Reverse Hackathon 1st Place Winner: Spell Check for Your Emotions

The story of winning HackMentalHealth’s 2018 Reverse Hackathon

We had an amazing time this past weekend at Hack Mental Health’s Reverse Hackathon. We started the day without a team and without an idea. Thanks to the extremely open, encouraging and supportive environment, we were able to end the day with the winning idea!

Presenting Emotion-Ally, a plug-in that helps you be more emotionally conscious in your digital communications.

The Process

Pulling from our interdisciplinary backgrounds in behavioral science, counseling, interaction design, and UX research, we started thinking about the technologies we use and how they affect us. With limited time and resources, we decided to draw from our own experiences as users of technology. We talked about when technology makes us feel good and when it has the power to put us down.

After spinning through ideas for better relationship building, improved time management, and customizable news feeds, we began discussing the problem of miscommunications in our digital world. We were immediately drawn to this issue because of its relatability. We had all received emails or messages that were worded in a way that produced unnecessary stress and we all felt we were guilty of occasionally sending messages that, to put it gently, could have been more strategically worded.

The idea struck with a simple analogy: Grammarly for emotions. For those of you who haven’t used Grammarly, it’s kind of like the spelling/grammar check that’s built into most software, but it’s cloud based, allowing it to work across platforms. Grammarly also takes the angle of trying to enhance your writing, not just correcting it.

So, we asked ourselves…

How might we minimize unintentionally negative digital communications and encourage emotionally intelligent communication?

Introducing Emotion-ally

Emotion-ally is a plugin that can be used across digital communications and social media platforms to help you ensure your communications are clear and take on the proper tone to eliminate miscommunications and unnecessary stress. Digital communication can already be overwhelming, the goal of Emotion-ally is not to add more cumbersome steps to those communications, it’s to try to decrease cognitive load and help you consider the context and mindset of your recipient. Of course, Emotion-ally won’t stop you from sending an angry email, it will just offer suggestions for how to avoid communicating unintentional anger in emails you intend to be perfectly neutral or friendly.

How does it work?

Just like spell check, it underlines parts of text to let you know that something you wrote might be easy to misinterpret or could be read in a negative tone. It gives you a sense for how your tone reads using universally understood emojis. You would be able to set your tone threshold and Emotion-ally would learn your communication style over time. It would also have suggestions for your emotional tone based on who you’re communicating with and what platform you’re communicating on. We don’t want this to suddenly turn everyone into bubbly and verbose email writers, we just want to smooth the sharp corners of some digital communications.

Step 1
You receive an email from her colleague, Michelle. Michelle is late sending her you a deliverable.

Step 2
You are annoyed and write an emotionally-charged reply, but before sending, you notice the Emotion-ally plugin has highlighted two opportunities to improve your emotional communication.

Step 3
You click the Emotion-ally button in the bottom right corner of your screen and emojis pop up that help you understand the emotions your email might bring up.

Step 4
You hover over the underlined sentence. The plugin suggests an alternative sentence and tells you why it’s suggesting a replacement.

You can expand the message and get more detailed information that may help you avoid the same mistake in the future.

Step 5
You also receive weekly or monthly insight reports that helps you keep tabs on tone sensitivity in your digital communications!

Why is this important?

“If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.” Blaise Pascal, the 17th century French thinker nicely sums up the difficulty of shortening communication and still conveying the right idea.

Digital communication is often rushed and we don’t get the benefit of context, tone of voice, and body language. There’s much more ambiguity in the way we communicate digitally and, at the same time, a lot less accountability. A study published in the Journal of Personality & Social Psychology found that email recipients only properly identified the tone (serious vs. sarcastic) 56% of the time. Miscommunications can cause a lot of unnecessary stress and anxiety as well as decreased productivity and an unwillingness to collaborate.

Who would use it?

We genuinely think this is a tool that most people who use email, send messages, and post on social media could benefit from. We know the four of us would certainly use it.

There is also strong research to suggest that people with high emotional intelligence are more successful in the workplace, leading us to believe that this type of plugin could be very desirable for companies to encourage their employees to use. Emotion-ally could offer particular utility for global companies that have to deal with communications between employees with very different cultural backgrounds.

We believe that Emotion-ally could impact how people interact in social media platforms, email, and text messages. It also has potential applications for health professionals working with individuals who suffer from developmental disorders and mental health disorders to better regulate and respond to emotion.

The Potential

Short-term, we hope Emotion-ally could help people eliminate frustration and anxiety in digital communications. Longer-term, we think it might actually have the potential to help people become more sensitive and emotionally intelligent both digitally and in the real world.

Next Steps

Since Emotion-ally was born out of the Reverse Hackathon, we concentrated on the idea and haven’t begun implementation. Microsoft seems to have some technology that combines natural language processing and deep learning to detect emotions in text. We think this could be leveraged and are very open to ideas and implementation help.

The Team

Britt Jensen @ Whipsaw

Manpreet Kaur @ UCSF

Prabhav Jain @ CCA

Kritika Kushwaha @ CCA


We were thrilled to win both the audience choice award and first place this past weekend. We are passionate about this nascent idea and hope we can bring it to life. Please reach out if you have any ideas or skills you would like to share with us.

Special thanks to all the organizers, judges, and volunteers who made the event such a great success!