One person’s plea to the tech industry
On a typical day, I get about 30 notifications on my phone. 30 times a day, my phone buzzes or beeps at me, begging for attention. It buzzes when I’m cooking breakfast. It buzzes when I’m running to a meeting. It even buzzes when I’m giving my toddler a bath.
I’ll look at my phone and see notifications like this:
Yes, I know Ben. He’s an amazing guy. But honestly, I don’t need to add him on Facebook. We’ve chatted maybe 3 or 4 times in the office. Does he need to know about my personal life? Besides, it’s 9:35 am, I’m running late for work, and adding Facebook friends is the last thing on my mind.
Swipe to dismiss.
We’re more than metrics
Notifications weren’t always so spammy. I remember a time when notifications were timely, relevant, and useful.
My weather app would tell me when it’s about to rain. My sports app would tell me when the Giants game is starting. I wanted to know about these events, and I loved that my apps notified me.
But over time, the rules changed. Companies became fixated on Daily Active Users. Adoption Rate. User Retention. At some point, humans just became numbers on a dashboard.
We need to remind companies that we’re more than metrics. We’re real people with busy lives. We don’t need to use an app everyday to enjoy it, so no need to lure us in with spammy notifications.
Let’s be more thoughtful
I’m writing this article to urge all app creators to think more thoughtfully about the notifications we send. I say “we” because I work at a tech company, and I think our industry as a whole is getting a lot more careless about notifications.
It’s not just Facebook. It’s Google, Amazon, Twitter, Yelp, and many of the other apps we love. I definitely didn’t get as many notifications a few years ago. Apps are becoming more invasive, and I’m worried that notifications will get more and more spammy unless we do something about it.
Every irrelevant notification you send gradually hurts your brand. Do you really want to be known as that annoying company that spams users to get more views? Our users deserve better.
Notifications are interruptions
Internally, maybe we need to rename notifications to “interruptions.” If we do that, hopefully we’ll be more careful about the notifications we send.
Would you interrupt me to tell me it’s about to rain? Yeah, that’s fine.
Would you interrupt me to tell me someone shared an article on LinkedIn? Probably not.
And yet, I get daily interruptions like this:
I think Sussu is amazing, but why does LinkedIn assume I want to read this right now? I was in a meeting when I got this. Does LinkedIn really expect me to stop what I’m doing to read this article?
Why not turn off notifications?
You might be wondering why I don’t just turn off my notifications. Here’s why.
1. No easy way to unsubscribe
With regular emails, there’s an easy way to unsubscribe. Just look for “unsubscribe” somewhere in the footer. If fact, the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 makes unsubscribing a legal requirement.
But when it comes to apps, there’s no law for making it easy to opt out of notifications. It’s much harder to opt out of a notification than it is to click “unsubscribe” in an email.
2. Hard to find the right settings
I don’t know what it’s like on an iPhone, but on my Android phone, it’s often impossible to find the notification settings in an app.
For example, how many Android users actually know how to customize their notification settings in the Facebook app? Looking for notification settings is harder than finding hidden coins in a Mario game.
Eventually, I did find the Facebook notification settings, but I didn’t see any way to turn off the “Do you know this guy?” notifications.
3. I shouldn’t have to turn it off
Even if there was an easy way to turn off specific notifications, I shouldn’t have to turn off anything. The default setting for unnecessary notifications should be “off.”
Let people turn on unnecessary notifications if they want. You can prompt them in the app, when they’re actively using it. Don’t assume that everyone wants all the notifications.
When is it okay to send notifications?
All that being said, I definitely see the value of certain notifications. When done right, notifications can be incredibly useful—even delightful.
When designing a new notification for an app, I like to go through a simple mental checklist to make sure it’s the right thing to do. I ask myself 3 things:
1. Is it timely?
Try to send notifications when it matters. If the notification gets sent too early or too late, it might just be seen as annoying.
2. Is it relevant?
Only send notifications if you’re really confident it’s relevant to them. If there’s only a small chance that they’d be interested, don’t take that risk. Find other ways to inform them—like in the product or in an email.
3. Is it useful?
Try to only send notifications that’ll help people. Would the user say “thank you” for getting that notification? If so, that’s a good sign it’s useful.
Spread the word
Notifications can be incredibly powerful. It’s one of the main ways you can communicate with your users. Those two or three lines of text might just be the most important text in your app. All I ask is that we think carefully about what we say in those notifications.
Do you feel like you’ve been getting spammed with more and more notifications lately? If so, help spread the word! Let’s stop these spammy notifications once and for all.