Lindsay's Season Over


Tuesday, October 10th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6


First that talking paper clip in Microsoft Word tried to tell you how to write a letter. Now some chile peppers are warning you about the perils of e-mail.


The latest version of Eudora electronic mail software includes a new feature called MoodWatch that scans your message for things you might regret sending and gives you one last chance to think it over.


"Anyone who has used e-mail has sent something you wish you hadn't sent," says Jeremy James, director of marketing for Qualcomm, which makes Eudora software. "And you've probably received something you figured the sender must have regretted sending if he had any decency at all."


On Eudora 5.0, which was introduced in September, technology tries to help. Mr. James says engineers added a "flame analysis" to watch for hot-button words and phrases and to gauge the context of the entire message.


When MoodWatch discerns something a little intemperate, out pop the chile peppers. One pepper includes the notation: "Better hope you know the person." Two peppers caution: "Watch out, you're playin' with fire chiles here."


And a three-pepper advisory warns: "Whoa, this is the kind of thing that might get your keyboard washed out with soap."


A simple click sends the message anyway, of course, and you're free to turn off the application altogether. But Mr. James says the program should be especially useful for people who are new to e-mail – and haven't learned that online impulsiveness can land them in virtual hot water.


"There have been studies back to the 1980s showing that people have a tendency to be more aggressive in electronic messages than they are speaking on the phone or face to face," he says. "And misunderstandings are more common because you don't have other indicators of meaning, like tone of voice or facial expressions."


With the propensity for e-mailers to be brief and informal, certain words and phrases can carry extra weight.


"Often, the offense people give isn't because of bad language," Mr. James says. "It's because they're being so terse and seem so abrupt and rude."


So MoodWatch tries to measure context as well as content. For example, when Mr. James typed in Texas Gov. George Bush's recent comment about a New York Times reporter, the major-league blankety-blank quote immediately sprouted three chile peppers.


"But if you e-mailed Bush's entire speech and appended this at the end, I'm not sure it would have gotten all three chiles," he says.


Eudora 5.0, including MoodWatch, can be downloaded free from Eudora.com, if you accept the version that includes advertising. An advertising-free version runs about $50.


Since the introduction, Mr. James says he has heard from users who appreciate the feature and others who immediately disabled it, both of which are fine with him. He also figures that some smart alecks are MoodWatching in the other direction.


"I'm sure there will be people who'll be upset their message only has two chiles," he says. "They'll want to keep going to get all three."