The notification system is broken, how can we fix it?

What is the problem?

Notifications are treated equally by default, but not all notifications are created equal. The OS assumes that each app takes responsibility in determining when we should divert our attention to it, but that’s right in a conflict of interest with the OS’s goal to ensure a wholesome and zen-like user experience. A flashlight app developer thinks you need to drop your conversation with a friend and look at a new promotional in-app purchase that allows you to adjust flashlight brightness. The same notification alert and style also reminds you that an important crash has happened on your host server.

They are simply not the same. Not every app on your phone is worthy of your attention. And even for those apps that are important, not every event within the app deserves it.

The current paradigm of information organization centers around the medium via which they are transferred. Everything goes in and out of apps. Want to share a web page with your best friend? Pick a messaging app first in the sharing dialog. You really care about this one friend and her snaps, but don’t really want to see all other Snapchat notifications? Too bad.

The flaw in this organization framework is that new information is not organized by where they come from or how useful they are, but rather who delivered them. If my mom sends me a message asking me when I will come home for Thanksgiving, I don’t care if it comes through iMessage, Messenger, WeChat, Line, or Email, I want to hear an alert sound and respond to it. But if Verizon sends me a new promotional blurb, whether via text, email, or call, I don’t want to be distracted by it.

Unfortunately, that’s not how our operating systems work today. Continue reading “The notification system is broken, how can we fix it?”