Do Push Notifications Really Bring Value To Users?

Let’s say you’re average. Yes, I know my readers are a cut above, but just place yourself in the “normal” category for a few minutes. How often do you think you look at your phone per day? Over 30? What about 50 times a day? Twice that?

Try 110.

That’s where the most recent numbers I could find pegged it. After you get off work, the average person looks at their phone every six seconds. That’s on the low end of the spectrum, too. Others think it’s closer to 150. Nir Eyal, wrote the book on addiction and we show it every day when we pull our mobile devices out. In the midst of all that usage, there’s a question I haven’t been able to shake this past week.

Why in the world do we need to be “notified” of anything on our phone other than a call?

Every time I open my phone, there are badges directing my attention all over the place. My boss emailed me, my wife texted me, my brother tweeted at me, I have a voicemail from my doctor’s office, and my photo was liked on Facebook. Every app telling me, “Come here first! We have what you need right now, don’t mess with those other jokers!”

That doesn’t even get into all the games reminding me it’s time to come back and log some resources so I can build my town or army up. If I allowed notifications from games, I would never sleep.

People are about fed up with notifications as well. Joel Gascoigne, co-founder of my favorite app Buffer, announced recently that he turned them off on his device. Was a revelation, and I have spread the gospel as fast as I could. If all a notification does is beg for attention that I’m already giving my device, why would I need them?

Then along came Yo.

Since I don’t live in Northern California, it’s hard for me to understand if Silicon Valley is the main reason apps like Yo, Secret and Slingshot become popular or not. Regardless, Yo is a thing right now, and it thinks the push notifications you get are silly.

When someone messages you from Yo, that’s all the notification says. It’s that simple, and Yo CEO Or Arbel thinks that’s enough. In an interview on Product Hunt’s podcast, Arbel talked about the end goal of the app changing how we look at the technology.

“Everything you need to know is in the notification itself,” he said. There is nothing to open. There is nothing to read. There is no badge”

So, now we are notifying each other just because? Granted, ideally you would receive your “yo” and then hop on the app to respond in like. If the goal isn’t really to elicit anything from users, what is the real end goal of notifying them of a new message?

In response, the community has done what it does best and create a ton of silly knockoffs. Now, if you don’t really want to send someone a “yo”, you now have the option to send them a “hey” or “Hodor“. I started to search for more and quickly realized I had better ways to spend my time. Trust me, they are out there.

Does that mean the new “hello world” app has shifted from Flappy Bird knockoffs to Yo clones?

There is some gold in the Product Hunt interview, though, and if the app can get enough traction there might be enough app developers fed up with how we talk to our users. Instead of throwing junk in front users begging for attention, we should be asking what the purpose the event should have.

As Gascoigne stated in his post, the key to notifications is seeing the interaction for what it truly is: a dessert mirage.

“Notifications create a sense of urgency around something that’s not important at all. I don’t need to know right now that someone liked my status on Facebook.”

It’s important to note that the main push Joel has behind turning notifications off is to gain control over his device again and choose to engage in what he wants, whenever he chooses to do so. I can’t help but think, however, that some of that comes from the deluge of pop-ups developers have decided to bombard us with. Things with true value don’t have to be “turned off”.

This also has implications on #wearables, devices that have so far been crafted with the sole purpose of delivering notifications. I saw a tweet from a friend the other day that bragged that his new smart watch had blown his mind:

“First day with a G watch and I’ve gone from indifference on wearables to being a total believer. I’ve barely needed to take my phone out.”

Is that what we want? To buy a device that allows us to not use the device that feeds it information? What would the real value be if you decided that you wanted to be notified less?

Much like direct mail, which strangely enough is still an effective marketing technique, the notification gained some notoriety for reaching users and is now utilized by every single app we download. This will only change when we stop allowing them and tell startups to deliver more value if we are going to allow them to “send us” their message. Before you sign up for more services, allow more notifications, and reward with attention, ask yourself what the real value proposition of that service is and demand more than something to waste your attention every six seconds.


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