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I'm currently building a the base notification system for a startup I'm working at, and am having a hard time defining the line between being spammy and making 100% sure the user knows about something they should.

Of course the user will have options to change their preferences, but defaults are what most people will deal with and are important.

We will notify users in many ways, sms, email, web, and a facebook app notification.

I'm thinking following the idea of "Make 100% certain the user knows, but don't bother them beyond that" would lead to the best design. Meaning to send users

Currently I'm planning on sending essential notifications (we won't have any other notifications for a few months) via all channels: sms, email, facebook and web.

The nice thing I see about this is that wherever the user has technology, they'll get it right then and there.

With twitter, I enjoy getting a text and then clicking on my messages or mentions when I'm on the web.

Any feedback on this would be appreciated.

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I do hope that by "all channels" does not mean that when I am on all these channels, I get all your messages multiple times, once on each channel? Brrrr... the tought alone makes me cringe. –  Marjan Venema Aug 28 '11 at 7:21
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1 Answer 1

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Before any of us can answer that question, your team needs to do a thorough review of the *potential consequences for users when they receive the notification and if they miss any particular notification.

Here are some of the factors that can move the perception of the message from spammy to life-saving:

  • The notification content
  • The delivery medium
  • The specific method of notification
  • The user's state of mind
  • The user's surroundings when they receive the message
  • The user's current need to focus on something else
  • The user's conscious assessment of the reliability of the message source
  • The user's unconscious attitude toward the message source

I'm presuming this is a mobile app. In that case, you need to think about worst-case situations where your notifications could seriously distract the user while walking or driving. Make serious efforts to mitigate potentially harmful use cases.

Don't discount potential distraction of your user as 'just an edge case' in a mobile app review. It won't win you any friends in the long run.

The next level of review has to address cases where your notifications could simply annoy your users. This batch of issues can be handled by giving the users perceived control over notification style, ability to easily sort message sources into different classes, and a fairly robust 'mute in this location / this situation' feature.

Finally, since you're offering a wide variety of delivery channels, never EVER show more than one instance of a notification unless the user specifically requests over-notification.

If this is a general-use app, you need to focus on user control over delivery medium, notification style, and fine-grained situational control via muting or switching to less intrusive notification styles.

If it's a special use app, the user presumably has tighter control of alert sources. Your focus in that case should be reliability and feedback to the sender when a message has been received.


Good luck!

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So it's actually just a simple system for a landlord to notify their tenants about something, or vice versa. –  Devin G Rhode Aug 29 '11 at 19:44
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