34. Attack of the push notifications!

Push notifications.

The phrase evokes two different emotions:

1)    Happy thoughts of the convenience of your phone notifying you of the latest Facebook gossip and that it’s your turn on Words with Friends.


2)    Pure annoyance.

I tend to fall closer to the latter emotion when it comes to push notifications. For non-smart phone users, a push notification is a little message that pops up on your phone’s screen when something has happened in one of your applications.

I talked briefly about them in an earlier post, which included a definition. For example, my mom plays a game on her iPhone called Wordfeud. When it’s her turn to play a word, a push notification is sent to her phone (through the game application), prompting her to take her turn. Push notifications appear on the screen the same way that a text message or missed call would appear when your iPhone is locked.

Now in this little scenario, it sounds rather useful, right? Some people might forget to check up on games they’re playing and would like a little reminder. But imagine when you have multiple game, social networking and news applications that all use push notifications. Things get rather hectic all too quickly. This is one of the reasons I place myself closer to the “pure annoyance” category.

While I have quite a few games on my phone, the only application that I use push notifications for is my Twitter. I’m still not quite addicted to Twitter (yet) as I am with Facebook, meaning I don’t obsessively check it when I’m on my laptop. Without the push notification, I’d most likely go a couple of days before I noticed if someone replied to a tweet or sent me a direct message. Because I don’t get many messages through Twitter, the push notifications are few and far between, thus not interrupting my daily routine. I’m actually quite happy to receive a push notification from Twitter! For the most part, if I care enough about the contents of an application (like in my case, Instagram), I’ll check it myself with or without a notification.

Despite my choice to not use them, I think push notifications have the potential to be really useful (and not annoying). Companies just need to figure out exactly what people want from them. After a discussion on this very subject in Dave Allen’s class last week, there were some reoccurring themes and some cool ideas for the future of push notifications!

  1. People want engaging notifications.
  2. Like this article mentions (even back in 2009!), there should be a way to filter what kinds of push notifications you’re receiving and when you receive them (i.e.,  in the morning, before bed)
  3. More push notifications should use geo-location technology to inform you of the things happening around you.

My classmates made it very clear that they want meaningful and engaging notifications. No one cares that their friend and his six friends just got to a Starbucks in Portland. If you’re not there, chances are you don’t care enough to be sent a push notification.

Here’s a cool chart from digital company Urban Airship, revealing what people use push notifications for the most.

News alerts is (not surprisingly) the highest; however, in class, quite a few people said that they had turned off push notifications for news applications simply due to the overwhelming number of notifications they’d receive each day. This is where idea/theme #2 came from. It would be great if a new application gave you an option to choose when you received your notifications. If you like to read the news at breakfast, the app could send you notifications on the top news stories from overnight. Perhaps they could give you the option to choose what kind of news you were interested in as well.

A third idea involved the use of geo-location technology. Imagine you’re a die-hard Old Navy shopper. What if you were in a new city and didn’t know where Old Navy was? Your Old Navy app could use geo-location technology to notify you when you were a certain distance away from a close store. Okay, so you could also just search for Old Navy on Google Maps, but this is just an example of the sort of potential that exists. A classmate also mentioned that your store app could notify you of sales or special offers whenever you are shopping in the store.

Push notifications are such an amazing tool and have the potential to be put to such good use! I hope to see some sort of change in the future.


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