Notifications that maximize happiness, not engagement

At Badgie we strongly believe in positive messaging and in making people happy. It stands to reason that we also look at the things that make us unhappy and try to change them to something positive. About 10 days ago Des Traynor posted this tweet:

It genuinely made me miserable. It is an extremely complex solution for governing Slack notifications, and therefore it becomes opaque, impossible to understand by the average user, who loses control of when and what about Slack should notify them. Slack's notification nightmare looks like a feature whose purpose is not to serve their users, not to make them happy. It seems like a bleak, dystopian feature built to maximize engagement, or in other words to distract and annoy the users until they go back to Slack. This situation can probably tell you something about Slack's priorities and where you stand as a customer. Not in a happy place.

In other words, we have an example of an antipattern that tends to destroy good things over time.

If you make a chair comfortable, people are going to spend more time sitting on it, but not all chairs where people spend a lot of time are comfortable ones. You don't design fantastic chairs by maximizing the time people sit on them.

Don't design applications by maximizing engagement. I understand the allure of having a number to min-max, but this is not the right one for sure.

Besides the rant, the tweet also pointed my attention to something that has been hurting me for a while. Notifications in general are making my life miserable, and probably this is true for a bunch of people out there too. Ping! Look at that useless email on Gmail! Ding! There's a meeting in 9 minutes and 42 seconds, get ready to use Zoom! Clunk! Someone has pinged an entire channel in Slack, which you could not care less about, but please be engaged! Thunk! Someone posted something on Twitter! Who cares!

Notifications are potentially highly useful, but the way we implement them is so terrible that we are all better off turning them off forever. I have notification anxiety and usually keep them off. Many friends also suffer from this kind of stress or need to compulsively look at their phones and laptops due to incoming notifications. It is time this situation changes.

Here is what we are planning to do to remediate notification hell at Badgie.

  1. We do not maximize engagement over happiness. Engagement should come from joy, not be detrimental to it.
  2. We use active notifications (pings, browser notifications, OS notifications) only for events that are interesting for you singularly.
  3. We use passive notifications (emails, browser inboxes, icon badges) for more general activities.
  4. You have control of which notifications you get and if you turn them off -- they are off.
  5. Settings are sane by default.

We aim to get you genuinely excited to get a notification -- not bothered, anxious or neurotic. Will any other company make the same pledge? It's time for this madness to stop.

Badgie 6–8 weeks away from MVP release, and we are looking for alpha testers. I can't promise we'll give you access straight away, I can guarantee we'll provide you with some play time before we make a public release. Sign up below if you are interested. Also check out our new placeholder landing page which has our official URL!

Hi, I'm Marco Cecconi. I am the founder of Intelligent Hack, developer, hacker, blogger, conference lecturer. Bio: ex Stack Overflow core team, ex Toptal EM.

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