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New Desktop App Helps You 'CYA'

ToneCheck is the e-mail noodge that will save you from yourself.

Oh, the testy e-mail. We get them, we send them, we almost always regret them.

And since it looks like we'll never learn, the next best thing could be ToneCheck--a judge-y new e-mail plug-in from Lymbix that flags emotionally charged words and phrases, giving you a second chance to sound like a nice person.

Intrigued, Entrepreneur gave it a whirl.

After a quick download at tonecheck.com, we had to choose our settings--a sort of obnoxiousness scale, in ascending order of censorship: Extreme, Moderate and Mild. We clicked Extreme, which flags only extreme words, just to see what we could get away with.

It Happens

E-mail is the most common way people communicate at work, which means it's the most common way to screw up at work, too. In fact, a recent survey of 2,000 people, commissioned at the DVD release of Going Postal, found that one in 20 had been reprimanded or fired over e-mail gaffes. Among the other findings:

20 percent admitted sending an inappropriate e-mail in the heat of the moment.

31 percent have hit "reply all" instead of "reply" by mistake.

13 percent have mistakenly sent an e-mail insulting a colleague to the person they are insulting.

28 percent of the men have made an e-mail faux pas, compared with 17 percent of women.

First up, to a co-worker: "Ugh, you suck." A box popped up informing us we'd exceeded our tone tolerance. We clicked through for more details--no revision suggestions, but we were scolded. The phrase was deemed "humiliating" and "angry," and we were given the option to edit or ignore. Next, to a boss: "Why are you doing this to me?" This one made it through until we switched to the Mild setting, where it was flagged as "fearful." Overall, ToneCheck performed consistently well, as long as we didn't get too creative. ("He's such a bosshole!" passed under all settings.)

Even with a few kinks in the free beta version, there've been plenty of takers: more than 12,000 just weeks after its July release, says Lymbix founder and CEO Matt Eldridge. "And we've been flooded by requests from companies."

He's working hard on a final version that gets smarter the more you use it. But for now, it's already doing some good as a reminder to give messages a read-through before hitting send. 

Jennifer Wang is a staff writer at Entrepreneur magazine in Southern California.

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This article was originally published in the November 2010 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: CYA: The Download.

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