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You've all seen this from time to time - the never ending notification provider spamming you with e-mail, or a new Facebook attached games notifying you that "all your lives are back" or that friend user X just started playing game Y.

It is in a sense application centric and not at all focusing on the user. It conveys messages when the application wants to do so, not when the user wants to. Is it possible to flip the thinking all the way around asking when does the user want to get notified, by whom and how? Can we change it, or do we just need to learn to "live with it"?

What are the boundaries of Notification?

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I am truly annoyed by Twitter email notifications on the lines of,

Ciarán O'Leary retweeted a tweet from Shane Mac on Twitter!

I don't care about this, as most of the tweets are irrelevant to me. But the problem is that I don't want to spend time choosing from a long list of options as to what emails I want to read and what I don't.

A notification signifies that something of note happened, and the user should know. In transactional apps, its easy to define when a notification should be sent to the user. But in social apps, the boundaries are defined by the sender's goal: to invoke interest in the application. This is best achieved by:

  • A great outcome that occurred as a result of people using their service.
  • A list of most popular or trending content (considering the user's interests via machine learning or specific choices).
  • Innovative ways of using the service.

I believe the sender needs to be very careful in the volume as well as the content of their notification emails. A single email above the tolerance threshold and the 'Unsubscribe from all emails' option is not too far away.

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As long as the notification is relevant and of interest to the user it's worthwhile.

When I download a game or app and it notifies me with an ad for another one of their games? No thank you.

Getting 1,000 RTs and being notified each time? That feels good, send me more.

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