Whether intended or not, our text-based communication often carries emotional undertones that can often undermine (or give away) our true intentions. Nowhere is this more apparent than in e-mail, which most of us use as our primary means of digital communication and can, on occasion, get us in trouble if we choose the wrong words.
Having experienced this first-hand one too many times, Matt Eldridge sought out a solution to the problem. We have spell check to save us from making an egregious spelling faux pas and grammar check to keep our subjects and verbs in agreement, so there must be a tool for tone check, he reasoned. In fact, there was not, so Eldridge left his day job, found a technical co-founder in Josh Merchant and together the two started sentiment analysis startup Lymbix.
In July of 2010, after one and a half years of heavy research and development, Lymbix released an early stage version of ToneCheck, an Outlook plugin that uses detailed sentiment analysis to check the emotional tone of content in e-mail. The tool proved to be an instant hit with e-mail senders, 20,000 of whom downloaded the plugin in the first month after release.
Lymbix is now working on a faster, lighter and smarter version of ToneCheck scheduled for release in late February. It’s just one of many things the young but sufficiently funded company — Lymbix has raised more than $2 million in angel funding and pulls in revenue from licensing deals — has in store for the year. “This year is our coming out party,” says Eldridge.
The feverish early response from users validated the need for product, says Eldridge, who also admits that version one of ToneCheck is a bit too intrusive and cumbersome.The Microsoft Outlook add-on is currently easy to use, but rather manual in nature. Users first compose their e-mail, then hit “Run ToneCheck,” at which point the software analyzes text content and alerts the e-mail sender to phrases that don’t meet the user’s predefined tone tolerance settings.
The next iteration dramatically improves on that experience with automatic and real-time tone checking — similar to how spell check works. A Tone Alert bar sits below the e-mail message and visually alerts the writer that the tone of a particular sentence may be too aggressive or upsetting.
Corporate Tone Tolerance
What if there was a way for a corporation to set a baseline for tone that would apply to all outgoing e-mail? Alternatively, what if a business could route inbound messages based on their sentiment? Would the end result be more positive communication, better sales and an improved bottom-line? Eldridge believes so, which is why Lymbix is working on an enterprise product called ToneFilter for just that purpose.
Once completed, ToneFilter will offer businesses company-wide outbound e-mail safeguards and the ability to automatically route inbound messages based on their sentiment to appropriate personnel. The corporation could define an acceptable tone for company e-mail, as well as get a disgruntled customer’s e-mail routed to the best customer service representative or an enthusiastic message to a savvy salesman.
The enterprise product will also come with reporting that monitors the tone trends of e-mails across the company.
Money in Emotion
Eldridge says that Lymbix may release a premium, for-charge version of ToneCheck for consumers at a later date, but for now he’s content to keep the Outlook add-on free of charge. That’s because the company is pulling in revenue from API licensing and several soon-to-be-announced partnerships, according to Eldridge.
“Our core technology is understanding and analyzing the emotion in text communication,” says Eldridge. And, that technology is in high demand. “Licensing our API is a very lucrative business for us.”
Lymbix strategically choose to build alongside Microsoft’s e-mail client to reach the more than 500 million Outlook users, but Eldridge reports that there’s been significant interest from partners to build ToneCheck for web-based email programs and social sites like Facebook.
Spell check and grammar check have become like crutches supporting our daily work and communication tasks. Should Lymbix’s ToneCheck and API make emotional spell check a commodity we can’t live without — whether it be in e-mail, on social networks or in any other text-based form of communication — then it will surely have a bright future.