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Interruptions are the enemy of productivity.

I don't have issue with notifications that wait for me to review them but I do absolutely abhor notifications that think I exist to serve them.

This is fundamentally about respect. It's my currency and respect for others and their time is something I do my best to abide by.

When an app doesn't respect me, or my time, and interrupts me, it's indirectly saying it's more important than anything I'm working on. It might not mean to, but it's like someone showing up at your desk demanding attention for their question without any regard for what you're working on.

Example: I just switched to a Galaxy Android phone from an older iOS phone. This isn't Android's fault, I'm sure I'll find it elsewhere too.

My punishment for adding my accounts to a modern mobile OS? My notification center blinks like a Christmas tree.

I am a person that barely tolerates SMS or voicemail notifications. No problem is rarely that big that it can't wait an hour. Or two. Being the path of least resistance and being available to the whims of others simply leaves you drowned in more information than is humane. It's better to reward people who make requests as far in advance as possible, and reward them with those quickest, preferred emails.

I run a consulting business that primarily develops products. I am, by the way of having good systems and processes, able to work with this rule. I can reply to emails every few hours. Emergencies, still get dealt with as emergencies. Just put a Priority 1 in the subject of the email, or call the emergency voicemail, and it's a fire drill, with the minimum hour(s) we agree to every fire drill.

I don't care to receive a notification that a new meetup has been created. I don't care I received an instant message right this second. I wish Gtalk would stop harassing me for signing in with. I'm scared to hook up my other IM accounts.

I don't care what a single app has to tell me right this instant. Sorry, but it won't improve there quality of my life this instant, or the next 5 years. It's just noise, 99% of the time.

If it's a new attention economy, I'm not going to let others decide the rules of how I spend my most valuable currency -- my attention so easily. When I did, it robbed me of focus, productivity and momentum, and let others set the priorities in my life. Theres no imagining how users who aren't aware of how they're being distracted and overwhelmed might overcome this.

I personally feel that part of this is the fault of the Blackberry culture that I watched in total horror: Blackberries made people feel like they were being more productive.

The too oft reality? blackberries are great for the people asking the questions. For the overwhelming majority that answer the questions for a living, they are now busy doing other peoples work. They are busy dealing with the poor planning of others now disguised as an emergency.

Only one thing. Poor planning on your part doesn't make am emergency on my part. I now have to deal with this culture of interruption, packaged as notifications but it's just really lazy. It's not a new economy, it's not a new world. It's someone wanting to micromanage my time that doesn't understand my time. Thanks, but no thanks.

Sorry apps, but you aren't the center of my life, just because I installed you. You're not that important. I'm not that important, but I value my time and like feeling good about what I accomplish every day.

If I need your notifications I can turn them on. Otherwise, quit being an attention seeker. I find it pretty disrespectful that you think I exist to serve you, app; it's the other way around.

Instead of improving the signal to noise ratio in my life you are polluting my life with more nose.

What have I spent the last 3 days doing? Learning to turn off every single notification and only find apps where I can control them.

So turn the notifications off. All of the apps on my phone are customisable, all of them have settings which allow me to say "I don't want you to tell me when things happen."

For iPhone users, all app notifications can be changed, except sadly for the App Store. For me, the only pesky red badge that remains on my screen is that of the App Store. And the fact that a few of my apps need to be updated is something I don't want to be notified about.

Personally, I think the pendulum will eventually swing back as users get tired and frustrated with all these services vying for their attention.

This is one of the biggest differences I'm finding going from iOS to Android -- Apple slipped in the "enable notifications" the first time you run an app and I never thought twice about it.. like a lot of things I've used.

On the whole though I'm finding Android to be an interesting environment where I can hopefully get more things running how I would like.

I am.. slowly.

I'm speaking to where the assumption that notifications should be on by default is coming from and how selfish it is on the part of the developers.

Anything I love I want it to occupy my true attention. I'm at the point where I wish I could filter only certain email addresses, SMS' and phone calls to ring, and let the rest fall to a central policy...

Do you know of anything that does this? It's on my list of researching as I'm making the switch.

I'm pretty sure you can accomplish that with Tasker. Along with a whole lot else.

Gmail lets you forward emails from select addresses as text messages.

> how selfish it is on the part of the developers

What makes you think it's the developers in this case being selfish and not you? The numbers might be on either side, or on nobody's side depending on how the problem gets framed.

I may not be thinking about this correctly, but some assumption has to be made:

(1) Notifications on by default. (2) Notifications off by default.

Either (1) or (2) can of course be presented to the user as being the default case and the user can be made aware that the default can be modified. Which seems optimal, until you remember that default choices developers make about notifications are not the only choices they make regarding defaults. Lots... most settings are given default states.

So then it's a question of which settings are explicitly presented to the user as having defaults and being modifiable. Are they all important enough? Of course not. Are notifications? Maybe.

But if notifications are important enough, then it's very likely that others will be important enough as well. And this means that upon installing a program, the user is in for a real choice making treat.

Most users are simply not capable of reasoning about such choices. And if they are capable, then they'll likely either know how to find and change the setting or know how to find out how to find and change the setting.

In all other cases, it only makes sense to make assumptions about what users want when they probably don't know what they want, or can't really reason about the situation due to lack of language-tools or context or background or whatever.

The most irresponsible and selfish thing for developers to do to such users is say, "Here are a bunch of choices. Figure it out yourself." Most can't figure it out themselves, would make the wrong choices with regard to themselves, and would be less happy for it. Developers can sometimes make horrible and damaging assumptions about users, yes, but I don't think this is one of those times.

In the case of notifications, most people I know want to be notified 9 times out of 10 about facebook mentions, google+ circle adds, SMS, etc. etc. Mostly these people love the interactions, it's why they have smartphones in the first place. Call it vanity, vacuous egotism or what have you. I am very, very suspicious of it myself.

(There is an excellent philosophical discussion to be had about the responsibility one has for ones own attention and the attention one demands of others -- and that discussion would probably end in a denunciation of all things notification-like, but I'm setting that discussion aside here for a pragmatic one instead.)

But the fact remains developers are probably making the right choice and assumptions about the default-is-on state of notifications when it comes to most users. Now, I understand you do not like the notifications. In that, you are not alone. My guess is that the set of people who despise notifications is probably not too divergent with the set of people who know how to turn them off. Granted, I've got no data on that. And maybe somebody else does (it would be a very interesting data to reason about!).

So all this is to ask about the question of responsibility on the part of the developers. And at the bottom of my reasoning here is the idea that (1) developers must make assumptions about defaults, because (2) users can't in most cases be trusted to make those assumptions themselves, and (3) if assumptions must be made they better be made with the majority in mind.

First, I'm not speaking to creating a ton of settings that can be customized any which way. I'm simply starting with the belief that interruptions are disrespectful.

iOS has had in it the form of "This application would like to use notification", the first time you start an app, for ages. Maybe it's one of the things I'm very visibly noticing in switching to Android.

It's not a complicated setting.

"Do you want to be notified when there's an update to be had?" The first time the app runs. It's when the attention to that app is the highest, we've just picked it and installed it and want to try it.

It could be a system wide setting; that filters down into all mobile apps, or just be unchecked, or you decide not to.

If notifications are on by default, it's often selfish motive in the design to get higher uptake and stickiness of the app. We all know that most apps overwhelmingly are rarely used after installation despite the notifications defaulting to be on.

I was also, specifically, speaking about apps with notifications, on mobile devices. If you wish to extend that generally to software in general that's fine, fair and your decision, but it's not what I'm speaking to.

Its entirely pragmatic to be able to have a say in how your focus, productivity and attention is interrupted. It's not philosophical. I like getting stuff done, and separating the signal from the noise of what to pay attention to is integral to that.

Most users have enough of an issue handling the information overload they're facing. Instead of technology being an empowering tool it's become quite the opposite when they're not given good examples of not proactively being to make one basic decision, "should I bother you".

Heh, I'm the author, and my book, The Information Diet, is very much about the philosophical discussion here. What's happening isn't anyone's fault, really. It's an economic issue. See here for a talk I gave about it:


Notifications themselves aren't a problem, it's the implementation that is, especially "dumb" notifications. A dumb notification is one that gets sent to you from an app that is unaware of the context of the notification.

Apps need to make notifications smart by first adding options for what kind and how often they pop up. Facebook appeased me some time ago but now is back to annoying me. I used to get emails for every little thing that happened on Facebook then I was allowed to set it so I got one consolidated email every so often. Great. Now they end up buzzing my phone with every little comment or Like. That's annoying. If they could let me set it so that I was notified once per post of comments or maybe one notification after X number of actions that would normally trigger a notification that would be awesome but having my pocket buzz every two seconds sucks.

My girlfriend once commented on everything she could on my wall for more than 20 minutes and my phone was literally buzzing the entire time. I had to call to tell her to quit commenting. She burst out laughing because she knew all the notifications would annoy me. It was a super frustrating joke.

As someone who isn't very social to begin with, an overload of notifications can actually be overwhelming and make me less engaged instead of more engaged. Smart use of notifications gets me using your service. Buffer does this right. I get, at most, 2 notifications if I have an empty buffer and it gets me adding more. Mint gives me 2 notifications a week: one if a bank account goes over or under a certain threshold and another with a summary of my finances at the end of the week. That's great. Twitter, Facebook, Livingsocial, Groupon.. They're all annoying.

I guess the point is that "dumb" notifications are like getting a cold call from someone who hasn't done research about you, tries to sell you something you wouldn't ever want and mispronounces your name on top of it. Smart notifications are like good friends that call you up every so often just to see how you're doing and to see if maybe you want to make plans for later.

Smart Notifications, all the way. :)

Is that even a thing? Smart Notifications? It should be. There are apps like Brizzly to help you tune out some of the noise from Facebook and/or Twitter but it does nothing for notifications. Wouldn't it be great if someone (someone else, of course i won't do it haha) made an app that intercepted those notifications and made them smart and gave you more control over them. Or maybe someone could just develop the technology and sell it to these companies. I'm sure they could do it themselves but if they're not on it yet why not make they're lives easier?

Maybe it could work by giving these services like Facebook an email address like you@SmartNotifications.com and then they filter them and send them to your real inbox in a smart way. And for SMS maybe use something like Twilio or AmazonSNS and give the Facebook type app a unique number that directs all notifications to the SmartNotifications app then it filters them for you and forwards them in a smart way to your mobile device. Now, for app notifications I'm not sure how that would work as I can't think of a way for a third party to intercept that type of thing so maybe you'd just have to turn notifications off on your phone and rely on SmartNotification email and SMS alerts.

But the article makes a good point about all these websites having a vested interest in annoying you. Surely google and Facebook could implement this and I find it hard to believe that they haven't done it because they just haven't gotten around to it. It would make sense that they would want to avoid this feature so that kind of rules out hoping to build this sort of thing and selling it to them. We're left with circumventing the system and doing it without their approval potentially making anyone who does this an enemy to web apps and a friend to the users. Unfortunately the apps will probably have more power and make it difficult to operate. But we can all still dream.

Smart Notifications = One app I'd pay for any day.

> No problem is rarely that big that it can't wait an hour. Or two.

Conversely, I work in a (non-startup) environment where problems usually can't wait an hour or two. I need to know when things come in to get my job done.

What I love about Android's notification system is that if something isn't critical right this moment, I can just ignore it. CM7 and ICS both allow you to dismiss individual notifications, making this even easier.

On the same note, I've never understood how people could stand iOS' SMS notifications; it just plain breaks the basic rule of not stealing focus from what the user is doing. Irritates me to no end.

First, I think there needs to be clarification that I'm speaking from a developer standpoint interrupted with support or training issues.

If the role is primarily support this might not apply as much.

I consult in a lot of non-startup environments.

People rarely can wait an hour or two. Hell, they can't even wait 10 minutes. They over trivialize matters, wave their hands at developers to go away and fix it right away.

Building the process to teach them to prioritize those things that "can't wait" -- teaches them to understand everything isn't a priority and can't be. Resources, time, and attention are limited and ultimately you have to pick what to do first.

Each request is fundamentally different. Each request does not need immediate processing, or there is likely something that is reactive that should be pro-active.

I've worked in the IT food chain from the front lines, to hardware, software, networking, sales, management, architecture. It really comes down to a culture of reactiveness vs. proactiveness.

What do I do? We use a case manager heavily, with different priorities meaning different response times. There's no room for misinterpretation. An emergency is a fire alarm. Urgent client impacting issues need to be resolved under 24-48 hours, if not the same business day. But, every request does not get looked at immediately. I've handled hundreds of thousands of cases in 15 years of getting requests.

Immediate action doesn't meant constant interruption. Raging fires of an emergency should get our attention. If other requests rae coming into a queue we're already working on, we don't need to see more, we just keep working through the queue in the order we need.

On a side note, I can't wait for ICS letting me dismiss individual notifications, long over due. Also, I hope I can turn off the audio notifications that are happening in Gingerbread even though I turn off all notifications in the apps.

Some Androids have a separate volume control for notifications. Settings -> Audio(Sound) -> Volume. (I think it may be in all but not exposed by the UI, so you may want to try widgetsoid or some other widget to expose the volume controls).

Failing that I think you can set the notification ringtone to "Silent".

Thanks, I think this did the trick. The main problem is the email program that's default on my Galaxy Note doesn't have a settings menu in the app, let alone one where I can turn off the notifications.

You might want to check out K9 mail. It's a fork of the vanilla Android mail app. It's been my experience that OEM modifications to the default apps break functionality like that more often than not.

Switched to K9 mail.. thanks. Any other must have apps that should be core Android?

On the same note, I've never understood how people could stand iOS' SMS notifications; it just plain breaks the basic rule of not stealing focus from what the user is doing. Irritates me to no end.

In iOS5 there's a notification bar (similar to Android, from what I've heard). You can set SMS messages to only appear there.

It provides a welcome level of control, but I found the whole notification UI initially confusing. I found it difficult to match my mental model of an app's notification to the right settings to flip in the UI.

>(similar to Android, from what I've heard).

Yes, it's lifted almost directly from Android. I wasn't aware that they'd offered the option to disable the annoying SMS pop up, though.

>I found it difficult to match my mental model of an app's notification to the right settings to flip in the UI.

On Android, notification options are in the settings menu for each app.

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