Paul Chiusano

Functional programming, UX, tech, econ

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I offer Scala and FP consulting services. If you're interested in working together, please contact me.


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When do notifications make sense?

[   tech   ]            

Whether notifications are appropriate depends on the signal to noise ratio of the channel. Twitter, email, facebook, and any general purpose communication channel are all poor candidates for having notifications turned on, because most of the messages are either not relevant or do not require immediate action. It’s better to check in on these when you’re not doing something else or want to take a break from the “real work” you’re doing or “real life” you’re living.

In theory, notifications could be helpful, if they could be made more fine-grained. For instance: I am waiting for an email from a particular person, and would like to be notified when this occurs, but that doesn’t mean I want notifications of all emails. The set of things I’m interested in changes over time, so there isn’t a single static policy.

More generally, when the channel has a high signal to noise ratio, notifications can be appropriate. E.g., your todo list app notifies you that you’re near a CVS, and your todo list has “buy shampoo” on it.

“Opt in” is a better default than “opt out”. But there’s an arms race with apps competing for the attention of the user. Apps that “play nice” and ship with notifications off are at a disadvantage to apps that shout for attention with excessive notifications. Users aren’t yet particularly sophisticated about evaluating whether they really benefit from some notifications. They end up just reacting to defaults.

On the positive side, lots of people are realizing that their phone has become an addictive device that they find themselves mindlessly staring at. So maybe change is possible.

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