Needy Technology: Too Many Notifications Causes Users to Tune Out

By Kimberlee Morrison Comment

shutterstock_176941343Every app developer wants users to spend more time in the app, so notifications are used to keep them engaged. But with so many apps and services out their demanding attention, users are starting to reach a point of notification fatigue. In a post on Medium, Paul Ford, — a writer, editor, and programmer — shows how bad the notifications can get. But by cutting ourselves off from notifications, are we missing out?

Ford believed that his digital life was getting too complex, so he tasked himself with deleting apps, turning off notifications, and removing himself from mailing lists. He wrote:

[I] Erased movies from movie folder. Turned off Twitter phone notifications. Turned off voice mail. Cancelled the Google Voice line. Got rid of the alternative mapping tools for cities and the transit notification apps, and the NYTimes app. Got rid of the Usenet account and newsreaders. Uninstalled Instagram. Erased Seamless and Soundcloud.

And this was only a very small subset of the notifications he got rid of. He deleted everything from popular social apps like Tumblr, to fitness apps, and online news subscriptions. Notification fatigue isn’t unique to Ford: 43 percent of US technology users never unplug. Some users experience fatigue because apps issue too many notifications, and others because they have too many demanding apps.

Unplugging, or streamlining, can be very detrimental for the services that use push notifications to keep user attention. Indeed, push notifications can be a driving force behind growth rates for apps, with rates of 60 percent for social apps. However, it seems many users are already fatigued by notifications: the average reaction rate to these notifications was just six percent across iOS and Android devices.

Users may not just miss out on social updates if they unplug, they could be missing important information. According to CSO Online, fatigue is already a problem for cybersecurity breach notifications, with users starting to tune out. And as users are presented with more notifications more often, through their inboxes and the media, these notifications can lose impact.

Mark Rasch, director of cybersecurity and privacy consulting at Computer Sciences Corporation told CSO:

People get these notices and they wonder what they can do about it. The frank answer is there is nothing they can do about it.

There are some benefits to unplugging. The multitasking associated with notifications can reduce work productivity by up to 40 percent. Setting times to deal with notifications can help temper this, and is good advice for anyone feeling notification fatigue.

It’s unclear how to solve this problem entirely. A starting point for most apps and services would be to cut the number of notifications they send. Alternatively, they could offer tools for users to tailor the amount and frequency of the notifications they receive. A more drastic long term solution may be to simply eliminate apps in favor of one notification center for devices.

Readers: How do you deal with notification fatigue?

Image courtesy of JaysonPhotography /