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Let's say that I have a notification system embedded in a forum. Whenever someone creates a thread, we'll send notifications about this new thread to some users. But, if it happens to the thread owner update the thread title, should I go ahead and update all notifications to all users as well?

Another question is, say that my notification will read like: "User Foo Bar replied your comment 1 minute ago". I'm also wondering if I should update all notifications if Foo Bar changes its name to Bar Baz.

Doesn't look like consistent, but I have the feeling that notifications should be immutable and never change once they're sent.

What are your thoughts?

  • What kind of notifications? Email? Mobile app? – Frantisek Kossuth Apr 3 '18 at 15:55
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    That'd be in-app notifications (desktop) – CentaurWarchief Apr 3 '18 at 16:34
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In my opinion, the answer to your question is yes and no. But it also heavily depends how much data you have.

With regards to the thread title

If the user has not interacted with the thread yet, then I see no issues changing it. This is applicable if the user is subscribed to some kind of tag system.

If the user has responded to a thread already, then I wouldn't change it directly. What you can do is add a notification Thread ABC has been renamed to DEF. From this point on, you can use the new name. Just be careful that it doesn't get too noisy.

Since I'm assuming that these notifications link to the thread directly, be sure to update old references as well. The user will be confused if they go to a thread named "ABC" and when they get there it is named "DEF" Chances are, they'll think they clicked the wrong thing. Old threads that change their name probably should not receive a notification.

With Regards to Usernames

This one is a little more tricky. Common users tend to know the usernames of other common users. They also may know a person's username they've been having a conversation with.

So, if the user is new, responds to a thread, and then goes and changes their username before the user has seen the notification, I would say update it. It makes things more consistent.

If the user is responding to a thread for the first time, and they have no no (or perhaps minimal) interaction with the person you are notifying, then I would also say it can be changed.

For other cases, you can create a notification along the lines of User Jonny has change their name to John, and pin that to the top, followed by updating all other notifications.

Another option is to allow users to have a friends list. If somebody on a user's friends list changes their name, update them, and perhaps update any unread notifications to match.

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In a world where things change, by definition of "change" there will be "inconsistencies" in the experience.

For example if a user gets some update notifications on a thread called "Best gizmos", and then the thread name changes to "Funny cat memes", then:

  • Either you don't update the notifications, and the user will see an inconsistency between the thread name in notifications and what they see after clicking on it (they'll click on a notification that says "new message in Best gizmos" but when they click on it they'll be taken to "Funny cat memes"

  • Or you do update notifications, and the user will see a discrepancy between the name that they saw for the thread in their notifications a while back and the name that they see for it now (it used to say "new messages in Best gizmos" and now it says "new messages in Funny cat memes").

It can roughly be thought of as "by-value behavior" vs "by-reference behavior".

Neither of these approaches is fully satisfying, so pick your choice. I personally prefer the "by-reference" behavior (the second one) because I think when I rename a thread or change my user profile I would prefer hiding what the previous name was, and also because I think it's more likely that a user will notice a difference between what they clicked on and where they're taken to, than for them to remember notifications that they'd received in the past. But such renaming operations also tend to be rare enough that sometimes technical expediency can guide the solution.

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Why not change the notification to new name, but mark it as red or similar, and in tooltip on mousover or click show: the name was changed from XX to YY.
Its fair for the users that they know both of the names.

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