we're currently developing a business application platform that consists of several independent programs.

When a user performs an action, a backgroundjob will be started. At the end of that job, the user will get a notification (similar to facebook, etc). The notification is availably system-wide, so in all applications. This notification leads him to where he started the action (because the user might be in a total different part of the application OR in a total different application at the time he gets the notification.

My question now is: how should the link of the notification be treated?

  1. If the target application IS running in the current tab (we know the URL so we know what program is active)

    --> open the link in the current tab (user would get a security question if he is currently editing something)

  2. If the target application IS NOT running in the current tab

    --> open the link in a new tab always.

Now this sounds not so bad per se, but imagine the following situation.

Tab 1: Application A
Tab 2: Application B

User performs an action in Application A (Tab1) that runs in the background, then switches to Application B (Tab2) and continues his work there. Once the Backgroundjob from A finishes, he gets the notification (in every open tab). He reads the notification and decides to click it. Computer recognizes that the user is currently running Application B and needs a link to Application A and therefore opens a new tab with the target link.

Now the user has 3 Tabs:

Tab 1: Application A 
Tab 2: Application B
Tab 3: Application A (target link of notification)

Is this a good way to deal with links and where to open them?

It is an unfortunate fact that users will be working in several programs (tabs) at the same time. We want to make the usability as good as possible by reducing breaks in the flow / in usability. I have read many discussions here on ux.stackexchange, but did not really come across anything that would answer my question.

What's your opinion on that?

  • ps: we have to use IE 9.0
    – roland_w
    Sep 27, 2013 at 12:52

2 Answers 2


This problem sounds remarkably similar to the StackExchange network, and I reckon that handling things the way StackExchange does would be the way to go.

I now have a tab for ux.stackechange and also one for stackoverflow. When something happens in either, I get notified in both. It is clear by the notification which system has raised it. So now as a user I have a few options (imagine I have both applications open, but I'm on the stackoverflow tab, with a notification arriving from ux.stackexchange):

  • go to the relevant application tab (ux.stackexchange), click on the notification which will update application on that tab.
  • click on the notification in the tab I'm at, which will change my application to the notifying applications (so I will now have two tabs - each with the same application but possibly in a different screen).
  • Command-Click the notification, which will open the notifying application in a new tab. (This is also useful if I hadn't had the notifying application open.)

How I handle my tabs is in my control. So long the user has a clear indication which application raised the notification, then can easily manage their own tabs in the way they seem fit.

The point is that putting constraints on this behaviour may be considered counter usability - It is common that you read/work on part of the application, and still want to see other part of it in a different tab.

  • Unfortunately I have not yet used StackExchange and UX.stackexchange that much to discover that. I just realized that it is up to the user settings in IE if 'generally' a new tab or new window is used when opening a link. But your answer sounds good to me. Let's see if I can get that going.
    – roland_w
    Sep 27, 2013 at 12:59

Hmmm... There is some libraries you could use to put notifications in the favicon but it has limited browser support FF and Chrome only and a little awkward.


When you have your google calendar open and a meeting notification comes up it force switches you to that tab using an alert box. Probably the best way to do it.It still isn't supported in all browsers.

I don't think you want forever expanding new tabs and if a user is working in multiple tabs s/he probably wants to keep a separation of concerns. It might be best just to have the notification open in whatever tab it is clicked. It is expected behaviour and prevents having an overload of tabs open.

  • unfortunately we are forced to use IE (9.0) at the moment. forgot to add that.
    – roland_w
    Sep 27, 2013 at 12:49

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