones. I don’t have an iPhone with this but I’ve used them and it is nothing short of spookily handy to be able to pick a phone up and have it already know it’s you.

Still, back to the news. Passwords are under threat and it’s about time too:

Passwords are a pain. They’re incredibly important for the security of our data, and yet they’re hard to remember and keep track of. Plus, it seems like we constantly have to change them as the result of some new hack or security breach. But the password’s days may be numbered: the FIDO Alliance—a non-profit composed of heavyweights like Microsoft, Google, VISA, MasterCard, PayPal, and more—has published its final specification for a system to kill the password, hopefully for good.
The specification is a bit technical, but what it boils down to is fewer passwords, hopefully. FIDO offers two options: a password-less login method, and a two-factor login method. In the former case, when you register with a new service, app, or site that uses FIDO’s technology, you choose how you want to authenticate that account (just as you would currently specify a username and password). But instead of a password, that method can be a PIN or a biometric factor—such as a fingerprint, a spoken passphrase, or facial recognition.

The Death Of The Password Starts Today (Maybe) – Dan Moran, Popular Science (10 December 2014)

Read the full piece. And while we wait for all this to happen, get yourself secure with 1Password. I’ve used 1Password 17 times this morning.

The truth you get when you drive 7 million miles

Google Maps is surely the most accurate mapping service on sale now or ever made – even if I find its iPhone app palpably annoying to figure out – but as well as all its technology, it has people. Some drive those dinky cars you’ve seen. Others change the maps under their fingers.

It’s an example of just how much you can do when you have a lot, I mean a lot, of data gathered from everyone and everywhere around you.

The maps we use to navigate have come a long way in a short time. Since the ’90s we’ve gone from glove boxes stuffed with paper maps to floorboards littered with Mapquest printouts to mindlessly obeying Siri or her nameless Google counterpart.

The maps behind those voices are packed with far more data than most people realize. On a recent visit to Mountain View, I got a peek at how the Google Maps team assembles their maps and refines them with a combination of algorithms and meticulous manual labor—an effort they call Ground Truth. The project launched in 2008, but it was mostly kept under wraps until just a couple years ago. It continues to grow, now covering 51 countries, and algorithms are playing a bigger role in extracting information from satellite, aerial, and Street View imagery.

The Huge, Unseen Operation Behind the Accuracy of Google Maps – Greg Miller, Wired (8 December 2014)

Read the full piece for more.

Google debuts music subscription service

It’s called YouTube Music Key and that feels to me like a cobbled-together name but then I often think Google hurries things out. Sometimes I think they hurry things away too, including times when I’ve relied on their services which get switched off.

Anyway. I am still pursuing music and vacillating between iTunes Radio and Spotify but now there is Google YouTube Music Key. Here’s an unhelpful video. (Isn’t that the definition of YouTube?)

It’ll cost you £9.99 in the UK. Details from Google. Note that it’s a beta release and while that’s becoming a meaningless term – didn’t Gmail stay in beta for a century? – in the short term it means not everybody will get access to it. But it’s rolling out, it’ll be available to you in the next few days or at most weeks.