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I have a system where any events worthy of attention are displayed as notifications and highlighted in red on the main tool bar with a drop down menu. See picture. The user then has the ability to dismiss the notifications to remove them from the list.

Inevitably they never dismiss the notifications though which causes them to have hundreds. The problem is then obvious, new notifications are less likely to be seen.

I am considering

1) Notifications are automatically dismissed after a period (ie 2 days)

2) The user can mark a notification as not to be dismissed in which case it will stay

What do you think is the best solution?

Notifications

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3 Answers 3

up vote 4 down vote accepted

I have a system where any events worthy of attention are displayed as notifications and highlighted in red on the main tool bar with a drop down menu.

I will pull the phrase "worthy of attention" out, for future reference.

Inevitably they never dismiss the notifications though which causes them to have hundreds.

Have you investigated why the users are not dismissing the notifications? I'd be concerned that it might be in part due to them not being invested in the notification system and not using it as intended to begin with.

If the notification system as designed isn't working for the user's task flows, a different notification scheme all together might be in order.

The problem is then obvious, new notifications are less likely to be seen.

This implies that new notifications are being added to the bottom of the list. Without knowing the implications of your notification system (e.g., is it "Bobby winked at you" or "Customer leaving unless you respond now" type notifications) it is difficult to comment on the merits of doing a oldest first vs. newest first list order.

If you are worried about users missing notifications a newest first does seem to be the first step. Undismissed notifications do not hide new notifications, but if older notifications are considered "more important" that skews the advantage.

I am considering

1) Notifications are automatically dismissed after a period (ie 2 days)

I'm pulling down that phrase from your first paragraph: "worthy of attention"

If a notification is truly worthy of the user's attention then how is it suitable to automatically dismiss that notification?

If a notification is a candidate for being automatically dismissed, then it means it can be missed. If your user "ignores the problem" (so to speak) it will eventually go away, so they don't need to look at them anyway. Such an action will only further divest your users in the notification system.

2) The user can mark a notification as not to be dismissed in which case it will stay

If your users are too uninvested in the system to click a "dismiss" button, it is highly unlikely they will ever click a "keep" button.

What do you think is the best solution?

It sounds like you are already following a very similar scheme to Google+'s notification system, the logic of dismissing them being discussed here Read & dismiss Google+ notifications. I am unsure if they follow a newest first or an oldest first order though (I don't have any notifications to verify on).

Focusing on newest first as part of the solution, take a look at Facebook's notification system:

enter image description here

This uses a newest first system. When I look at my notifications I may not care to dismiss them (due to laziness or perhaps future reference), but this does not effect my ability to see the latest alerts that have come in because they are added to the top.

The Facebook notification popup is provides the following:

Globe: Shows a badge when notifications have come in since the last time I opened the notification window (I didn't have any new notifications, so it isn't there). It doesn't show how many unread/undismissed notifications I have - just how many new since the last time I checked.

Blue Arrow: Everything can be marked as read, and I mess around with my notification settings easily.

Red Arrow: Shows unread notifications (blueish background) in the midst of read notifications (white background).

Greed Arrow: Controls to mark as read (circle) without visiting the post and to ignore future updates (x) are still available.

See All: Takes me to a history where I can see everything and review something I might be interested in.

Notice I have some "unread" notifications mixed in with all the others. Why are they unread? Perhaps I already read the post so I don't need to click on the notification. Perhaps I just don't care to. But it doesn't matter, because it will just fall off the bottom given time as newer notifications pop in.

I'm given the choice to handle the notification and I'm not punished for inaction.

What steps might you take for your notification system:

  1. Find out how your users are using the notification system and why they are not using it per expectations. If it does not meet their needs, a new system should be investigated.
  2. Consider a newest first ordering. They will not miss a new message. Have your badge indicate the number of new notifications since they last checked, not undismissed notifications.
    • You can keep notifications until they are dismissed. If they are never dismissed, they just trickle down off the bottom.
    • Depending on your system needs - color coding "read" vs. "unread" notifications might be useful.
  3. Consider a priority to keep more important notifications on top (if need be). Show all newest "critical" notifications first, all newest "warning" next, down to newest "just so you know" notifications.
  4. Provide quick links to mark everything a "read" or "dismiss all". Perhaps your users are not dismissing anything because they have to dismiss each one separately.
  5. Provide a sort function. Newest first? Older first? Unread or read first? Got you covered!
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I like your first rule, setting an expiration date for the notifications so they can be automatically dismissed. Notification should also be auto dismissed once user has opened it.

User should also be able to dismiss a notification manually. You could include function such as a small "x" or "dismiss" or "got it" next to each notification for user to dismiss the notification. (You could show these on mouse hover if you are worried about the UI being crowded)

The user should also have access to a log or history of all the notifications in the "See All Notifications" page...as a result, you won't need your second rule that enable user to "mark a notification as not to be dismissed". The notification drop down should contain most recent notifications,not a place for user to flag/pin/save notifications.

Reference: https://support.google.com/plus/answer/1687385?hl=en&ref_topic=3052589

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To add to Chairman Meow, add an option to 'dismiss all' in the UI if you ask user to dismiss each note manually. –  Tingster Mar 4 at 0:56

My first reaction was why would you place Errors inside a notification box? I think errors, usually, prevent users from achieving their goals/completing a task. Error messages should tell the user what went wrong and give them a short description of how to fix them. Thus there should be an action item associated with an error message which helps the user move forward. Notifications on the other hand may or may not have corresponding action items. Notifications can be be a short message about completion of a certain activity or approval of a task etc.

To your 2 suggestions:

  1. I like your idea. I would just rephrase it to "Notifications are automatically dismissed after a period (ie 2 days), after the user has seen it"

  2. Can you share a use case or why you think the user needs the ability to mark a notification as "not dismissed"? Generally speaking, I would expect such a need to appear when there are corresponding action items for the notification. In such a case, I would place all the notifications with a corresponding action item under a new category as "Pending Items" or "Tasks".

Hope this is helpful.

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The errors in the pic are probably not a good example, that is going to be changed. Normally the notifications are like "You received an SMS from Tom Smith". –  Craig Mar 4 at 2:13
    
I agree on the tasks. I will think about that more and see if I can divide up into tasks as well. –  Craig Mar 4 at 2:15

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